In early August, an event was held in a Foreign Ministry hall in wealthy north Tehran. It had the grand title of “The Commemoration Of Islamic Human Rights and Human Dignity and Second Awards Ceremony”.
But attendance was so dismal that the organizers had to delay the opening. Finally, in desperation they were forced to fill the many empty seats with hastily-summoned junior diplomats.
A long-time Palestinian West Bank ambassador, Mr. Salah Al Zawami, balked. Finding himself about to be corraled into another tedious pantomime, he stopped at the door of the empty auditorium and, in passable Persian, loudly enough for the journalists to hear, said, “If the other Islamic ambassadors are not attending , I’m going back to my embassy.” (Ironically, the former Israel mission in Tehran. )
During the awards ceremony a young man in his twenties with spiky hair was summoned to the podium. He was Dr. Naser Al-Olaa, the so- called Head of Human Rights and Democratic Freedom in Yemen. Predictably he read a speech of thanks to the Iranian state and its citizens for their support for the people of Yemen.
It was the second time in a few months that I had come across a Yemeni hipster in Tehran. The first time was on the sidelines of a seminar on the Yemeni Islamic revolution. A Yemeni/Houthi political activist was talking to a local reporter in near-fluent in Persian. He was clearly very familiar with Tehran. In fact, it was clearly some time since he’d been a hands-on activist in Yemen as he’d had very expensive orthodontic work – braces and wires – done in Iran, thanks no doubt to Iranian taxpayers.
Also on stage at the Islamic Human Rights Awards Ceremony was Shaikh Khadem Abdol Vahab , the head of Sunni Scholars in Iraq. He spoke about human rights violations in Iraq , Syria , Yemen and Bahrain committed by Takfiris and Daesh/Islamic State – violations sponsored by the great Satan America and the Zionist regime. The Shaikh noted the superiority of “Islamic Human Rights” over the internationally accepted Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This kind of official and very public watering down of the UDHR is common these days in Iran. More importantly, it is pure revisionism. The shaikh, like many of those close to the regime, conveniently forgets that Iran’s 1979 revolutionaries accepted the values of the Universal Declaration and its related conventions after the shah was toppled.
The Iranian regime behaves like the two-faced Roman god Janus. One face tells the West that Iran does respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The other face, speaking to Iran’s allies and the Iranian people, adds a sneaky adjective “Islamic” – and uses it to undermine what Iranian officials signed and ratified 37 years ago.
In fact, Javad Larijani, head of the Islamic Human Rights department, and his brother Ali Larijani, the parliamentary speaker, have argued that “the Universal Declaration of Human rights is the fruit of liberal democracy in imperialist countries, but Islamic Human Rights are superior and should be observed in the Islamic world.”
So what are “Islamic Human rights”? The revolutionaries in 1979 may have accepted the Universal Declaration in theory, but not in practice. For a whole decade, they imposed the death penalty or long jail sentences on prisoners of conscience, Communists and Baha’is, for political reasons. Christian preachers and converts were tried in Islamic kangaroo courts and either summarily executed or sent to jail. The official justification of this abuse was that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was nothing but a product of “corrupted western liberal minds.”
Later, at the end of the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq, it was President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who came up with the idea of modifying the concept of universal human rights with the word “Islamic.” He assigned a building on Africa Avenue in Tehran (formerly Jordan Avenue) to Iran’s Human Rights officials, where they could get on with developing their Janus persona.
Iranian ideologues note that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that human beings have a right to be atheists. But, they argue, it is innate to human nature to believe in god and to need religion. Therefore, the Declaration and Western liberalism deny human nature.
Nowadays, new Islamic cults are emerging in Iran. There is Cosmological Mysticism (Erfan-e-Kayhani or Halgheh). Its leader, Mohammad Ali Taheri, is in jail and may be executed. About 100 of his followers picketed the Human Rights Building in Tehran earlier this summer. They regard themselves as Muslims, not atheists, but the regime denies them the right to express their religious values or to worship. “Islamic” human rights in Iran recognizes only one acceptable religious orthodoxy – the one endorsed by the ruling regime.
The supporters of “Islamic” human rights should be brave enough to stop hiding behind the adjective and call a spade a spade. At least Islamic State and al Qaeda leaders come clean and say “we don’t give a damn about universal human rights or other corrupted western values.”
But the Iranian regime doesn’t have the courage. It prefers its Janus mask, ie its hypocrisy.
The Universal Declaration is one step ahead of them. Article 30 anticipates the likelihood of political chicanery in the name of religion, and says unequivocally that it is unacceptable.
· Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.