By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
The Iranian regime of theocracy, hangings and draconian dress codes for women already dominates the press for almost 80 million people in Iran. It already denies them the right to free speech, to dress as they want to, to attend volleyball games, to have basic human rights. It already abuses a dozen minority groups, including Kurds, Baluchis, Zaroastrians, Bahai, Jews, Azeris, Arabs, and others,
But it just got a new venue: The New York Times. On September 13 Mohammed Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of the “Islamic Republic”, published a scathing attack on Wahhabism and by extension Saudi Arabia and many Sunni Muslims. He claimed that extremist groups in Syria, such as Nusra, were part of a global Jihadist threat.”militant Wahhabism has undergone a series of face-lifts, but underneath, the ideology remains the same — whether it’s the Taliban, the various incarnations of Al Qaeda or the so-called Islamic State, which is neither Islamic nor a state,” he wrote.
Much of what Zarif said may have legitimate points. But when he writes, “Thus is fanaticism from the Dark Ages sold as a bright vision for the 21st century,” he could just as well have been referring to the reactionary, human rights abusing regime in Tehran and Saudi Arabia. How are the Ayatollahs and their hatred of women’s rights, gay rights and basic rights of minorities, not part of the “dark ages”? The role of the Iranian regime in supporting Bashar al-Assad’s brutal war against the Syrian people, is something from the “dark ages”, just as much as Nusra.
Zarif would have us believe Iran is on “our” side, as if its some enlightened democracy, struggling against intolerance. But Iran is a fountainhead of terror and intolerance. From Yemen to the extremist Shia militias in Iraq, to Syria, Lebanon and beyond, Iran is a regime undermining states, destroying them from within. It doesn’t build universities in Lebanon or Iraq, it trains people in killing. It keeps women under chadors. It takes away the basic rights of Bahai. It’s only selling point often is that it is the lesser of two abusive evils, not that it is providing hope and prosperity. It’s Stalin to Hitler, not LBJ to the Old South.
So why does the NYT give a platform to the Iran regime? Why do the Zarifs of the world get a platform in a democracy, in a major newspaper in a democracy, when they deny those rights at home. Why does Zarif get to propagandize us, while in Iran no one gets to speak their mind? Why is it the dictatorship always gets a venue in the democracy, while the democracy has no venue?
When you allow a dictatorship and human rights abusing regime to publish in a democracy, you are not giving them “free speech”, but rather collaborating with them. Rather than have opeds by Zarif, there should be oped by all the family members of those hung by Iran this year, there should be opeds by those denied basic rights by Iran, by those child fighters the regime sent to war not to long ago. By those wounded in Iranian regime-sponsored terrorism.
The way in which the Iranian regime is always given a platform in the West, while it denies a platform to others at home, was on display in 2007 at Columbia University. In a display of support for extremism and intolerance, the university welcomed Iranian President, Holocaust denier, homophobe, Mahmud Ahmadinejad in 2007. University President Lee Bollinger introduced the event with the bigot Ahmadinejad by saying, “The scope of free speech in academic freedom should itself always be open to further debate. As one of the more famous quotations about free speech goes, it is an experiment as all life is an experiment. I want to say, however, as forcefully as I can that this is the right thing to do, and indeed it is required by the existing norms of free speech, the American university and Columbia itself.”
Under this logic every dictator has a “right” to speak at an American university. Every Hitler would have a platform, because it is “required by existing norms.” Why does every dictator and murderer get a platform, but not their victims. Isn’t it enough that people in Iran are denied basic rights, imprisoned for dancing and sentenced to lashes for singing to the video ‘Happy’? Why is it those administering the lashes get a platform, but not the victims of the abuse? Iranian leaders already decide what goes in textbooks in Iran, why do they get a stage to lecture the West at a Western university. Why does “free speech” mean every dictator gets free speech in the US, but can deny it at home. Free speech is supposed to be for those in a free society, where everyone has an equality ability to speak, not to provide a platform for those who deny speech to others.
And yet the US keeps giving a welcome platform to Iran. The more people hung, the more the Americans want to hang on every word of the regime. Instead of protesting, they swoon.
To defend democracy there should be a basic decision to deny platforms to foreign leaders and regimes that deny rights to their own people. The Iranian regimes of the world have their own state-owned media, they have their own state-run universities where they crank out propaganda and stories sympathetic to the regime. With all their billions of dollars in resources they already have channels to disseminate their views. They don’t deserve a platform in newspapers in a democracy, nor at universities in democratic countries. By giving them a platform, and not the opposition, the democracy is collaborating with the dictatorship and its human rights abuses. The only people who deserve a platform are victims of the regime, the voiceless, the weak, those denied rights in places like Iran.
No more oped space for Zarif, no matter how much he smiles, and no more university halls for Ahmadinejad.