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Just think about it
Iran's irrational judicial system

By Babak Yektafar
July 20, 2000
The Iranian

"I wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have me as a member," Groucho Marx once said. This type of self-mockery along with playing multiple personalities was the hallmark of the Marx Brothers comedy team. The Marx Brothers are long gone, but I am glad to see that their comic spirit is alive and well in the city of Shiraz, in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

This spirit manifested itself recently in the controversial trial of 13 Jewish Iranians, accused of spying for the state of Israel, where the prosecutor of the case was also the Judge. True, I am not an expert in Islamic law. But I do consider myself a rational man and as such felt comfortable with the idea that the whole point of a justice system was to allow an impartial arbitrator with no connections to either side of a dispute to sit in judgement of the opposing views in a given case.

Well, this recent trial blew that idea into oblivion.

Of course I am not suggesting that the trial and its outcome was unjust, since I was not involved with the proceedings. But in light of this novel approach to justice, I would like to make a radical suggestion. If there are no problems (ethical or otherwise) with having the same individual act as both prosecutor and judge, then why not consolidate and have the individual act as the defense attorney as well?

Just think about it. Think of the amount of time and money that can be saved by all sides when dealing with only one individual, and the amount of grief that can be spared when that individual will have only himself to deal with. He will be constantly ahead of himself since he will have access to all the information obtained by the opposing side. There will be no "surprise" witnesses and no delaying tactics. He can occasionally object to himself and over-rule himself with no hard feelings. And he can bring the trial to a speedy conclusion by negotiating a settlement with himself. Now tell me if that would not have made a great Marx Brothers skit.

The fate of the 10 convicted Iranian Jews is no laughing matter. Nor is the fate of all other Iranians who go through the same suspect judicial system. Great many voices have been raised in protest of this trial, and some unfairly, I must add. Unfair because the critics assume that there are no spies in this world and that they could not be Jewish or spy for Israel. They act as if the government of Iran has no right to try anyone on such charges or could not possibly have any national security concerns to conduct the trial behind closed doors.

Ambassador Richard Halbrook, the US representative to the United Nations called the proceedings a "kangaroo court" which does not sound complimentary unless you happen to be an Aussie or a Kangaroo. I wonder if Ambassador Halbrook and others critical of this trial would react the same way if the accused were Muslim Iranians.

Sadly, the worst impact of this controversial trial may be the hastening of immigration by Jewish and other minorities in Iran, a move that the nation can ill afford at a time when President Khatami's government is attempting to lure expatriates back to the country. As any historian can attest to this fact, there existed an Iran (Pars) before there was Islam and it was the contribution of all Persians regardless of race, color or religion that enriched the culturally diverse landscape of Iran and made it the unique nation that it became. Unfortunately bias against non-Muslim Iranians was encouraged the day that powers to be incorporated the word "Islamic" in the official title of the country.

Here is another radical suggestion for President Khatami and all others who want to promote social justice in Iran. Think about taking the word "Islamic" out of the official title and make non-Muslim Iranians feel that they do belong to the country of their ancestors and the country of their birth. The omission of the word "Islamic" is not going to make the country un-Islamic.

When we hear of Israel, we know that we are talking about a country where Judaism is the official religion. No one will mistake the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of being anything but an Islamic country. People who believe in Islam will continue doing so, as will the followers of other religious faiths. But what will help us move ahead as an integrated society with the good of the nation as our main goal, is our national identity.

As the host of the popular TV game show in the 1950's, You Bet Your Life, Groucho Marx asked a female contestant if she was married. "Yes I am," she replied. "Any children?" Groucho followed up. "Yes," she said, "Eleven children." Groucho's famous thick eyebrows moved up and he stared into the camera. "My dear woman, I like a good cigar too, but I do take it out of my mouth once in a while." It may be time for the powers to be to step back, take the cigar out of their mouth and think of how they can keep this nation of multi-religious, multi-cultural and ideologically varied individuals as a flourishing union.

Babak Yektafar produces a national public affairs TV show in the U.S. He was also the talk show host on Radio Velayat in Fairfax, Virginia for several years.

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