Commentary Magazine


Topic: Baha’i

Time to Give Iran the Human-Rights Test

I’m not necessarily opposed to diplomacy with rogue regimes, but the idea that “it never hurts to talk,” as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Undersecretary Nicholas Burns, and Bush-era Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage have said is simply false. In my book, I chronicle the costs of engaging rogue regimes so at least policymakers can enter into negotiations with eyes wide open rather than simply assume their outreach is cost-free.

Whether in Clinton and Bush’s outreach to North Korea, Obama’s diplomacy with the Taliban, Reagan’s engagement with Saddam’s Iraq, or today with regard to Iran, diplomats often dispense with human rights in order to suffer no impediment in their drive to deal-making. The current flourish of nuclear deal-making, after all, had its roots in the Critical Dialogue initiated by German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel in 1993. The “critical” portion of that dialogue, European diplomats explained, was because Europe would tie tough discussion of human rights with nuclear talks and trade. Of course, it was just a matter of months before the Europeans dispensed with the critical aspect of their dialogue and nearly tripled trade. Iran took that hard currency windfall and invested it in their nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Obama is different. Or at least he says he is. Both he and John Kerry have colored their careers with flowery rhetoric about human rights. The question is whether they consider such lip service to human rights and religious freedom merely props in their now-fulfilled quest for power.  

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I’m not necessarily opposed to diplomacy with rogue regimes, but the idea that “it never hurts to talk,” as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Undersecretary Nicholas Burns, and Bush-era Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage have said is simply false. In my book, I chronicle the costs of engaging rogue regimes so at least policymakers can enter into negotiations with eyes wide open rather than simply assume their outreach is cost-free.

Whether in Clinton and Bush’s outreach to North Korea, Obama’s diplomacy with the Taliban, Reagan’s engagement with Saddam’s Iraq, or today with regard to Iran, diplomats often dispense with human rights in order to suffer no impediment in their drive to deal-making. The current flourish of nuclear deal-making, after all, had its roots in the Critical Dialogue initiated by German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel in 1993. The “critical” portion of that dialogue, European diplomats explained, was because Europe would tie tough discussion of human rights with nuclear talks and trade. Of course, it was just a matter of months before the Europeans dispensed with the critical aspect of their dialogue and nearly tripled trade. Iran took that hard currency windfall and invested it in their nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Obama is different. Or at least he says he is. Both he and John Kerry have colored their careers with flowery rhetoric about human rights. The question is whether they consider such lip service to human rights and religious freedom merely props in their now-fulfilled quest for power.  

May 14 marked the sixth anniversary of the imprisonment of seven Baha’i leaders in Iran. Their plight is an issue I covered often in the years before I started writing for COMMENTARY. To mark the anniversary, Bahá’ís of the United States and a host of other religious organizations including the American Jewish Committee, the American Islamic Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Baptist World Alliance have sent a letter to Kerry which reads in part:

May 14 will mark the sixth anniversary of the imprisonment of the seven members of the former ad hoc leadership group of the Bahá’ís of Iran… As governments and human rights organizations have attested, their imprisonment is for no other reason than their membership in the Bahá’í Faith and their service to the Bahá’í community… They were convicted on a number of charges, including espionage, propaganda activities against the Islamic order, acting against the security of the country, and corruption on earth – all of which they categorically denied… Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, over 200 Bahá’ís have been killed, the majority by execution, and thousands have been imprisoned. Bahá’ís are denied government jobs and business licenses, and are excluded from university. Their marriages are not recognized, their cemeteries are desecrated, and their holy places have been destroyed…

Mr. Secretary, the gross mistreatment of the Yaran [imprisoned Bahá’í leadership] and the severe and systematic state-sponsored persecution of the Bahá’ís is emblematic of a deteriorating human rights situation in Iran. In addition to Bahá’ís, other religious minorities, including Christians, Sufis, and Sunnis face persecution; ethnic minorities are repressed; journalists are jailed; lawyers and other human rights defenders are targeted; and executions are on the rise. We are deeply concerned about religious freedom and human rights in Iran. We ask you to call for the release of the Yaran and all prisoners of conscience in Iran, and to speak out for the fundamental rights of all citizens of Iran.

Demanding the release of the Baha’i leaders is the perfect opportunity for Kerry to determine Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s sincerity and his ability to deliver, especially because both Obama and Kerry imagine Rouhani as some sort of Iranian Deng Xiaoping. But if Rouhani isn’t able to release seven Baha’i, then how can they be so sure he will be able to stand up to the supreme leader, the Principalist faction, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to deliver on a nuclear deal, even if Rouhani were sincere? It’s time for a test of Iranian intentions, and if that test results in freedom and liberty for prisoners of faith and conscience, all the better.

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Iran’s Imprisoned Baha’i Infants

President Obama’s outstretched hand has been a death knell to human rights in Iran. First, Obama chose silence against the backdrop of the Iranian regime’s worst abuses in the aftermath of the 2009 post-election uprising. What he had not announced at the time was that he had sent the Iranian supreme leader not one but two letters seeking dialogue, and did not want to upset the self-professed Deputy of the Messiah on Earth by speaking out in support of the Iranian people.

While the press turns to the human rights abuses suffered by ordinary Iranians in the aftermath of the occasional uprising, be it the 1999 student protests, the 2001 football match fixing riot, or the 2009 election unrest, the minority Baha’i community suffers continuously. The problem for the Baha’i boils down to the fact that Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last prophet God would send to man, but the Baha’is believe that God rewards man with new revelations as mankind evolves to the point where he is about to receive them, and so they recognize a couple prophets who have revealed themselves after Muhammad. To be a Baha’i in Iran is to be, from the regime’s point of view, an apostate worthy of imprisonment or death. Iranian Baha’is are often denied entry into universities unless they renounce or deny their faith, and Baha’is who meet together for the purpose of worship or community organization are often imprisoned for years under harsh conditions.

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President Obama’s outstretched hand has been a death knell to human rights in Iran. First, Obama chose silence against the backdrop of the Iranian regime’s worst abuses in the aftermath of the 2009 post-election uprising. What he had not announced at the time was that he had sent the Iranian supreme leader not one but two letters seeking dialogue, and did not want to upset the self-professed Deputy of the Messiah on Earth by speaking out in support of the Iranian people.

While the press turns to the human rights abuses suffered by ordinary Iranians in the aftermath of the occasional uprising, be it the 1999 student protests, the 2001 football match fixing riot, or the 2009 election unrest, the minority Baha’i community suffers continuously. The problem for the Baha’i boils down to the fact that Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last prophet God would send to man, but the Baha’is believe that God rewards man with new revelations as mankind evolves to the point where he is about to receive them, and so they recognize a couple prophets who have revealed themselves after Muhammad. To be a Baha’i in Iran is to be, from the regime’s point of view, an apostate worthy of imprisonment or death. Iranian Baha’is are often denied entry into universities unless they renounce or deny their faith, and Baha’is who meet together for the purpose of worship or community organization are often imprisoned for years under harsh conditions.

Alas, when the Iranian regime targets young mothers, they often imprison their infants under the same harsh conditions. Hence the latest news out of Iran:

Two Baha’i infants imprisoned with their mothers in Semnan Prison, were transferred to hospital due to health deterioration. According to the reports by Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), Two Baha’i infants suffering from lung and ear infections, imprisoned with their mothers in Semnan prison’s Women Ward (one of the worst prisons in Iran), were transferred to hospital. Zahra Nik-A’in and Taraneh Torabi, Baha’i citizens who were sentenced to 23 and 20 months in prison, respectively, are serving their sentences at Semnana Prison despite being mothers of infants. Zahra has an 11-month old son, and Taraneh has a five-month old son. All of them are severely sick and need immediate medical care.

The Iranian regime has become masterful at stringing the Obama administration and State Department along: Hold out the hope of talks, and know that U.S. officials will self-censor their criticism out of desperation for a dialogue which Iran only insincerely embraces. Let us hope that someone in the White House will at least take the time to see the faces of Iran’s youngest victims.

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