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Eliminate violence
... in all its forms, including the death penalty

By Hossein Bagher Zadeh
September 14, 1999
The Iranian

The following is a translation of an article published in the Persian daily Nesaht in Tehran on Tuesday 24h August 1999. The article, along with another on the topic of execution by Emadedin Baqi, led to a huge outcry by certain politico-religious groups in Iran, culmination in a statement by Iran's Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on September 1, denouncing those 'who oppose the religious law of vengeance' and declaring them being liable to death sentence. Neshat was shut down three days later. Hossein Baqer Zader is a founding member and chairperson of the Iranian Human Rights Working Group.

Is State Violence Acceptable? (*)

The reference to the relativity of violence in this week's Friday Prayer by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi has once more made this fundamental social question into a topical issue. Understandably, supporters of violence and totalitarian groups are in need of such justifications, and hence Mr. Yazdi's remarks are not unexpected. But what is surprising is the fact that those calling for a civil and open society are not persistent in the indiscriminate negation of violence.

The political and cultural developments in Iran and the institutionalization of a civil society are dependent on the complete rejection of violence. Any partial and relative rejection of violence puts the supoorters of a civil and open society on par with supporters of violence and theoreticians of totalitarian groups. We can not say, for instance, that violence on cultural grounds or by the government is permissible, but not by those acting on their own or in small groups. Totalitarians also allow violence in certain cases or by certain groups or institutions. Justifying violence, under any pretext, is against the modern human values and endangers the health of the human society.

The human society in the modern world, and especially since World War II, has rejected all forms of violence, and regards it as an anathema to human values. The crimes and tragedies of WWII which included organized violence in the form of the holocaust, vividly demonstrated the beastly nature of violence and its devastating effects. People the world over saw that violence de-humanizes not only the victim but also its perpetrators, and devastates human society's achievements. Moreover, when violence is legitimized, it can easily cross the pre-built borders and turn its former perpetrators into its next victims.

This put the question of setting up a new institution for a world free of violence and injustice on the agenda of the human society. One outcome was the composition and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948 (which Iran has been a signatory). Article 5 of the Declaration says that nobody should be subjected to torture or degrading, cruel or inhuman treatment. It makes no exception, and also bans violence as a form of punishment. The complete and unequivocal rejection of violence in one of the first articles of the Declaration indicates the important lesson the human society has learned from the tragedy of WWII.

In today's Iran, only with the complete and unequivocal rejection of violence (and adoption of all articles of the UDHR) can we pin our hopes for the development of the culture of a civil society. It is noteworthy to mention that, legally speaking, Iran has reiterated its acceptance of the UDHR and should cease all violent actions (legal and illegal). But more important than that is the waking call to supporters of the civil society that only with a persistent and uncompromising campaign against the culture of violence, in all its forms, contents, from any direction and under any pretext, can we hope to uproot this devastating tool of suppression, and turn the dream of the civil society into a reality.

As mentioned, the UDHR rejected violence 51 years ago and since then, a world campaign has been carried out for the elimination of one of the most notorious forms of legal violence: the death penalty. On the verge of the new millennium, this campaign has been intensified. So far, a clear majority of United Nations' member countries have practically stopped the use of this form of punishment. They have accepted that the death penalty is cruel, inhuman and degrading. Moreover, many empirical and sociological studies have shown that, contrary to the popular belief, the death penalty has no effect on reducing crimes, and in fact it is itself a means for spreading injustice and crimes. Today, not only are human rights organizations calling for the immediate abolishment of the death penalty, but the U.N. too has put this recommendation on its agenda. The most notable international political and religious personalities, from Nelson Mandela to the Pope and Secretary General of UNESCO, have joined the campaign for a world free of execution. It is incumbent on the supporters of a free and civil society in Iran to join this world campaign, and to respond to this international humanist call so that Iran can be led to a humane society, free of violence.

Violence, in all its forms, should be eliminated. Execution is the most notable form of (legal) violence. Campaigning against "cell violence" without a campaign against its cultural roots will be fruitless. The belief in killing (legal and illegal) as a solution to social problems, lies at the heart of this culture. Th Iranian society should accept that killing solves nothing. Similarly, neither ideology nor state power can justify violence. Official violence (including execution) has a direct and undeniable effect on the regeneration of the culture of violence. In order to combat violence, one has to campaign against its totality and against all its forms and on every level and at every stage. Half-hearted opposition to violence and explicit or implicit sanctioning of it on special grounds or by certain institutions, is the characteristic of the forces of totalitarianism and oppression. Those who are calling for a civil and open society should refrain from this partialism. (Original text in Persian)


* "A [pre] condition for a stable and resilient (and civil) society is that State is 'the only legitimate institution for exercising violence'" - Hamid-Reza Jalaayy-pour, Neshat, 7 August 1999. [Jalaayy-pour is the Managing Editor of Neshat.] ... TO TOP

* ["Cell violence" is a reference to a spate of political killings late last year which has been blamed on "rogue" elements within the Information Ministry.] ... TO TOP

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