Rumbling from Mount History

Restrained but powerfully articulated anger at Iran Human Rights seminar


Rumbling from Mount History
by Ari Siletz
Everyone at the recent Iran Human Rights Seminar in San Jose got a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). During the presentations there was much discussion of religion, and it is possible to review the event by comparing the UDHR to a much older declaration in the Bible. [seminar photos]

There are ten commandments in the laws of Moses, and three times as many in the UDHR. The first four laws that came down from the mountain aren't at all about how humans should treat each other; rather they establish the authority of the lawgiver:

1. I'm God.
2. Don't worship anything else.
3. Respect my name.
4. Every seventh day is "God day." [see note 1]

After God uses up almost half the space on the tablet flashing his police badge and gun, he finally gets around to saying we shouldn't rob and murder each other.

By comparison, none of the articles of the UDHR claim the power to enforce. The first article, for instance, simply says, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

There is no reference to authority because the code isn't meant for individuals; it is meant for states. Lawgivers themselves. The only god able to lord over these super beings is History. This is reflected in the preamble to the UDHR, which basically warns:

1. I'm History.
2. Respect human rights and your reward shall be peace and joy.
3. Violate human rights and your punishment will be war and a pissed off population.

The conference itself was a showcasing of restrained but powerfully articulated anger. Smoke and rumbling from Mount History.

Religious minorities:
Bahais are the most severely persecuted religious minority in Iran. Their leaders are jailed or executed. They are denied access to higher education. Employers are pressured to fire Bahai employees, and lawyers are too intimidated to accept Bahai clients.

Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians have nominal freedom under Islamic law to practice their religions. But IRI laws are cleverly designed to whittle away at these rights. One conference speaker, Dr. Jaleh Pirnazar mentioned an IRI law where if one member of a family in a religious minority converts to Islam then all the rights of inheritance go to that person, disinheriting the other family members. These sneaky persecutions slowly institutionalize our culture's traditional mistrust and contempt for members of minority religions.

The audience questioned critically whether defending the right to religion does not go against the secular grain of human rights. After all, which of these God based institutions wouldn't do the same to Muslims if the situation were reversed? The answer seems to be that if the UDHR is powerful enough to liberalize Islam, then it would also restrict intolerance in other faiths. [seminar photos]

At one point in the panel discussion Neda Shahidyazdani, speaking for the Bahai, told a story that transcended even the articles of UDHR. A Muslim man broke into tears after handing over the body of an executed Bahai to the victim's mother. He said he wished he were not part of a system that would commit such crimes. Is it not a human right to live in a society where one is not forced to contribute to crimes of conscience? As an Iranian-American I feel this violation of my human rights every time I remember my taxes pay the salaries of torturers in Guantanamo prison.

Women's rights:
The Million Signature Campaign to stop gender discrimination in Iran is currently at the frontlines of human rights efforts. IRI laws discriminate against women regarding polygamy, divorce, child custody, inheritance, blood money, court testimony, travel abroad, public appearance, and many other issues. Women's rights activist Fariba Davoodi Mohajer made a strong play for leadership of the dissident community by pointing out that the vigor in the women's movement could energize other political movements too damp to ignite.

She's right! Currently, political winds are backing women's movements. The universal upheaval in gender attitudes reminds us of the dramatic days when class wars were reshaping the world. During her "can do" style PowerPoint presentation Davoodi Mohajer outlined the successes of the campaign in reaching, educating, and activating Iranian women, setting an example for all organized action against unfair laws.

Daringly, Davoodi Mohajer chastized the traditional leftists for ignoring women's rights in their agendas when the Left held the world's attention. The shoe is on the other foot now, but has the lesson been learned? I wonder how much cooperation exists between the women's movement and, say, the labor movement. Conversely, how many signatures is the labor movement collecting towards the million?

There is tremendous support for the Million Signature Campaign outside Iran, including a recent youth demonstration in Geneva that helped pressure the IRI to free some of the campaign's activists from prison. Diverse dissident groups in Iran could pitch in with resources, and get profitable returns on their investment in the internationally favored women's movement. [see note 2]

Which brings me to a great new Farsi word used by Dr. Mansour Farhang during his talk on cooperation. Faraajenaahi, coined by Iran scholar Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak means "non-partisanship", a desperately needed word and concept for Iranian activists.

Admittedly, cooperation is sometimes unpleasant. For example the Million Signature Campaign does not seek regime change, only changes in the law. This may deter regime change supporters from participating in the effort. Yet another word that is fairly new to our ancient language may be of some help. The word Siaasat used to mean "good administration." But when the concept of citizenship evolved during the 1906 constitutional movement, Siaasat started meaning "politics" [see note 3]. This new meaning democratized negotiating, coalition building, power broking, temporary pacts,and yes distasteful alliances. So everyone can get in the mud now, not just ministers and kings.  In this sense, politics is democracy, and getting dirty is a privilege, not a dishonor.

Nevertheless, for the virtuous and the principled, the faraajenaah nature of the Iranian Society For Human Rights makes it an ideal vehicle for coalition building, and the most formidable tool yet for a multi-pronged democratic assault on the IRI. In fact we know the IRI feels threatened by the human rights weapon because, it has responded by creating its own center for human rights studies and holds its own conferences on the topic.

Despite their unshaved faces and disregard for clothing fashion, IRI supporters are cutting edge politicians, and know how to avail themselves of dirty democratic teamwork when needed. Their common Shiite faith isn't their only instrument of unity. As for the opposition, the moral strength of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights is a good replacement for faith in God, but the rest has to come from smart politicking. The winner of this God versus Man contest will be whoever forges the strongest union. May the best man win. [seminar photos]

Note 1. This is the Torah grouping of the Ten Commandments. There are other groupings. Note 2. A conference of the Iranian Women's Studies Foundation is being held July 4-6 in Berkeley. Here is the info. Note 3. See page 6, State And Society in Iran by Homa Katouzian. Note 4. This review covers only a fraction of the human rights issues discussed in the seminar.


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Ari Siletz

For Martijn Rep

by Ari Siletz on

Good point! It is hard to motivate large-scale altruism with no-frills fact. Emotions, aesthetics , "soul," and rituals--what some call spirituality--are crucial.

The comment below by IWASTHERE mentions anger and tears as witnesses to IRI murders recreated the painful events for the audience. I wasn't there for those particular talks, but hearing about their impact, I confess I worried about the parallel with the Shiite martyrdom theme. But then, purely intellectual appeals go only so far.


Iwasthere: Did anyone tape

by Anonymousanonymous (not verified) on

Iwasthere: Did anyone tape the event??? I would love to purchase the tape.


To free Thinker

by IWASTHERE (not verified) on

Free thinker, have some cold water. These pictures been taken when people were posing for camea and they didn't even know the pics will be post on the, you should have been there to see all of these smiley faces crying and anger when Parastou Forouhar was describing his parents assasination, you should have been there to see the effect of Iraj Mesadaghi and Monire Baradaran talk about the 1367 massacre, why are you so angry? how do you allow yourself to judge more than 200 people based on pictures...I don't get it...

Darius Kadivar


by Darius Kadivar on

Civil Society in the Making ! Keep up the Good Job !


Great Job Everyone who Participated

by Santa Cruz (not verified) on

I attended this gathering and I thought it was fantastic. I am 23 years old and do not speak perfect Farci, and I do not consider myself a very political person, but I do vote and I do follow as much Iranian politics that I can and allowed on the internet. And I know enough to recognize that fighting for human rights, the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled to is not UTTERLY USELESS and if anyone thinks otherwise, they are very ignorant and inconsiderate. If one has any intelligence, they would know that having events to bring a group of people together to fight such an important cause, teaching about the history of Iran and trying to come up with a simple solution where it does not matter where you are from, what god you believe in and who your family was, a person should have basic human rights… is not USELESS. The important matter is the fact that such gatherings which unite us together as Iranians fighting for a cause are tremendously encouraging. Together, no matter who we are and what language we speak or where we even live, fighting for rights for Iranians should be a joint effort. Call me a dreamer but at least instead of sitting in our homes and waiting for some miracle to happen, we are trying to make some progress.

Ari Siletz

For Faribors Maleknasri M.D.

by Ari Siletz on

If you're arguing for more Iranian-American participation in US politics, I'm all for it. But I am unclear as to why you think this means there should be less Iranian-American involvement in Iranian politics. Why is one sort of activism useful and the other useless?

Also, the above article mentions one of the cases--Geneva demonstration--where human rights activism led to the release of prisoners in Iran. Clearly, the protest was not useless.

Jahanshah Javid

Hope and progress

by Jahanshah Javid on

This gathering -- and many similar ones in recent years outside Iran -- are tremendously encouraging. Thirty years ago, human rights and democratic values were not considered anything worth fighting for. Today it's rare to find opposition activists or politicians who do not believe in the universal declaration of human rights or democracy. This enthusiastic embracing of fundamental rights by such a wide spectrum of Iranians (lawyers, students, academics, politicians...) only gives hope in a brighter, freer future for Iran and Iranians.

Who remembers a time when prominent non-Bahais publicly defended the right for Bahais to freely practice their faith and enjoy all rights? Who remembers a time when so many support the women's movement for equality? Who remembers a time when anyone even acknowledged the existence of homosexuality, let alone tolerate it to the extent we do today? When in our history has democracy been so widely accepted as THE most desired form of government?

The battle is by no means over. But this is tremendous progress.


Utterly Useless

by Faribors Maleknasri M.D. (not verified) on

In Fact. I think those self-named protectors of Human rights would have better lost a word about this fact: Judges in the united states get elected in the same way as governores, senators, the president and so on. The economy, trade and industry sponsor their election compaigns. How democraticlly can then the Judgment in general in the United states be? The Irano-Americans can play an active role on this issue, read and write a bit about lake of democracy in their new home. Who is supposed to get happy about all these baseless critisism on Islamic Republic of Iran? Whom should it help? What can it change? Who has sponsored the journy of our countrymates to the United states? How easy was it for them to get a visa and why? The islamic Republic of Iran is today just untouchable. The system which could have been founded by sacrificing blood and life is unchangable. I think better one sees these facts realistically and makes his mind. Better beginn with introduction and estabilishng, importation, initiation, inauguration of human rights first in the united states where the Irano-Americans live but do not participate in any social rights which build the basics of human rights. Continue to do as you have done only if you get paid for it. Otherwise one can also make a good name of himself if She/He trays the fact in the assemblies: The Senat of the united states has not let pass through some fundamental parts of the human rights charta and stuggl for their passing. But be carefull. It can cost you your greend card, it can cost you your american only or second nationality. I hope then the way back home will be for sure open for you. Once there offer the system your help and experiences. you will see: They send you for a while to.......? learning Koran by heart. Greeting


Many thanks for the

by Martijn Rep (not verified) on

Many thanks for the coverage.

One remark: I feel it's not necessary and may even be counterproductive to describe IRI versus opposition as 'God versus Man'. It seems to suggest that it is a battle between religion and humanism which creates a black-and-white picture that does no service to the process of establishing human rights. It may even play into the hands of those who are against universal human rights.

It's not just a political battle but (perhaps even more so) a spiritual battle. On that plane, religion and humanism should be allies to ensure victory.


Utterly Useless

by Free Thinker (not verified) on

This is yet another example of a bunch of dysfunctional Calif-Iranians getting together, under the mild weather and the sunny sky of San Jose, all looking happy and chirpy, smiles all around, ladies relaxed and cheerful, fashionably dressed and fittingly made up, men bumptious and bouncy all in seaside holiday attire posing for holiday snaps, hugging and squeezing their lady friends, AND GUESS WHAT? They have gathered to share information and remind themselves, and the world in theory, of the outrageous crimes and violation of human rights taken place under the Islamic regime of Iran!!! Surely, such a painful subject would have affected a few of the participant to the extent of showing some disgust or looking pensive, god forbid sad, or at least sombre. No chance! In nearly 200 hundred pictures posted in the accompanying photo essay, there not a single sad or sombre face — not even ONE! If were told who these people are and why they have gathered there, you would have rightly mistaken this gathering with a Convention of Exotic Cruises Travel Agents discussing the recent rise in cruising around the world due to the sharp rise in oil prices! I suppose you would have been able to see a fewer smiley faces in such a gathering than you see in the conventions of Iranian Human Rights Activists of California!!

Well, with such leading figures among the key speakers as Lahiji (Ebadi's controller and the rigth hand man whose farcical interview with the VOA last year, ended in him remaining speechless when one telephone caller reminded him of how he used to encourage the expat-students to return to Iran under Rafsanjani's presidency which lead to many of them being arrested and tortured if not killed). Or Mansur Farhang, Imam Khomeini's first UN rep and an ongoing pal to his old buddy Ibrahim Yazdi. Not to forget Ahamad Karimi-Hakkak who is the darling of the regime sponsored "cultural" events and conferences and their "Chair of choice."

I said it before and keep saying it that you Calif-Iranians are living in a world of you own and have no idea what the true Iranians, those who live inside the borders of Iran are going through. Keep enjoying your happy isolation while it lasts. The reason that you are against the regime change in Iran is clear: you don't want to have your merry gatherings to stop because when the regime goes, you won't have much to gather for any longer ... and of course you don't have much to return to your homeland for either!



by Mazloom on

good reporting