This Thursday KQED’s live call-in program, Forum, hosted some of the contributors to the book Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been, New Writing By Women of the Iranian Diaspora. From their comments it was clear that these Iranian-American women writers were careful not to fan the anti-Iran flames that have facilitated the Bush administration's plan to invade Iran. For example, one of the guests mentioned that Americans should not judge living conditions in Iran by what they see in Iranian movies. These films are dramatizations of Iran’s social issues, not literal reenactments. I saw her point immediately. Would we take the bleak and gut wrenching Oscar winner “Monster” as a snapshot of American life? Another guest mentioned that while her work does not paint a rosy picture of Iran, she does not wish to leave out what rosiness there is. One guest hinted at similarities between Iran and the United States regarding the erosion of civil rights and its connection to religious fundamentalism.
In response to this careful land-mine treading, American callers phoned in with attacks. Do you not lose credibility when you compare Iran’s theocracy with the influence of religion in American life? Where is the morality police in America? Where are the veiled women in America? Another caller phoned in his support. Michael Krasny, the host of Forum tried to shield his guests by correctly mentioning that these writers and poets are not experts on the policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Yet that did not stop the next caller from asking the panel to comment on Iran’s appointing Saiid Mortazavi to lead her delegation to the UN Human Rights Council. With this request the caller, Judy Stone, shelled with devastating accuracy an already hard to defend position. Among other human rights crimes Mortezavi is accused of complicity in the murder of Zahra Kazemi, the Iranian-Canadian journalist who died while in Iranian police custody. It was a moment of great tension in the show.
Judy Stone is an author and former film reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle. And she is no Iran hater. On the contrary I consider her to be an Iranophile, because her recent book Not Quite a Memoir devotes many pages to Iranian filmmakers. The philanthropic outlook of this book leaves no doubt that its author wishes to see Iranian artists thrive in a country that is worthy of their talent. She does not however seem to have caught on to the concern of the show’s guests: we live in a political environment where too much negative publicity on Iran could lead to the deaths of thousands of Iranians—millions in case of a nuclear attack-- and the destruction of this country’s heritage and infrastructure. How then to respond to the Judy Stones of America?
The best policy is to follow Iranian Noble Laureate Shirin Ebadi’s lead. Go ahead and say what you believe. Yes, Iran’s government must be held accountable for the death of Zahra Kazemi and for countless other human rights violations, but this does not in any way mean that the United States should invade Iran.
Like the baby’s real mother seeking Solomon’s justice we must make it clear that we do not support a regime change that may cost more lives than it saves. The pillars of human rights rest on the solid ground that life should not be sacrificed to principle. Confronted with rights abuse questions about Iran, our first human rights obligation is to make the questioner clarify his/her position on the subject of military intervention in Iran. “Before I answer that, I would like to know where you stand on the subject of the military invasion of Iran by the United States.” This is not an out of place request under the current circumstances. If the questioner approves of such an invasion then clearly his/her human rights concerns need further maturing. If however the questioner takes a clear stand against war with Iran we have succeeded in distinguishing a person of conscience from a warmonger masquerading as one.