Feeling a bit Charlie Brown: Shirin Ebadi, Nuclear Inspections and Iran

First published in Q-News, November 2003.

Its arguably one of the few positive images of Muslims after 9/11, but at least now no-one thinks you’re paranoid anymore. Certainly, if I were part of the Iranian parliament, or the office of the presidency, or any other facet of its complex governmental apparatus, I’d be wondering why, as the song goes, everybody was picking on me.Imagine this: you’re a country (Iran) with a nuclear power programme and you’re a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapons state, and you are regularly subjected to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) tests. Also in your region is a country (Israel) with a reported illegal arsenal of 400 nuclear warheads, it doesn’t submit to IAEA tests, is not a signatory to NPT and is run by a racist war criminal. You wouldn’t, on any reasonable analysis, expect the UN system or the international community to be hounding you on pain of sanctions and military intervention, to submit to more tests whilst Israel stands by not only unaccountable, but internationally funded and mandated to bomb civilians and shoot at and kill children.

Imagine further then, that you’re a country (Iran) which has put on trial an intelligence ministry officer charged with murdering a Canadian-Iranian journalist during detention. From the time of the perpetration of the crime (July) till now, you’ve announced and conducted an enquiry, found that a crime has been committed and taken members of the state apparatus to court. Still the president is not convinced that the trial is fair, and is making big noises about impartiality. Bizarrely, you’re still being given lectures on human rights by every Tom, Jack and Tony. Bizarre still when you think only recently, an inquest was held into the death of a black man in police custody in another country (the UK), some four years after his death, and that found he had been unlawfully killed. This all only came after years of campaigning by the bereaved family and activists, and after the Crown Prosecution Service refused to press charges against any police officers involved. To be fair, the CPS are reviewing their decision. But still it sounds a bit pot, kettle, black?

Then of course there’s the Nobel Peace Prize and its award to a human rights activist for her pro-woman and child work, Shirin Ebadi. Let’s leave aside the fact that promoting human rights usually leads to conflict as opposed to peace (ask any anti-apartheid campaigner from South Africa to Palestine). You’re a bit proud actually, even though Mrs. Ebadi’s a critic, at the end of the day she’s the first Muslim woman to receive the prize. But you’re also a bit confused. Your country is full of talented and brave individuals, as well as pretty adventurous NGOs. As regards women and children, there’s no shortage of advocates.

Imagine the possible candidates…women who’ve stood for the presidency only a few years back, who’ve consistently advocated women’s and children’s rights, who recently staged a sit-in outside the prison where the above-mentioned Canadian journalist was killed. Then there’s the women who struggled against the Shah’s dicatorship, in many cases raped in detention by officers from his secret service SAVAK. In fact you’ve got plenty of women who are veritable thorns in the side of the administration. Imagine then your surprise when the award is given to a woman whose track record isn’t exceptional given the multitude of activists. A woman who at the end of the day was appointed a judge whilst in her twenties by the regime of a nepotistic and croneyistic monarch, who aside from ordering the rape of dissidents and their family members, had several thousands killed. Favoured methods included being thrown into the notorious Lake Namak with their hands tied behind their backs, or being burned alive whilst in prison detention.

Mrs. Ebadi might well be the most courageous human rights defender the world has ever seen, but it doesn’t look good on your CV that the regime that appointed you a judge in 1975 was also deemed to be the “world’s worst violator of human rights” that year by no less than Amnesty International.

If I were the Iranian president, or part of the Iranian parliament, or the Council of Guardians, or office of the presidency, or of the office of the Vali-ul-Faqih or any other facet of its complex governmental apparatus, or an Iranian, I’d be confused if not angry. Still, what’s the worst that can happen to you if the big international players slate you over ‘human rights’ and ‘weapons of mass destruction’?

Arzu Merali is Head of Research at the Islamic Human Rights Commission

Images via Wikipedia CC2.0