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The Silence of the Lambs About Iran

The Silence of the Lambs About Iran

Inconvenient narratives for leftists.

Recently, Joshua Muravchik wrote Why the Left Should Stop Carping and Love the Jewish State, Again, at The Tower Magazine.

In one paragraph he presents the gist of his argument.

Moreover, when viewed in the light of the core values of the Left—and, indeed, much of the contemporary Right—Israel actually comes off remarkably well; often much better than its most violent critics. These values are summed up by the great slogan of the French Revolution: “liberté, egalité, fraternité,” “liberty, equality, fraternity.” Israel’s record with respect to these core values ranks among the best in the world, while that of its principal enemies, the Arab nations, is dismal. Indeed, Israel’s record is in some cases better even than its European and other Western critics. Because this record is often obscured in the angry polemics against Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, it is worth examining it in depth.

One thing Muravchik mentions is the record of Israel’s Arab enemies. It’s indeed something worth looking into.

However there’s also the record of Iran, Israel’s major non-Arab enemy that’s worth examining. The liberal (or leftist) world has made a cause of reaching out to Iran. In doing so the Left ignores the way Iran violates many of its cherished values. I’d like to look at a few of these issues.

Minority Rights

Contrary to the impression presented by Iran’s leadership, Iran has a huge minority population, including Kurds, Azeris, Balochs and Arabs. According to this list, minorities make up at least 40% of Iran’s population. (I recently attended a lecture that put the figure at 50%.)

What rights do minorities in Iran have? In last year’s election, then-candidate, Hassan Rouhani promised greater freedom for Iranian minorities.

In his successful bid for the presidency in 2013, Hassan Rouhani promised to allow ethnic and religious minorities to be involved “in all political and administrative levels of government, including membership in the cabinet.” He also pledged to allow the “teaching of Iranian native languages” such as Kurdish, Azeri, and Arabic. And he met with Arab tribal sheikhs from Ahwaz during the campaign. The election results reflected a strong showing in provinces with significant minorities.

Speaking native languages appears to be a major point of contention between the regime and its minorities. Trend, an Azerberjani news service, reported Tens of Azerbaijani civil activists arrested in Iran.

Tens of Iranian Azerbaijani cultural activists have been arrested in the city of Ahar in the East Azerbaijan province of Iran ahead of International Mother Language Day, the Association for the Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran (ADAPP) reported on Feb. 20.

The report has published names of some 60 arrested civil activists which were gathered in a home in Ahar.

In January, Hashem Shaabani and Hadi Rashedi, Ahwazi Arabs from Khuzestan were hanged for the charge of “war against God.” Shaabani was hailed as a poet and both were described as “cultural activists.”
Amir Taheri wrote that President Rouhani personally authorized the executions.

Last year in March, the Ahwaz New Agency reported on a crackdown by the Iranian regime against Ahwazi activists – including arrests and executions – ahead of expected protests in April.

To be sure, members of some ethnic minorities have held positions of power in Iran – in fact, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may be part Azeri – but overall, Iran seeks to keep them from expressing their identities too openly.

Religious minorities also don’t fare well in Iran.

Although a few parliamentary seats are reserved for religious minorities – Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians – and the Iranian constitution provides for some freedom of worship, religious minorities are oppressed. According to this report, the Armenian Christian community has dwindled from 300,000 to less than 100,000; the Jewish community from 80,000 to 25,000; and the Zoroastrian community from 300,000 to some 20,000 since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Declines that great surely reflect persecution and restricted freedom.

Iran’s constitution offers no protection for the Ba’hai. Accordingly members of the faith can find their property confiscated, and themselves jailed or executed. In November, Elliott Abrams summarized their plight:

There are only 300,000 Bahais in Iran, or less than one-half of 1 percent of the country’s population. But since its founding in 1979, the Islamic Republic has singled this group out for systematic repression. In the early years, hundreds of Bahais were executed and thousands more were imprisoned. Bahai properties have been confiscated without compensation. Bahai Iranians are barred from holding government jobs, their children are excluded from the nation’s university system, their marriages are not recognized and their cemeteries and holy places have been desecrated. It is government policy to incite hatred of Bahais in the official media. And more than 100 Bahai leaders remain in prison — for the crimes of being Bahai and teaching their children their religion.

Abrams noted also that the early indications were that Rouhani would not improve the lot of the Ba’hai. Last week a high ranking Iranian official accused Ba’hai of being spies “… for the CIA and Mossad.”

Death Penalty
The death penalty was one of the factors that led to a United Nations General Assembly condemnation of Iran in December, 2013. Executions since the election of Hassan Rouhani as president have actually increased. The UN’s bureaucracy has also noticed:

“There were some encouraging signs last year where political prisoners were released … But it appears at least in the past seven weeks that in fact executions have been scaled up,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing.

“We regret that the new government has not changed its approach to the death penalty and continues to impose capital punishment for a wide range of offences. We urge the government to immediately halt executions and to institute a moratorium.”

In response to the spike in executions, this week, Shamdasani called for a moratorium on executions in Iran.

The rise in executions isn’t exactly surprising. Rouhani appointed as his justice minister, Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, otherwise known as “Minister of Murder” for his role in thousands of summary executions at the behest of the late Ayatollah Khomeini in the late 1980’s.

Gay Rights
While liberals in the United States believe that gay marriage is the civil rights issue of the day, in Iran gay people are condemned to death. In October, seventeen men were arrested for being part of a “network of homosexuals and devil-worshippers.” According to National Geographic:

Under the penal code of the Islamic Republic of Iran adopted after the 1979 revolution, death is a potential punishment for homosexuality. Kissing another man or woman in public may result in 60 lashes.
International human rights groups have collected evidence that Iran has executed men on homosexuality charges, and documented cases of arrests, imprisonment, and physical abuse of LGBT persons based on their sexual orientation or association with other members of LGBT community. An updating of Iran’s penal code in May 2013 criminalized homosexual identity, rather than specific acts, making it punishable by 31 to 74 lashes.

Hate Speech

Iran has a long documented record of calling for the destruction of Israel. A 2012 paper by Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum and Lt. Col. Michael Segall showed that a “broad spectrum” of Iran’s leaders called for Israel’s destruction.

Rouhani participated in this year’s Qods Day celebration (misleadingly called a “pro-Palestinian” commemoration by the New York Times) surrounded by signs declaring “Death to Israel.” The recent 35th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic revolution, was marked by chants of “Death to America.” Wendy Sherman, America’s chief negotiator with Iran was singled out with cries of “Death to Sherman.”

Corporate Greed

One of the largest corporations in Iran is controlled by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Last November, Reuters published an in depth investigation on the Assets of the Ayatollah.

Setad has become one of the most powerful organizations in Iran, though many Iranians, and the wider world, know very little about it. In the past six years, it has morphed into a business juggernaut that now holds stakes in nearly every sector of Iranian industry, including finance, oil, telecommunications, the production of birth-control pills and even ostrich farming.

The $95 billion corporation is under the control of the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. While Reuters acknowledges that there was “no evidence that Khamenei is tapping Setad to enrich himself,” nonetheless “Setad has empowered him.” Central to the growth of this conglomerate is the confiscation of property. Reuters tells the story of a widow to illustrate:

The 82-year-old Iranian woman keeps the documents that upended her life in an old suitcase near her bed. She removes them carefully and peers at the tiny Persian script.

There’s the court order authorizing the takeover of her children’s three Tehran apartments in a multi-story building the family had owned for years. There’s the letter announcing the sale of one of the units. And there’s the notice demanding she pay rent on her own apartment on the top floor.

Vahdat-e-Hagh, is Ba’hai. After her husband was sentenced to death and executed in 1982, she was harassed by various organizations to sell her properties. In 1991, Setad moved to confiscate her properties, which it did successfully. (Setad was founded in 1989 by Ayatollah Khomeieni shortly before his death, but it was his successor Khamenei, who turned it into a major conglomerate.)

The Reuters investigation traces how Setad grew due to confiscations and rewriting laws to shield it from scrutiny. The Reuters report is so damning, it’s a scandal that no other news organizations appear to have followed up on it.

Of course, now that sanctions have been reduced, it is Ayatollah Khamenei who stands to gain a lot from this relief.


None of these behaviors seem to make liberals generally, and the Left specifically, wary about dealing with Iran. I noticed two recent editorial notes in the New York Times, perhaps the foremost voice of America’s Left. One was ‘Death to America’ in Perspective by Carol Giacomo, which argued:

When listening to the “death to America” chants, it’s important to remember that there is plenty of muscular rhetoric from Washington as well. In Congress, many lawmakers have been pushing for a new round of even more punishing sanctions.

That is unbelievable. How is advocating for sanctions anywhere near the level of calling for someone’s death? The calls for sanctions are based on an idea that the Left should love: bringing Iran into compliance with UN Security Council resolutions. Those aren’t cries of hatred like “Death to America.”

Another column, this one by Jesse Wegman, argues On the Death Penalty, ‘Too Many Doubts’:

Notably, Gov. Inslee did not focus on who is or isn’t “deserving” of capital punishment, or what is the most “humane” way to put someone to death, which has always been a red herring. The issue, as he simply laid it out, is that when the state intends on killing someone, there can be no question that the process it has followed to prosecute, convict, condemn and execute that person is absolutely beyond reproach.

Of course, the death penalty has never met that standard anywhere, which is part of why it should be done away with nationwide.

Would the New York Times endorse a candidate who supported the death penalty after following due process? So why do they want a deal with a regime that uses the death penalty as an instrument of repression? When the death penalty can be applied for the crime of “waging war on God,” what defense is there?

With the Left (including the administration and its supporters in the media), there’s an absolute moral blindness when it comes to dealing with Iran. Beliefs and actions that would cause these cheerleaders for accommodation with Iran to shrink away in horror if they were advocated by an American politician, are perfectly acceptable now that a “moderate” is President in Iran.

The cynicism of their enthusiasm in hyping a deal with Iran is exposed by their silence on the extremism of the regime they now hail.

[Photo: NewsGlobal© / YouTube ]


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Joshua Muravchik is always worth reading and anyone who wants to make the case for Israel to an open-minded person should bookmark this article. For such people it would be very effective.

But for most of the left it would not be, or does anyone think that the values the left claims are the values it holds? Or that what motivates the left is what leftists ay motivate them? If so, why?

I should have started realizing this on June 11, 1967. If there is anything clearer, it’s that the left is moved by other things. These facts about Israel and its enemies are not exactly hidden. But a left that says nothing when Occupy Wall Street needs to have “safe tents” and “rape free zones,” and despite its claims of supporting the rights of women and gays says nothing about the systematic oppression of both groups in the Arab Muslim world…well, such people are not likely to read the article, snap their fingers, and say, “Oh, golly, I never thought of that.”