Iran: ‘…one freaking nightmare’

Personal accounts of the realities of life in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution were balanced with analysis of the current situation and the future during a lecture on human rights in the nation at Wilfrid Laurier University last Thursday.

Part of an international human rights lecture series, the event gave insight into what average Iranians and marginalized groups among them including religious minorities and those who refuse to accept Islam face under the theocratic ruling regime.

“Three of my family were hanged because they said they did not believe in Islam,” said Jafar Behkish, a local Iranian-Canadian activist who immigrated to Canada in 2002.

Seven of Behkish’s family were killed and some were buried in unmarked graves outside of Tehran. For non-believers, he said, “The situation is the same as with the Baha’i,” a persecuted religious group in Iran. “They do not have any rights, even the right to life.”

Mina Yazdani is an Iranian woman of the Baha’i faith who was forced to leave medical school after the 1979 revolution due to her beliefs.

She remained in Iran until 2004 and after completing correspondence courses attended Laurier for her MA in religion and culture.

“Mistreatment of minorities reveals serious contradictions and handicaps to development in the society in question,” Yazdani said.

“It’s only when … all men and women enjoy their inherent human rights that we can begin to speak of a prosperous and truly democratic Iran.”

The personal experiences of Behkish and Yazdani resounded among the students, faculty and community members assembled.

During the intermission, they were approached by those in the audience with experiences of their own who recognized the strength required to share their stories before an audience. Mahmood Monshipouri is an associate professor of international relations at San Francisco State University.

He spoke on the human rights abuses that have taken place in the country over the years and what dissent, like that expressed in the wake of the disputed 2009 presidential election, means for the future state of the nation.
“Predicting and shedding some light on the situation in Iran is one freaking nightmare,” Monshipouri began.

At present, a variety of internal and external political factors, including response to the nation’s nuclear ambitions, have made addressing human rights concerns less of a priority. “Politics is always above human rights,” he said.

The so-called “Green Revolution”, protests that dominated international media attention after allegations of a rigged election, was discussed at length by Monshipouri.

“Did Western media inflate and over-hype the green movement? The short answer is yes,” he explained.

He stressed that the outburst of protest was no more than protest and that, “It didn’t have the sustained vibrancy of a revolution.”

Rather than a calculated plan to topple the regime, the movement’s intent and effect could only be to initiate reforms.

Monshipouri outlined that the source of a true shift in the regime will come about from a combination of initiative among Iranians and international influence.

“On the one hand I’m saying that without any external pressure, any progress towards changing [the state of] human rights is unlikely to transpire,” he said, adding that ultimately the human rights struggle has to be won internally as intervention by the U.S. or other Western nations would be ineffective and “absolutely counterproductive.”

“External pressures are important, but it is up to the Iranian people to decide how to deal with the situation.”