Reading Ms. Nemati's article (“Unworthy Iranians“) was a surreal experience. Ms. Nemati wants us to believe that she is supposedly open-minded and progressive (what ever that word means) by calling herself “I am the most liberal Iranian I know (I am pro choice, pro gay marriage and adoption and having the right to make fun of religion and God)” and yet, turns around and lodges charges ranging from treason to paranoia without a shred of hard evidence on several hundred thousand people.
The article gets more interesting as we read further. Ms. Nemati is “the supreme arbiter” of wrong and right. Hence if she does not see or know about an injustice, it does not exist. This seems a strange criterion to establish the “truth” about justice. And lo and behold ye unworthy critics: “she warns anyone who is going to defend this bullshit story of being mistreated, she is not going to even answer your e-mails because as far as she is concerned if you agree with these type of horse shit you are traitor as well”!
So, this traitorous believer in horse shit is going to point out some issues. Since my lowly traitorous existence would not warrant the attention of high and superior Ms. Nemati, I would welcome comments or thoughts of other highly esteemed readers, whether they are treacherous creatures like my own unworthy self or righteous heroes like Ms. Nemati.
For better or for worse, Ms. Nemati’s experience with real or perceived treatment of religious minorities since the Revolution is non-existent. Ms. Nemati clearly points out that she has been living in the US since 1978. Hence, she could not have had any first hand experience. She also does not strike me as someone who cares for or understands data and research. Thus the essence of her article is that she “believes” that there is no systematic abuse of rights of religious minorities in Iran.
Let me enumerate some abuses and quote some personal anecdotes. I have to add that based on my personal experience in Iranian school system in 1980s and in military and university system in 1990s, the majority if not all the points raised by Ms. Hakim-Bastanian in “Sad and Shameful” are accurate. I would like to know how Ms. Nemati considers the following as fair treatment of religious minorities:
Religious minorities (including Sunni Muslims) can not hold managerial posts in the Iranian government or the armed forces. Notice that all practitioners of official religions could hold official posts under the Monarchy. Since the revolution, not a single Sunni, let alone non-muslim, has been appointed as a governor, minister, military commissioned officer, or in any position where he (asking about she is a joke you see) could have a superior position to Shia Muslims.
* As recently as mid-1990s, religious minorities could not pass the official vetting process to go to PhD programs since they could potentially be appointed as faculty members in universities.
* Religious minorities would lose inheritance if a member of their family converts to Islam. Essentially that person gets all the property, and there is no legal protection for the rest of the family.
* Marriage between muslims not non-muslims is conditional on the conversion of the non-muslim party. In effect, one has to deny her/his heritage and personal faith to marry.
* Practitioners of Bahai faith can not own property, their marriage contract is not considered legal, and can not inherit according to their tradition. In fact, they do not enjoy any civil rights. Many Bahais were imprisoned and executed without due legal process. Bahai youth can not go to college, receive full benefits when employed, and they are systematically harassed in school and/or while serving their military service.
* Anti-Semitic propaganda that would make Goebbels proud is officially supported and actively distributed by organizations such as Keyhan newspaper, Islamic Propaganda Organization, Al-Ghadir Foundation, and the apparatus of Imam Reza’s shrine. Let us not forget that the president of Iran is a self proclaimed Holocaust denier. But have you ever seen any outcry or support for Iranian Jews in the face of this smear campaign? I would be grateful if you could please point it out.
* Zoroastrians are right now victims of a smear campaign against their history, culture, heritage, even their very belief and faith. Yet no one has been able to take legal action against to propagators of these despicable deeds.
Notice that this type of institutionalized discrimination and oppression is a far cry from receiving corporal punishment that Ms. Nemati childishly points out in her article as an example of humiliation.
This libertarian “traitor” would like to remind the “most liberal Iranian she knows of” that celebrating a holiday, taking pride in one’s ethnic origin, or choice of language to communicate with one’s friends, are basic personal freedoms. They clearly do not constitute the legal grounds for stripping a free human being of citizenship rights and forcible removal of the person in question from where she/he lives. “The most liberal Iranian she knows of” should bear in mind that her clearly limited experience does not substitute the facts on the ground. Also, the aforementioned “liberal” should remember that hate and bigotry are not liberal values. May be I am too optimistic in hoping that almost thirty years of residence in a free, democratic country should teach anyone some tolerance and respect for personal freedoms?
During the time that I was in school, military service, and college in Iran, I have witnessed discrimination against Sunnis, Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Bahais.
In my senior year in college (and I went to National University, which is supposedly a liberal school), a religious studies instructor openly insulted several Sunni students by calling Caliph Omar gay, traitor, and the murderer of the Prophet’s daughter. I later apologized from three students I knew (two Kurds and one Turkmen, and among the best people I have ever met). My Turkmen friend said: “I know you are not like these guys, but believe me it is hard to be a stranger in your own home.” I totally relate to this feeling.
During my military service years, I saw two Bahai soldiers taken out of a soccer match and sent to literally dig holes and fill them up again. This order was issued by the head of Ideological and Political Bureau of Qasr-e Firrozeh Air Command personally. The justification for this action you ask? “So that they realize that their whole existence is futile until they renounce that benighted cult”! An Armenian man was yanked from being the secretary of the unit he was serving in since that position would place him “above Muslim kids”!
One of my good friends in high school (and we are still very good friends to this day) was publicly humiliated and verbally abused in one of those blasted religious instruction classes for being Bahai and not hiding it. In another incident, again in high school, a Basiji classmate (an ethnic Arab from Khuzestan) assaulted another classmate half his size and severely beat him up for being a “Zionist Jew”. There was no provocation involved. He got a slap on the wrist, but nothing serious happened, while the victim had to go to a hospital for treatment. Anyone who went through school, military, and college and was aware enough to care about these issues can give you hundreds of other examples.
I personally have had problems with Iranian authorities due to my political views, family background, or simply the way I dressed. But I did not need to deal with institutionalized discrimination and harassment the way women or members of religious minorities have to on a daily basis. Thus I would never dream about scoffing at their suffering, because I too suffered.
If there is anything worth noting in Ms. Nemati’s article, may be it is the cold, uncomfortable fact that the Iranian community still has quite a few skeletons in the closet. We saw some of them in Ms. Nemati’s article, namely bigotry, intolerance, ignorance, a deep rooted aversion to learning, and narcissism. In a post on the Iranian, Ms. Nemati opined that she is scared of growing up. May be she should leave adult issues to adults, and keep playing with the children. Remember that if you want to play with the big dogs, you can’t piss with the puppies.
Mohammad R. Jahan-Parvar is Assistant Professor Department of Economics at East Carolina University.