The Truth Behind the "Dialogue of Cultures and Civilizations", By Farhad Mafie
Iran’s Human Rights Can Be Traced to Cyrus the Great
As a reminder for Mr. Khatami and the Islamic Republic of Iran’s (IRI) theoreticians promoting the "Dialogue of Cultures and Civilizations":
Cyrus the Great (580–529 BC), the first Achaemenian Emperor of Persia, issued a decree that was later hailed as the Charter of Human Rights for all nations. Inscribed on a clay cylinder, this first declaration of human rights is now kept at the British Museum. A replica is also on display at the United Nations in New York.
Why, then, a "Dialogue of Cultures and Civilizations"? What are the motives behind the Dialogue? How does it relate to human rights? The Dialogue is basically a vehicle for justifying the IRI’s violations against, its disregard of, and its compromises on human rights. Another attempt to prolong the IRI's existence.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
On December 10, 1948, the U.N. General Assembly adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (For the full text, go to: http://www.un.org/rights/50/decla.htm.)
Following this historic act, the General Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and "to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories."
- Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
- Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
- Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,
- Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,
- Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
- Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,
- Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge
This UDHR as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
Has Human Rights Promotion and Acceptance Been Successful?
Has the UDHR reached its short- or long-term objectives? Has this “common standard of achievement” reached worldwide acceptance? Of course not! No one is claiming that the UDHR has reached its objectives or has been implemented completely in certain parts of the world. The UDHR is a goal. It is a mission to be achieved by every individual in all parts of the world. True understanding and acceptance of Human Rights principles require many other elements that have been developing in parallel in various societies. Simple behavior modification is insufficient. A paradigm shift is necessary.
But a paradigm shift can result only when social and political freedoms and economic development permit an individual to develop. Such a shift will require changes in certain traditions, principles, religious beliefs, cultural obligations, political ideologies, etc. This is not easy. It will require changing principles that might violate or oppose deeply rooted beliefs and deep-seated social attachments. That is why promoting the UDHR and continuously striving to make it second nature have been part of the overall recommendation of Human Rights principles from the beginning.
Today a few countries that are politically, economically, and militarily strong have been able to implement selected aspects of the Human Rights principles, but even they have a long way to go to fully disseminate Human Rights concepts and principles into their cultures and their belief systems. A simple review of Western society’s progress in allowing women to vote or to be considered as equals to men shows how rooted this prejudice and these primordial ideologies really are! They give us a much better appreciation and understanding of the struggle that millions of women in many parts of the world still deal with in their day-to-day lives.
Today, cultural and religious beliefs are being used as tools to prevent women (who represent roughly half of the populations) from their most basic rights. The Islamic Republic of Iran and President Khatami promote the Dialogue of Civilizations while, at the same time, Iranian women are striving for the most basic and fundamental rights. The Dialogue of Civilizations has been proposed by a government and by a president that have never shown any sign of respect for basic civilized concepts.
Take, for example, their tacit approval of stoning to death an Iranian woman after she was first whipped one hundred times. Is this a civil act, simply a part of “Iranian culture and civilization”? Hardly. Take public decapitation. Yet another “civil act”? A government that dictates what people should wear, what kind of music they should listen to, what kinds of sports or college majors are appropriate for men or women, etc., now seeks a “Dialogue” on what is considered “civilized.”
The interesting question is, “Why does the United Nations support this show?” And “Why has it never demanded that the IRI must first act civilized toward the Iranian people?” Obviously, the first step is to respect international laws. Next, to stop promoting terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere. THEN, and only then, will the IRI be truly ready to promote the “Dialogue of Civilizations.” Maybe the UN believes that the Dialogue might support HR principles in Iran. Maybe the UN thinks that increased communication and dialogue with the West will help disseminate new ideas in Iran and other parts of the world. But the UN and others who actually think these types of activities are useful need to understand one basic fact: They are being used. Programs driven by a dictatorship and a religious government that ignores the will of its own people are simply propaganda activities that have no other value than promoting the government’s dark motives and objectives.
Why doesn’t the UN simply request a “Dialogue Among People” in each country that violates basic Human Rights (especially Iran, since it is the promoter of this “Dialogue”)? Let’s see the faith and sincerity of each participating country first before making this a worldwide program?
Basically, let’s mandate that each country has a true dialogue with its own people first as an uncompromising prerequisite.
Are Human Rights "Universal"?
Mr. Khatami and his Islamic theoreticians have been questioning the whole concept of HR. This has been the centerpiece of the philosophy and ideology of their modernist movement. He talks about Islamic Democracy—an obvious oxymoron—as if God’s will (Islamic principles and guidelines) and the people’s will (democratic system) are actually the same or can be forced to be the same. These Islamic fundamentalists consider Western-style development and ideas as a threat to an ancestral identity whose preservation is the chief goal of those in POWER (i.e., the Islamic Government)! This authoritarian system, with the collaboration of intellectuals who promote these philosophies, has been raising the general philosophical question of whether anything in our multicultural, multiethnic, and multinational world is truly “universal.”
They are trying to brainwash the masses that Human Rights is essentially a Western concept that ignores the very different cultural, economic, and political realities of the rest of the world. They pose controversial questions such as, “Can the values of the consumer society apply to societies that have nothing to consume?” Or, “Don't Human Rights, as laid out in international covenants, ignore the traditions, the religions, and the social-cultural patterns of third-world countries?”
They have done an excellent job of confusing basic Human Rights principles with their overall authoritarian way of thinking and their Islamic values.
Someone once asked, “When you stop an Iranian man from beating his wife, are you upholding her human rights or violating his ?” I am sure that Mr. Khatami and his full-time, well-paid theoreticians of the Islamic modernist movement have a socially correct answer (one that is, of course, appropriate for the IRI) to ease the pain for the beaten woman and to find an escape route for the violent man, just as they have “socially correct answers” to justify public stoning, public decapitation, public whipping, and many other barbaric behaviors!
"When Have You Heard a Free Voice Demand an End to Freedom?"
At a speech at Tehran University in 1997, Kofi Annan asked: "When have you heard a free voice demand an end to freedom? Where have you heard a slave argue for slavery? When have you heard a victim of torture endorse the ways of the torturer? Where have you heard the tolerant cry out for intolerance?"
When one hears that Human Rights are unsuitable or inapplicable or ethnocentric, it is important to ask, “What are the unstated assumptions of this view? What exactly are these Human Rights that they are so unreasonable to promote?”
The IRI's Hidden Agenda and Iran’s Extremely Deteriorated Condition!
The IRI's real motives behind questioning Human Rights need to be taken very seriously.
In order for a totalitarian government such as the Islamic Republic of Iran and other similar governments to continue their existence and to justify their continuous aggression and belligerent acts against the innocent, they need to redefine “Human Rights.” Based on the fundamental way of thinking of the IRI theoreticians, nothing (including Human Rights) can be universal that is not founded on transcendent values, symbolized by God, and authorized by the guardians of Islam (i.e., the IRI's infrastructure). They then argue that the concept of Human Rights is really a cover-up for Western intervention in their affairs, and that Human Rights are merely an instrument of Western political neocolonialism. They consider Human Rights a Trojan horse, surreptitiously introducing unsuitable ways of living, thinking, and feeling into their culture. They point out that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not suitable for countries such as Iran since GOD (their GOD) was not involved with it!
Although religion is not supposed to sanction oppression, history has proven that in many cases religion has actually been used to create even more tyranny against mankind. History has proven that authoritarianism promotes repression, not development. Development is about change, but repression prevents change.
In Asian Drama: An Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations, Gunnar Myrdal provides some insight into the impact of religion on progress and culture. After 10 years of studying south Asia, Gunnar concluded that:
… cultural factors, profoundly influenced by religion, are the principal obstacles to progressive thinking and modernization. It is not just that they get in the way of entrepreneurial activity but that they permeate rigidity and dominate political, economic, and social behavior.
A simple review of Iran’s social, economic, and political model after the 1979 revolution shows how Islamic fundamentalism has actually made the country regress to a level that most of its valuable resources are either not being used, are of very limited use, or worse, are being wasted by extremely poor management by the Islamic government. In its "human development" index, the United Nations ranks 174 countries in terms of human development; the Islamic Republic of Iran has been downgraded from 86th to 95th place! The consensus among domestic and foreign observers remains that Iran’s economy is now in worse shape than it was before the revolution. Judged by official Islamic government statistics, all common indicators of economic health show negative signs. Per capita income is more than one-third lower; income gaps among households has widened; economic growth is lower; double-digit inflation, double-digit unemployment, and underemployment are more extensive; the government is deeper in debt; and net foreign reserves are smaller.
Furthermore, shortages of housing, classrooms, teachers, health clinics, and vital prescription drugs are publicly acknowledged; air and water pollution has significantly increased; and considerable soil erosion and alarming deforestation have been reported. As if these economic woes were not enough, the country is suffering from social scourges such as widespread drug addiction, prostitution, and urban crimes.
Read for yourself these reports from Islamic government news agencies (IRNA) and other international news agencies:
- Tehran, May 1, IRNA -- President Mohammad Khatami said here Tuesday that democracy is a time exigency for the Iranian nation and it would be futile to neglect democracy in the contemporary world. Resisting such global trends, he said, can only add to the problems. President Khatami told a group of exemplary principals, teachers and instructors on the occasion of Teacher Day that the Iranian nation, which up to 22 years ago was ruled by dictatorship, has now reached a phase in which it can experience Religious Democracy.
- Addressing the provincial Association of Supporting the Children, Diallo said that the standard of education and health services for the children in Iran lags behind UNICEF targets and Iranian children are now suffering from malnutrition.
- The number of prisoners in Iranian jails reached its highest at the end of the last Iranian month of Ordibehesht on May 21, reported the Persian daily Afarinesh on Thursday, quoting the head of the State's Prisoners Organization, Morteza Bakhtiari.
- Iran - Monday 18 June 2001 - An Afghan sentenced for armed robbery, multiple rapes and kidnappings and terrorizing a region of southeast Iran was beheaded in public, a press report said Monday. The conservative Jomhuri Eslami daily said Karim Rakhshani was decapitated at a crossroads in Zabol before hundreds of people.
- TEHRAN - A gram of heroin costs about US¢40 here. That's cheaper than milk and almost as plentiful, and it is causing Iran's leaders no end of headaches.
- June 18 2001 - Tensions underlying Iran's privatization program irrupted in violence on Monday, when workers at a recently sold textile factory attacked their new owner-manager in protest of nonpayment of wages. Staff said workers at the Chit-e-Rey factory on the edge of Tehran also smashed furniture and hurled computers out of windows when their new boss arrived for the first time in two weeks, but empty-handed. The crisis at Chit-e-Rey, which follows similar protests by disgruntled workers from several other privatized companies, illustrates the problems Iran faces in restructuring and selling loss-making industries with a weak private sector and no effective social security net in place. Proud workers once called Chit-e-Rey the "mother of Iran's textile industry." But after its nationalization with the 1979 Islamic revolution, the plant declined in common with other industries that were appropriated by the state or the powerful and secretive Islamic foundations known as “bonyads.”
- About 1.5 million anxious high school students will compete for 84,500 places at 80 Iranian universities that range from run of the mill to top-notch. That's a ratio of almost 18-1. Iran's post-revolution baby boom, the mounting economic pressure on its middle class and the high premium that status-conscious Iranians place on education have turned the college admissions process into a nerve-racking nightmare for students and parents.
Please note: Compare the number of high school graduates to the number of available university seats. Multiplying this number by just 10 years shows the depressing number of high-school graduates without any formal education, a lifetime burden for the society. Now multiplying this number by just 20 years . . .!
- Tehran, May 1, 2001, IRNA -- Some 220,000 leading academic elites and industrialists have left Iran for western countries over the past one year, the student news agency ISNA said Tuesday. The agency quoted the Minister of Science, Research and Technology Mostafa Moin as saying that they are unlikely to return. He criticized the lack of support and transparent policies for developing research and technology, saying that his ministry's budget in hard currency was just 40 million dollars.
- Tehran, Feb 13, IRNA -- An economist said Monday in the past 20 years, the per capita income in Iran has dropped while the value-added of the agriculture sector has remained the same. Speaking in a gathering to 'Assess Income and Poverty Conditions' held at the Rehabilitation and Welfare Science University, Nakhjavani added that in the past 20 years the personal investment of Iranians has not increased. Referring to the figures released by Statistical Information Center of Iran, he said the annual income of rural and urban households have dropped by 20 percent between 1984-98. Expenditure on food is lower by 41 percent and 18 percent for urban and rural households, respectively, in the past 15 years, Nakhjavani stated. The trend shows that households have substituted grains for meat in this period, Nakhjavan said, adding that consumption of meat plummeted 41 percent in the period 1984-98. While expenditures by rural household have been less affected by the fluctuations in oil prices, the figure is 80 percent for their urban counterparts, he remarked. He added that reform of tax and social security systems are short-term solutions to the problem of poverty. ''We should not expect to reduce poverty in the short term, but, efforts have to be undertaken so that people's problems will be lessened,', he added.
Another keynote speaker and economic expert, Fariborz Raies-Dana, said that over 30 percent of people live under conditions of absolute poverty and 50 percent are considered to be in relative poverty. He said that until the distribution of income, wealth and power is reformed, poverty will not be alleviated. Raies-Dana added that in 1978, 33 percent of the population [approximately 10 million people] were considered poor while currently 60 percent [approximately 42 million people] are below the poverty line.
In other words, 42 million Iranians are living below the poverty line!
This is the Islamic Government’s Promise for the Iranian people!
- TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Angered by what they call aggression against Palestinians, some of Israel's most radical foes began gathering in Tehran on Sunday for a conference of resistance groups organized by Iran. Iranian state-run television and radio heralded the Tuesday-Wednesday meeting by broadcasting patriotic Palestinian songs and footage of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops. The opening ceremony was attended by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mohammad Khatami and parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karroubi.
- Monday April 30, 2001. (AP) - Iran was the most active sponsor of terrorism worldwide last year, offering assistance for groups opposed to Israel and to peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the State Department said Monday. Still, Secretary of State Colin Powell gave an upbeat assessment of the struggle against terrorism worldwide, saying that international cooperation “is increasing and it is paying off.'' Powell commented as the State Department released its annual report on terrorism.
- On January 18, 2001, the body of Ramin Khaleghi, a 27-year-old Iranian, was discovered in the so-called 'International Hotel,' a hostel housing asylum-seekers in Leicester. Ramin had been a political prisoner in Iran for a number of years, before managing to flee to Britain. Yet the Home Office rejected his claim for asylum, despite, we understand, medical evidence of torture at the hands of the Iranian police. One week after learning of his rejection, Ramin took his own life.
- Zahedan, Sistan Baluchistan Prov., July 22, 2001, IRNA -- Fourteen HIV-infected Iranians have died in this southeastern province which houses 123 AIDS-positive citizens, 40 percent of whom are women, a provincial university professor announced Sunday. "Zahedan, Saravan and Nikshahr are home to respectively 3,730 and 21 HIV-positives," he said. Official figures meanwhile put the number of AIDS cases at 2,721, up 23 percent from November last year, while more than 10,000 carry the virus. But experts say the real figures are higher.
- TEHRAN, Iran, July 21, 2001 (AP) Twenty-five men were publicly flogged in Iran after a court convicted them of consuming and selling alcohol, a judicial official said Saturday. Sixteen men were found guilty of consuming alcohol, which is forbidden under Islam, and given 80 lashes each, the Tehran judicial official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Nine others were given 70 lashes each for selling and transporting alcohol. The sentences were carried out Friday at the capital's Darband Square, at the foothills of the Alborz mountains, and were witnessed by hundreds of people.
- The movie 'The Day I Became a Woman' examines conditions in Iran for various age groups and seeks the universal. "You are a woman today," a grandmother informs the spirited Havva one morning. "You cannot play with boys anymore. Hide your hair, don't sin." It is Havva's ninth birthday, and in Iran, according to Islamic beliefs, a girl of that age can be legally married; outside the home, she is expected to wear either a long robe and trousers or the traditional chador, a head-to-toe shawl designed to conceal the contours of the female body.
- TEHRAN, March 27, 2001 (AFP) - The Saudi-based Islamic Development Bank (IDB) has accorded Iran a 34-million-dollar loan, Iran's official IRNA news agency said on Tuesday. Citing an economic ministry statement, it said the IDB loan would be used to build a sewer system in the western city of Hamedan. The loan is repayable over 12 years at 6 percent interest, with a 15 percent reduction in interest charges if the payment is completed on time, IRNA said. Japan will extend a 46.9-billion-yen loan to Iran.
Just a sampling of the depressing and disheartening news from or about Iran EVERY SINGLE DAY!
These examples show how Iranian society has been deteriorating in the last 22 years. Every time the IRI whips someone publicly or in jail, hangs someone without a fair trial, and so on, it hurts more than just the poor innocent victim. The IRI is destroying human potential and the higher capacity for humanity in Iran.
What can be expected from a young generation that has been systematically presented with brutality, cruelty, and inhuman behaviors by its antiquated government? The IRI has been systematically developing and promoting inhumanity in people in the name of God from the very first days of its empowerment. An old Iranian leftist once said with smile, “Let’s let this government destroy religion for us … they are true communist promoters.”
Similar things are happening in other religious governments around the world. The pace of modernization in most Islamic countries has been very slow. In most Islamic countries illiteracy (particularly among women) is still very high, as well as child mortality. The only Islamic country that approaches modern standards of pluralistic governance (its curbs on Kurdish and fundamentalist dissent notwithstanding) is Turkey.
When Mr. Khatami spoke at the United Nations regarding the “Dialogue of Civilizations,” he repeatedly used the words “compassion,” “spiritual experience,” “true essence of humanity,” and “existential essence of humanity.” Yet when we look at Mr. Khatami’s record and the record of his government, when we observe their behaviors, we see no compassion, no spiritual experience, no true essence of humanity, and no existential essence of humanity.
Rather than listening to the IRI and Khatami . . .
The UN should instead look at their records first!
Human Rights for All
How sad that Iranians and many other people in the world in the 21st century still have to be concerned with the most basic issues of Human Rights.
Human Rights are derived naturally; they are “automatic” for every human being. They are not the gift of a particular government, the result of a legal code, or the legacy of Western civilization. The IRI's advertising machinery, its selected well-paid Iranian intellectuals, its well-paid Iranian media, and its well-paid Islamic theoreticians are doing their best to justify the IRI's violations of Human Rights as simply “cultural and traditional differences with the West.”
The fact is that they are struggling to promote their “dialogues concept” to save themselves. They are trying to justify their behavior to the West and cover up their criminal activities from Western eyes.
After all, the Western governments do need to justify their economic and diplomatic relationship with the IRI to their own people. They cannot sign multibillion-dollar contracts with the IRI when the IRI has been condemned for terrorist activities and continuous Human Rights violations. As we know, the moment the IRI was convicted for its terrorist activities in Germany at the Mykonos Trial on April 11, 1997, all the European nations ended their diplomatic relationship with Iran by withdrawing their ambassadors from Tehran. After all, even they can’t operate with 100% hypocrisy all the time! And once in a while when they are really forced to, they need to pretend that they do not partner with murderers.
This should encourage us to continue our efforts in condemning the Islamic Republic of Iran at every opportunity. Only by publicizing and exposing the IRI’s criminal activities and by democratic and legal means can we force the Western world to support the Iranian people’s struggle for basic Human Rights. They must be reminded that these supposed “Dialogues” with the IRI are not promoting Human Rights but, instead, undermining the Iranian people’s struggle and their great efforts to achieve basic, long-lasting freedoms.
Dialogue or Monologue?
The IRI’s Dialogues of Nations campaign is anything but a “dialogue.” How ridiculous! To them, dialogue means “We talk … you listen!” They have been shamelessly selling this ridiculous idea. The simple question is: When was the last time that they allowed someone to talk freely in Iran? When was the last time that they allowed Iranian intellectuals and scholars to have the opportunity to speak at Tehran University or any other university in Iran? When was the last time that they allowed one single article written by Iranians in exile to be printed in their media? Is this dialogue, or is it monologue?
If these guys are really and genuinely interested in a dialogue of nations, they can start with the Iranian people inside Iran.
The Islamic Republic of Iran Deserves an International Forum
If we do not unambiguously emphasize the universality of Human Rights even under an oppressive government such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, and if we do not stress that these rights cannot be diluted and changed, ultimately we risk giving such oppressive governments an intellectual justification for the morally indefensible (i.e., violation of Human Rights). The IRI’s objections to the applicability of international human rights and all their new tactics for hiding their criminal activities should be taken very seriously by all of us.
It is also essential that we recognize that universality does not presume uniformity. To emphasize the universality of Human Rights is not to suggest that our views of Human Rights rise above all possible philosophical, cultural, or religious differences or represent a magical combination of the world's ethical and philosophical systems. Rather, it is enough that they do not fundamentally contradict the ideals and aspirations of any society and that they reflect the common universal humanity, from which NO human being MUST be excluded.
Our time, our efforts, and our energy should be spent on supporting the Iranian people’s struggle for freedom and basic Human Rights, not on creating “forums” for those who belong on the bottom of the trashcan of Iran’s history.
"Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most that has made it possible for evil to triumph." — H. Selassie
For information, contact Farhad Mafie at email@example.com or at (+1) 949-356-2399.