Don’t see Iran as freedom fighters

22 Oct 2010

While Hugo Chavez shamefully embraces Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and utterly ignores Tehran’s horrific human rights record, Nasrin Alavi highlights the struggles inside Iran that deserve global support:

The Iranian state has to come to terms with the reality that, a generation after the revolution, no hardline Islamic student group is (or has been) able to gain control of any Iranian campus through free elections.

In the same week that Ahmadinejad was hailed as a hero of resistance in Lebanon, fellow inmates of the imprisoned human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, told of her nightly interrogation sessions and the screams that could be heard from her cell. We have also heard from the father of student Hamed Rouhinejad, who has related his desperate efforts to get guards at the same prison to take delivery of his son’s medication for multiple sclerosis, “begging them to keep it refrigerated so it doesn’t go off.”

When a loopy preacher in Florida threatened to burn the Koran, there were violent protests across the Arab world, but when pro-Ahmadinejad militia attacked the offices of Grand Ayatollah Saanei last June, leaving his books and tattered copies of the Koran in their wake, a deafening silence was heard from Iran’s neighbours. Had these events taken place in the occupied territories, I suspect the response would not have been so mute. Is this not the same gross hypocrisy and double standard that we in the region often accuse the west of?

Today Iranians who are standing up for their rights deserve to be acknowledged by their Arab neighbours. Their struggle is part of a long walk to freedom that began with the creation of the first elected parliament in the region in 1906. By 1911 authoritarian rule was implemented as Britain and imperial Russia strangled the early aspirations of Iranians for democratic change. A generation later, the democratically elected government of Mossadegh was finished off in a coup backed by Britain and the US.

Whether in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia or Iran, we are all familiar with pitiful old men who sit blaming and cursing the ghosts of a colonial past. These men are forever warning us of the enemies in the shadows who will conspire and thwart our every move.

But Iran is a country of the young, where two out of every three people you see on the streets are likely to be under 30. It is also the only country in the middle east where people can’t blame corruption, tyranny or even their daily hardship on their American-backed leaders.

We buried our colonial parents during the 1979 revolution. Today, the children of that revolution are banishing the ghosts that debilitated their forefathers by demanding that we hold ourselves accountable—both for our failures and for our successes.

Wikileaks Iraq logs show our damned contempt for Arabs

22 Oct 2010

Welcome to our legacy in the Middle East:

A grim picture of the US and Britain’s legacy in Iraq has been revealed in a massive leak of American military documents that detail torture, summary executions and war crimes.

Almost 400,000 secret US army field reports have been passed to the Guardian and a number of other international media organisations via the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

The electronic archive is believed to emanate from the same dissident US army intelligence analyst who earlier this year is alleged to have leaked a smaller tranche of 90,000 logs chronicling bloody encounters and civilian killings in the Afghan war.

The new logs detail how:

• US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.

• A US helicopter gunship involved in a notorious Baghdad incident had previously killed Iraqi insurgents after they tried to surrender.

• More than 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents. US and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists but the logs record 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities.

The numerous reports of detainee abuse, often supported by medical evidence, describe prisoners shackled, blindfolded and hung by wrists or ankles, and subjected to whipping, punching, kicking or electric shocks. Six reports end with a detainee’s apparent death.

As recently as December the Americans were passed a video apparently showing Iraqi army officers executing a prisoner in Tal Afar, northern Iraq. The log states: “The footage shows approximately 12 Iraqi army soldiers. Ten IA soldiers were talking to one another while two soldiers held the detainee. The detainee had his hands bound … The footage shows the IA soldiers moving the detainee into the street, pushing him to the ground, punching him and shooting him.”

The report named at least one perpetrator and was passed to coalition forces. But the logs reveal that the coalition has a formal policy of ignoring such allegations. They record “no investigation is necessary” and simply pass reports to the same Iraqi units implicated in the violence. By contrast all allegations involving coalition forces are subject to formal inquiries. Some cases of alleged abuse by UK and US troops are also detailed in the logs.

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