Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

U.S. government aid targets Iranian activists, panelists say

Panelists from nonprofits, academia, journalism and Congress discussed the human rights situation in Iran and U.S. policy options on July 26 during a conference organized by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). There was resounding agreement that, because U.S. dollars stoke Iranian paranoia, the U.S. must stop directly aiding Iranian activists.

“The human rights situation has deteriorated in recent time,” said Alex Arriaga, director of government relations for Amnesty International USA. She cited as evidence abuse against political prisoners, increasingly targeted women’s movements, continued detainment of ethnic and religious minorities and the instances of the death penalty by stoning and death for child offenders.

But “what to do?” asked Joe Stork, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “Speaking out is a positive thing… talking does establish solidarity,” Stork said. But our first principle should be: “do no harm” – so “there may be times when we can’t do anything… and giving $15 million to empower local activists is like painting a target on their backs,” Stork said, referring to a portion of the recent $75 million aid package to Iran.

Similarly, Laura Secor, a New-York based journalist who is writing a book about the Iranian opposition, said that the Iranian activists say to the U.S.: “stop declaring your alignment with us.” Activists want no material or logistical support from the U.S., as “we are in a position now where even the most innocent relationships are suspect,” Secor said.

“The Iranians are amidst an epic struggle,” Secor said. “But that struggle and its heroes are not ours, they belong to the Iranians.”

“Iran sees itself as repeatedly victimized by the U.S., so the tendency is to raise the drawbridge and round up the usual suspects,” said John Tirman, executive director of the MIT Center for International Studies.

But the U.S. notion of Iran’s capabilities that is fueling our fear and policy decisions is misled, Tirman said. “Nukes are respect on the cheap… Iran has little military capacity. The NYPD has more firepower,” Tirman said. Both the U.S. and Iran need to see that the other doesn’t represent a “mortal threat,” Tirman said, suggesting that the next step for the U.S. should be negotiations with Iran and Europe – and, even in a post-nuclear Iran, the U.S. has lots of options.

“We need to marginalize the president, and reach out to the Iranian people through a third party,” said Congressman James Moran (D-Va.). “Iran will play a role on the world stage because of its oil, potential wealth and primarily young people” with an outward-looking stance – the third most used language, beyond English and Spanish, to access the Library of Congress is Persian.

“There are so many back channels we could employ to help,” Moran said. “We just need to get rid of the lone ranger cowboy image.”


Post a Comment

<< Home