The drumbeats for a US invasion of Iran continue – and sadly, there are still precious few in the Jewish community who are willing to suggest that Iranian President Ahmadinejad is anything less than Hitler incarnate. (See my earlier post on what I believe is an unfortunate and unhelpful comparison). Amidst all the rising rhetoric, I’d like to spotlight one under-reported but profoundly critical anti-war voice: namely, the Iranian Human Rights community. Two of my personal human rights heroes in this regard are Akbar Ganji and Shirin Ebadi.
Ganji is an Iranian journalist who has written and spoken out extensively against Iran’s oppressive domestic policies. He spent six years in prison and underwent an extended hunger strike before his release in March 2006. Although the US government spoke out on his behalf, Ganji refused a personal invitation to the White House last summer because he believes current US policy does not help promote the cause of democracy in Iran.
In an interview last July, Ganji had this to say about a potential US invasion of Iran:
We strongly oppose any military invasion against our country. First, it is impossible to invade Iran in the same manner that Iraq and Afghanistan were invaded. The most they can do is to launch missile attacks from afar or to perform pinpoint operations against. But this will not bring democracy. It will only devastate our country. And it’s certainly not clear that this would bring down the tyrannical regime.
Democracy cannot be exported with the use of military invasion or with $75 million budgets. The sad situation we witnessed in Iraq is certainly more than enough. We follow a third line. And the third line says no to American foreign policy and says no to the policies of the Iranian regime. We are antiwar. We speak for peace. And in order to bring peace, we need the system in our country to become democratic. However, we are the agents of bringing that democracy, not the United States.
President Bush and Mr. Blair have already admitted that these tyrannical despotic systems have been put in place by the West, and even today that they have realized their past mistake, they intend to solve it through a military solution. But there is no military solution to the problem.
Ebadi is an Iranian lawyer and human rights activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her efforts – in particular on behalf of women and children in Iran. Like Ganji (whose case she defended), Ebadi has also spent time in an Iranian prison. And like Ganji, Ebadi believes that an invasion of Iran would be a tragedy for all concerned. In an 2005 article for the Independant (UK), she wrote:
Not only would a foreign invasion of Iran vitiate popular support for human rights activism, but by destroying civilian lives, institutions and infrastructure, war would also usher in chaos and instability. Respect for human rights is likely to be among the first casualties.
Instead, the most effective way to promote human rights in Iran is to provide moral support and international recognition to independent human rights defenders, and to insist that Iran adhere to the international human rights laws and conventions that it has signed.
Getting the Iranian government to abide by these international standards is the human rights movement’s highest goal; foreign military intervention in Iran is the surest way to harm us and keep that goal out of reach.
Iranian society is much more complex and multi-faceted than the image conveyed by our government and media. For years within Iran, there has been a growing movement of local politicians, grassroots activists, and young bloggers working tirelessly for civil society and human rights in their beloved country. Certainly no one has less illusions about Iranian oppression than courageous activists like Ganji and Ebadi – and few have as much moral authority as they to address the disastrous prospect of a US-led invasion.
As the drumbeats grow louder, I believe their collective voice is one we would do well to heed.