Friday, 1 June 2007

West has no monopoly over human rights

In recent years the words ‘Democracy’, ‘Human rights’ and ‘civilised’ has become a very common. Often these words are used by the self proclaimed ‘righteous’ guardians of our world to attack the ‘enemies’ of the ‘civilised nations’ who form the axis of evil. Two leaders who use these words most are two staunchest allies, Tony Blair and George W Bush, The prime minister and president of the United Kingdom and the United States respectively. The country who felt the most heat from the use of these words and often been subject of Anglo-US wrath is none other than the Islamic Republic of America. What strange however is that often the Iranian regime have been criticised for ‘suffocating’ the people of Iran and curtailing their freedom through ‘undemocratic’ regime in Tehran. Interestingly enough never has there been any clear and elaborate explanation for such exertion and no serious attempt has been made to undertake an objective study of the matters. Interesting too that our great media institutions who pride in themselves for their objectivity never questioned the validity of such assertion, never has they given opportunity to the Iranians either to defend themselves.

It is important that we do not lose our sight of the need for objectivity. With this in mind, I shall attempt to present my views which I hope would be the views of many others here in relation to some of the issues that Iran is accused of instigating.

The most powerfully used phrase against the Iranians is often the power of the Ayatollahs and as such the regime is often being labelled as ‘theocratic’. As a result in the views of some, Iran is a nation without democracy in which individuals, the ordinary men and women have no freedom. How true is this assertion? Let us analyse and make our mind.

The Iranian system of governance is slightly unique in that it has an elected parliament, an elected president and a supreme leader who is not directly elected. On a day to day basis, the president runs the country with his cabinet, the group of ministers while parliament keeps the government accountable by scrutinising and legislating. The supreme leader rarely gets involve in the running of the government and only on issues of great national importance he intervenes. In most cases however, the role of the Supreme leader is one of a guardian protecting nation’s socio-cultural religious identity and values. And it is on issues of cultural, social and religious matters or other matters with socio-religious and cultural implication the supreme leader steps in to reflect the mood of the people and to unite fighting factions. Where is the wrong in having a figure that remains extremely popular in the position like that of the supreme leader of the Iran? Many other countries have such arrangements in the form of monarchy etc.

The president, arguably the chief executive, elected directly by the people in secret ballots and there has never been allegation of fraudulent activities involving the ballots. Why is it than the Iranian president than should be seen as anything less than democratic? The parliament has a decisive role and the parliament is elected too. Most of the municipalities have elected leaders or representatives of the people, why should Iran than be labelled as anything other than democratic? If we compare Iranian democracy with that of the US, what can we say? We see in the US a system in which money and Brand determine leaders who will govern the people of the United States; we see the grip of corporate big fishes having most part of the ‘pie’. Even on election, the system is marred by allegation of manipulation. President Bush came to power in the first place when clearly he lost the popular vote and that was excluding the votes that then were declared invalid due to systems designed to favour the republicans. Millions of people even now are deprived of their right to vote either through administrative hiccups, or using draconian laws. How can than the US of all the states claim an upper and morally superior position on issue of democracy?

With regards to Human rights, where is the clear proof that Iran falls short on its commitment to human rights than those who attack them? Take the example of the ‘custodians’ of human rights world wide, the US and the UK. United States is still a country deeply divided along the racial lines where colours of skin play major role as to what kind of treat should a person get. We have seen after the events in New Orleans, in relation to the American Muslims and Arabs and others that USA is far from being a country in which freedom flourishes without violation of human rights. Still there are draconian roles that victimise its own citizens and undermines equality of all people. Of course, I have not yet mentioned the appalling and disgraceful Guantanamo which is a scar in the consciousness of the world. How than the United States has the right to criticise anyone else of violation of Human rights? Even if we compare, can we find an equivalent of Guantanamo in Iran? Are there laws that discriminate among its people? Is there such neglect, prejudice or negative measure in Iran against any part of its population? I doubt very much.

There are other allegations such as people are forced to cover in specific ways. But which country does not have limitations? There are cultural and social requirements unique to each nation, people who cannot accept such cultural realities just have to live with it, and that is life. We cannot have unlimited freedom, we must exercise our freedom responsibly without showing contempt for others, their ways of life. True we cannot imagine a lady wearing mini skirts in the Iran, but why should we expect such freedom where sexually implicit and culturally alien matters Iranian society? And even if we are to criticise Iran, why should we not look at others too who have similar draconian measures? Jack Straw found veil not conducive to British society and unhelpful to integration and community cohesion, France finds Hijab at schools contrary to its secular values, Turkey finds Hijab not compatible with their values and tradition, why have we not criticise them for their anti-freedom attitude? Answer is simple, the west lead by the US and European powers are not interested in justice and equality, they are not bothered about respect for others, they have a specific agenda, an agenda in which they wants to see they, and them alone prevail. In the words of a great scholar, writer and thinker, Muhammad Asad, the western views regarding Islam is one of the following: ‘instead of liberating the human spirit from the shackles of obscurantism, Islam rather tightens them; and, consequently, the sooner the Muslims peoples are freed from their subservience to the Islamic beliefs and social practices and induced to adopt the western way of life, the better for them and for the rest of the world…’ These words may have been written long before our current time, never the less the views and attitudes of the western governments towards Muslims is precisely that. When such are the views held by the western powers, not just Iran, any country that rise up in its own right without recourse to western nepotism, they will be criticised, marginalised and where possible destroyed by forces or otherwise. I hope however, that the views of the people of the west are one of mutual respect, and it is time to challenge the prevailing thoughts of our politicians in the west.

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