All this hoopla over nothing

Recently, I have over and over again heard a small group of Iranians attack the
National Iranian American Council (NIAC); each time with a new charge.

At an information meeting about Goli Ameri's new lobby group, they accused NIAC of being too critical of the Bush Administration. Iranian monarchists have for several years accused the organization of being a front for the mullahs. And of course, pro-Israeli neo-conservatives like Kenneth Timmerman have been on NIAC's case for calling for diplomacy with Iran.

So far so good. Any group that infuriates Goli Ameri, the neo-cons and the monarchists must be doing something right.

But then a few weeks ago, the pattern changed. I received an email from an organization claiming to work for human rights in Iran, asking me to call Amnesty International and demand that they boycott NIAC's conference on human rights in Congress. It would be a travesty, they said, for a panel on human rights to be moderated by anyone from NIAC.

The organization is called MEHR and from their website, they seemed to genuinely work for human rights. Their goal was to make sure that Alex Arriaga, the Director of Amnesty in Washington, would cancel her participation in NIAC's conference.

Their arguments made sense, so I sent the email around and a real buzz was created. Amnesty was probably flooded with more than 1,000 calls because it was quite difficult to get through when you called. Later, the neo-cons jumped on the bandwagon when Kenneth Timmerman started to urge his followers (mostly monarchists) to call Amnesty as well.

The more I got involved in the campaign though, the more I felt that the whole thing was kind of bizarre. I mean, if one is in favor of human rights, then who is better to speak on the subject than Amnesty? And the more I saw Timmerman's face involved in it, the less passionate I became. Clearly he didn't care about human rights in Iran, he was only in the campaign for his devotion to Israel.

By the time of the conference, I actually hoped that Amnesty would show up. And indeed they did. I had RSVPed for the conference early on and was lucky enough to get in, even though I arrived late. The room was packed and I came in just as the Amnesty representative started to speak (clearly, the campaign to stop her participation was a major failure).

She blasted the hell out of the mullahs for all their human rights violations. Next spoke an elderly gentleman from Human Rights Watch, who also criticized the regime, though he spent most of his time arguing that the Bush Administration's policies had made the work of human rights activists in Iran all the more difficult. Fair enough, I thought.

After that, a few members of Congress spoke who criticized the mullahs as well as President Bush's policies on Iran. The moderator from NIAC, Titra Parsi, asked some very tough questions but played otherwise a rather small role in the event.

All in all, it was actually a very good event. Quite balanced and definitely not sympathetic to the mullahs. I felt really bad as I left for having played a small role seeking to undermine it. But I never got a chance to explain myself to Arriaga. And I didn't want to say anything to the NIAC people there because I had no clue how they would react.

As I was leaving the room and entering the hallway, an Iranian women approached me and demanded to know what had happened at the conference. She had apparently not RSVPed and was not let in as a result. She handed me the same email I had sent around myself.

I tried to explain to her the points Arriaga made about Iran's violations, but she kept interrupting me to ask whether the regime had been defended. “Akhonha ra defa kardan?,” she kept on asking. I kept trying to explain that the panel was actually quite critical of the mullahs, but she refused to listen.

Eventually, I gave up and just walked away. She hadn't been in the room but she spoke to me as if she knew more about the event than I did. It was a lot of hoopla over nothing.

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