Note: An amicus curiae brief is a letter from a party who is not the plaintiff or the defendant in a case, but who would like the court to consider the ramifications of its verdict beyond the particulars of the case.
The Iranian Supreme Court recently overturned the murder convictions of 6 Basij vigilantes who executed a young couple, Reza Nejadmalayeri and Shohreh Nikpour, on grounds that the couple’s behavior was unIslamic. Since a last appeal to undo this decision is still possible, here is a plea to the full membership body of Iran’s Supreme Court to consider the political and economic consequences of its final verdict.
In 1875 the United States Supreme Court decision, United States v. Cruikshank overturned the murder convictions of a band of white vigilantes who had participated in the lynching of several black men. The Cruikshank case and the Nejadmalayeri case are connected in ways that go beyond the de facto sanctioning of lynch mobs.
Many decades after the infamous Cruikshank decision--and many other racist verdicts--the United States was unable to morally defend itself against Soviet anti-American propaganda. During the Cold War competition for global leadership an amicus brief by the US justice department urged the Supreme Court to consider the international ramifications of how it interprets the US constitution. Similarly, in an atmosphere of anti-Iranian sentiment in the West, Nejadmalayeri should be judged in the light of the current threats to Iran’s national security.
The most immediate threat to Iran’s sovereignty is the possibility of a military strike by the United States. Though support for the Iraq war is fast fading, it is a mistake to take this as an indication that post 9-11 America is ready to make its peace with the Islamic world. None of the leading US presidential candidates, Democrat or Republican are willing to take the option of a military—possibly nuclear--strike off the table. In a country where polls guide politicians' public statements it is not hard to guess what the candidates’ internal polls are revealing about the American state of mind relative to Iran. America’s internecine dispute is mainly about how badly the Iraq war was managed. No American leader is seriously considering reversing the policy of military involvement in the Middle East.
Allowing the basij vigilantes to go free gives the impression that the Islamic Regime has abdicated its authority to the mob. If the full membership body of Iran’s Supreme Court upholds Nejadmalayeri, any anti-war argument which cites Iran’s national sovereignty will lack a solid foundation. A government which does not appropriate enough authority to itself to fully administer the laws of the land, does not have a reasonable claim to legitimacy. In the past, the United States has gained support for military action abroad by successfully demonstrating that the country she is about to invade is run by warlords. Somalia, Afghanistan and the Balkans are examples. The Iranian government’s sanctioning of street justice strengthens such a case for war against Iran.
Global warming concerns have made nuclear energy an attractive alternative to oil. As a result nuclear power generation is increasing steadily throughout the world. In the near future any country that cannot generate its own nuclear power will be at a serious economic disadvantage.
International fear of Iran’s nuclear technology program is not just about atom bombs. Due to the extremely dangerous nature of nuclear material, even civilian use of nuclear energy requires trustworthy guardianship. Iran’s government must demonstrate a high level of skill and professionalism in administrating the law, so as to foster respect for order among its citizens. Sanctioning vigilantism is a step in the wrong direction. At this point even the most well intentioned defenders of Iran’s right to advanced technologies would be reluctant to recommend scientific cooperation with Iran. Iran’s growing population urgently needs nuclear energy, and the nation’s efforts to obtain it would be hurt if the current Nejadmalayeri verdict is left to stand.
Citizens give their consent to be governed in order to enjoy the benefits of protection from the governing body. Victims of state-sanctioned vigilantism are denied the important protection of due process. So far secular Iranians have weighed the benefits of rebellion versus its costs and have decided that in the balance it is better to shrug off basij interference as annoyances. But once basij vigilantism goes beyond harassment to include physical harm or death, this balance will quickly change and the citizenry will withdraw the legitimacy of the regime. If Nejadmalayeri is left to stand it could become the turning point where Iran’s pacifism towards the current regime will shift to militancy.
The Cold War eventually led The United States Supreme Court away from Cruickshank towards Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case which ended racial segregation in America. This turned out to be of enormous benefit to the country. Without Brown v. Board of Education The United States would not today be able to project her power across the globe, as she would be internally wracked by civil strife. Likewise Iran could benefit from her own landmark supreme court decisions which interpret Iran’s constitution with an eye towards national unity and international reputation.
Several years ago the Israeli Supreme Court blocked the attempt by the Israel Land Administration to create separate Arab and Jewish housing developments. The president of Israel’s Supreme Court, Aharon Barak was able to protect Israeli Muslims from discrimination by citing a famous legal precedent. The case he cited was from another country's law history: Brown v. Board of Education. In the long run there is barakat in extending the protection of our laws to all humans, even if at first it seems we are doing so out of expedience. Now Iran's Supreme Court has the opportunity to turn Nejadmalayeri into a Brown v. Board of Education. Leaving it as a Cruickshank is harmful to civilization, Iran's in particular.