During recent times the United States government has protested the violation of human rights in two radically different Muslim nations, Egypt and Iran.
In Egypt, since the beginning of the 1990s, detailed and extensive reports have been kept regarding the persecution and discrimination against Coptic Christians and Baha’is. The vast majority of torture and violence was carried out by two organizations: al Jihad al Islami and al Jama Islamiyya.
A primary focus of these extremist “religious groups” was Coptic Christian and Baha’i women as, according to Dr. Aida Seif al Dowla in a 1996 AfricaNews interview, “In our culture the humiliation of a wife, mother or sister will break a man’s back.”
According to The Christian Science Monitor, our official protests were followed up by $1.3 billion per year military aid and $815 million per year in economic assistance. Behind Israel, Egypt has received more American tax dollars than any other nation, a little-known fact that has held true for more than four decades.
In spite of massive U.S. relief programs, Egyptian unemployment was steady at about 25 percent until the Arab Spring. In spite of non-movement on human rights issues, Hosni Mubarak continued to maintain U.S. government favor as he “supported American foreign policy in the region,” “granted the USA access to the Suez Canal,” and “maintained peace with Israel.” It is because of these policies, according to former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Edward Walker, that Mubarak was never seriously concerned about human rights abuses.
Even though five Egyptian al-Qaeda operatives participated in the 9/11 attacks on the United States, the human rights situation degraded to new lows only worthy of lip service as the United States began to funnel “war on terror” detainees into Egypt. According to BBC reports, the Bush administration sent “between 65 and 70” persons to Egypt for interrogation and torture.
In the case of Egypt, official US foreign policy was opposed to human rights violations, while at the same time, American taxpayers were bankrolling a Mubarak government that torturing foreign detainees under the custody of the C.I.A. and U.S. military.
The case regarding Iran is radically different. Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, religious minorities have always suffered discrimination, disenfranchisement and abuse at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists.
During 1983, a multitude of women were arrested for teaching Iranian children the Baha’i faith. As prisoners they were incarcerated at Seppah Prison in Shiraz and included Mona Mahmudnizhad, 17; Nusrat Yaldai, 54; Izzat Janami Ishraqi, 50, and her daughter Roya Ishraqi, 23; Tahirih Siyavushi, 32; Zarrin Muqimi, 28; Shirin Dalvand, 25; Akhtar Sabit,19; Simin Saberi, 20; and Mahshid Nirumand, 28. These particular inmates were later transferred to the Adelabad Prison, also in Shiraz.
While at Adelabad Prison, the group was imprisoned with Ruhi Jahanpour, who now lives in Alabama and told the following to Weld: “We were forbidden to pray or have any interaction with the Muslim prisoners. If we were caught talking to each other, we were beaten. We were blindfolded and forced onto the floor with our feet elevated, where they were struck with hoses and wood until they swelled to the point where we could not walk; but they forced us to walk and when we fell down they would laugh and beat us some more…
“We had to cover our faces like the Muslim women; otherwise we were considered not to be reverent and beaten by guards who mocked us and threatened to rape us. … Mona was a kind soul. Her favorite color was blue. Once she was given a piece of fruit about the size of a cherry. She divided it into 13 pieces where we could all have a portion. … Mahshid was also a kind soul. They knew they were going to die. She asked me to tell their story once I was released. … Shortly after I was released, they were all hanged on June 18, 1983.”
Since 2004, there have been more than 677 documented cases of Baha’is being arrested simply for practicing their faith. These include 20 year sentences given to Baha’i administrators: Fariba Kamalabadi; Jamaloddin Khanjani; Afif Naeimi; Saeid Rezaie; Mahush Sabet; Behrouz Tavakkoli; and Vahid Tizfahm, known to the Bahai world as “the Yaran.”
Although there has been tremendous global outrage regarding these harsh sentences, little headway has been made inside the Iranian religious legal system. Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Iran, stated that there should be an “immediate and unconditional release of prisoners of conscience.” Thomas Melia of the US State Department said, “This is a government that also prevents Sunnis from worshiping, flogs Sufis, detains Zoroastrians…raids house churches and arrests Christian leaders…discriminates against Jews…and confiscates property from a variety of religious communities.”
In specific support of the Baha’is in Iran, HR 134 and SR 80 were passed condemning the ongoing persecutions. Unfortunately these well-intended gestures have also been diluted by unrelated excessive talk, especially by Republicans, of bombing and invading Iran.
A former CIA employee and current executive director of Council for the National Interest, Philip Giraldi, recently penned in The American Conservative an article entitled “How to Bomb Iran.” Conservative talk show hosts and radical elements of the right wing have consistently criticized the Obama administration for being “weak on Islamic extremists” because, according to this faction of the GOP, the president himself is a closet Muslim and his unwillingness to engage the United States in another war in the Middle East proves he is also “weak on defense.”
Unlike Egypt, where massive amounts of funds and aid programs were given to our dictator of choice without any intent to alter or change human rights conditions there, we have not enjoyed a positive relationship with Iran after 1979. And although we do have a sincere ambition to change human rights conditions in Iran, we will never achieve this through the threat of force or bombastic saber rattling.
Journalist and Fulbright educator Jim Rhodes, born in Montgomery, graduated from Wetumpka High before earning his college degrees in various places including his Ph.D. at the Sorbonne. He fought for the US military during the war in Vietnam, and eventually bought property there before going to work for the Vietnamese government. He has written for a variety of foreign news agencies and written foreign news for American agencies.