Human rights alone need to be our goal
By Nema Milaninia
May 5, 2003
Iranians have been accustomed to our dichotomous political nature.
Whether we call ourselves "Persian" or "Iranian."
Whether we hang the "Shah's flag" or that of the "Islamic
Republic." These words and symbols become reflective of the
polarization of political views held by most Iranians around the
However, in retrospect, these symbols really only represent the
human rights abuses which have plagued Iranians for generations
and a source of barrier which to this day we struggle to overcome.
It would be foolish for us to assume that life under the Shah and
prior to the revolution was not burdened by abuses. The Shah's secret
police, the Savak, were notorious abusers of human rights, while
the Shah himself was a leader not popularly elected by the people
but rather one imposed by foreign powers.
However, it would be even more foolish to argue that the same does
not occur now where people are persecuted and jailed for their views,
where Bahai's were persecuted and displaced for their religion,
and where the element with the most political, judicial, and military
control is backed by the minority of the population.
Unfortunately, the battle of symbols has become a symbolic gesture
of the conflict amongst us Iranian-Americans. That is to say, instead
of surveying the debate through a human rights paradigm, Iranians
instead argue about governments without taking into consideration
of the fine line in between, mainly that the past and the present
governments have and continue to abridge fundamental rights.
In life, truth can be interpreted in different ways, sometimes
misinterpreted. What matters is that we recognize what rights are
being violated and discuss through under the context of reform or
change, nor by grasping to political ideologies. For this I call
for a shift in paradigms. One away from the debate between the Shah
and the IRI, but rather one focused solely on rights.
It must be noted first and foremost that I do not believe that
a specific political institutions is correlative to human rights.
History has proven that democracies can also be despots as majorities
can be tyrannical. Can we truly say that the United States, "the
oldest democratic state" has a history of freedom given its
possession of slaves, cultural and racial discrimination, and the
violation of other basic freedoms despite having a Bill of Rights?
And let us not forget that even now Iranians, America's most educated,
apathetic minority has been barred from visiting, being educated,
and entertaining this country This despite being a people most supportive
of American values and despite being the only country in the Middle
East to not be connected with September 11 and the only people within
the region to hold a vigil in condolences with the victims of that
But the United States has evolved and changed like all countries
continue to do so because the psychology of the people themselves
evolved. That is, a gradual shift occurred wherein human rights
became more and more important as a moral foundation. The civil
rights movement of the 60's, struggles during the Vietnam War, and
now the debate over environmental and humanitarian aid take precedence
in the public conscious because everyday the culture recognizes
how inviolable these rights are.
Over the past two weeks I have traveled through Iran probing public
consciousness on human rights, Islam, and other matters. More importantly,
I sought to see if there is an emerging human rights paradigm amongst
the people and the religious institutions. It is clear that human
rights have become the focal point by which Iranians, be they student,
revolutionary, solider or even cleric, explain their discontent
My studies have showed that voice is certainly there but quieted
and restricted. For Iranians around the world that shift still needs
to be created. Human rights alone need to be our goal. More importantly
human rights need to be the tool toward our goal. We must, as a
community, be dedicated toward voting, protesting, speaking, writing,
and debating for our rights by taking advantage of institutions
like the National Iranian American
Council and organizations that promote political viability for
Certainly the question of democracy and Islamist regime will be
tied into the focus on human rights and Iranians should participate
in those debates with both intellectual vigor and foresight. But
we should never lose sight of our fundamental goal, the protection
of rights which we are due by the very nature of being human given
to us both naturally and
divinely. As human history becomes more and more a race between
education and catastrophe, it is up to methods of justice and truth
to rally the masses.
Nema Milaninia is a Graduate Student, International Human
Rights Law at the American University in Cairo.
is... Mamnoon Iranian.com Month
your favorite magazine
this page to your friends