President Obama’s overtures toward Tehran have reportedly had a heartening effect on Iranian human rights activists. Considering that Obama never uttered the term “human rights” during his Al-Arabiya interview, such enthusiasm is puzzling.
Yet there is a logic, of sorts, at work here:
Iranian officials have in recent years used growing tensions with the United States as an excuse to suppress opponents. They have said that the United States is using campaigners for women’s rights, student activists, and others to undermine the Islamic establishment and create a soft revolution.
Earlier this month, Arash and Kamyar Alaei — brothers who are internationally known AIDS experts and doctors — were convicted of being involved in a U.S. plot against Iran and sentenced to prison.
The idea is that if tensions ease-up between Iran and the U.S., Tehran will lose the U.S.-conspirator-cover-story for its human rights abuses. But Tehran hardly needs a cover story. The regime is currently drafting stricter laws limiting the rights of Iranian women, and doing so without any reference to America.
I fear Iranian human rights activists are the next group to become disenchanted with Barack Obama. If they have not yet heard (and given Iranian media, they might not have), Obama is not interested in ideology: he’s interested in expedience (um, I mean, uh, smart power). And the heartbreaking difference between the two is best captured in these words, written by a group of Iranian human rights activists to President Obama: “You ordered the Guantanamo prison to be shut down, in our land we have many Guantanamos in Evin, Rajayi Shahr…where students, women, workers, and the journalists of our country are being held.” But what that group has yet grasp is that Obama didn’t campaign on closing down Evin prison.