Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Monday, October 01, 2007

Iranian democracy activist speaks about the “real” Iran

Ali Afshari, an Iranian political activist advocating democracy, freedom and human rights, spoke at a Defense Forum Foundation luncheon on September 28 entitled “What America Perceives about Iran vs. the Reality of Iran.”

Afshari discussed the issues surrounding nuclear proliferation in Iran, stating that the current sanctions are pieces of “insignificant paper” and that Iran is willing to risk anything, even if it leads to war. He described the state as a political military government that operates in a tyrannical manner. He also said that there is no democracy in Iran, and that the regime is not favored by a majority of the people.

In contrast to the government’s ambitions, the Iranian public is not interested in pursuing nuclear technology, Afshari said. According to Afshari, Iranians are not nearly as anti-Western as many outside the country suppose, and Iranian society is multicultural and diverse.

Human rights violations extend to all members of society in Iran, Afshari said, and many Iranians fear that the government’s current policies will lead to war. In the “real” Iran that Afshari described, minorities suffer from many problems, largely due to institutionalized discrimination. Minorities suffer economically because the current situation is much worse in the areas they live in than in the central regions of the country. Women also suffer from political and social inequality. In Iran, institutionalized discrimination includes denying women the right to divorce.

According to Afshari, Iranian politics is divided into three different factions: fundamentalists, traditionalists, and reformists. The fundamentalists are the most extreme group and make up the dominant sector of the government. They support both Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah, and have been linked to support for violence and terrorism. The traditionalists make up the right wing of the Islamic Republic and live according to a traditional lifestyle without being as extreme as the fundamentalists. The reformists make up the left wing of the Republic, and are more moderate and exclusive.

Afshari said that there is “no easy or quick way to fix the problem between the U.S. and Iran.” He believes it is necessary, however, to pass tougher sanctions focused on the government. The Iranian government is used to the language of force, Afshari said, and does not believe the U.S. is in a position to take any action against Iran. Without increased pressure, there will be no change in Iran’s behavior, he said.

On the issue of creating a democracy, Afshari said that the Iranian constitution does not have enough flexibility to support genuine democracy. Moreover, the government of Iran does not accept changes, and therefore lacks the flexibility necessary to have a democracy, he argued. In order for democracy to be established in Iran, there needs to be a strong social movement from the public, Afshari said.

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