The global revulsion over the pictures of the abused Iraqis might offer an opportunity to
vigorously campaign to tackle the issue of torture in a host of countries with nasty track records. Let’s start with Iran for now. Neema does a wonderful job of starting it today. Quite a few people are rather disgusted with the UNHRC for not forcing the issue publicly of the treatment of Iranian dissidents, and our political prisoners. (the latest release also of Reporters without Borders.)
It is often quite disheartening to witness torture approached as simply just another form of competitive sport. One only boos the “opponent” reflexively and when one’s own team is caught red handed, then the usual unimaginative platitude, “hooray for our press, hooray for our chain of command, hooray for our religion, hooray for our lifestyle, hooray for our superiority,” and obviously hooray as well for our half sleepy conscious.
It doesn’t have to be so, but this sad approach always exacts a toll-- not always in the obvious ways you might think. There is a discreet way the rot seeps over the soul and the social life. I only wished some of you could live in Iran for a few weeks.
I hardly ever hear words such as curious, wonder, puzzle, amaze, baffle, delight, astonish, and awe used by anyone of us—not in the least positively, and it isn’t as if Persian lacks the concepts. There is collective amnesia of sorts, I suppose. It is as if the Spirit allowing us to have such an orientation in life no longer permeates our culture.
This has become a land of the cynics--the habitat of the know-it-alls: people unwilling to speak the truth, too numb to care, too dazed to ask, and as an old cantankerous professor used to say “unable to appear naked in public.” Not the forced kind of nudity of the molested Iraqis, mind you, but the sort of nakedness that exemplifies audacity in engaging others.
Not belligerence either for this is the one quality we all have in abundance here. What I am trying to communicate is the sort of nakedness which evinces the inner strength to declare one’s own weaknesses loudly and publicly, and then to go on to acknowledge the strengths of others. Those, after all, are the kind of attributes which allow us to engage positively with life, and to live it, reveling in pursuit of excellence—yes excellence, yet another one of those words one hardly ever hears in Iran these days.
Take the case of Professor Hashem Aghajari: He is languishing in jail and sentenced (again) to die. What was his crime? I don’t share his politics, or his beliefs. But it is worth asking: was he not supposed to be the best professor he could be? So he shared his best judgment with his pupils in that capacity. And for his efforts, he is jailed, tortured, and sentenced to die.
Or take Ahmad Batebi. He had been sentenced to death which was later commuted to 15 years; tortured, and in solitary confinement. Why? He was moved by the sense of decency and personal outrage over injuries sustained by a friend to hold up a bloody T-shirt. When the bounds of affection and personal loyalty become a crime punishable by death, would it then be a shock to have a society in which, Coldness, Cruelty, and Mammon, become the dominant deities?. (Petition for his release here.)
And there are many others like them. Why shouldn’t people want to be loud about expressing their disgust? Afraid of the consequences? Not wanting to rock the boat? Not wanting to give the “other side” ammunition? Not wanting to get in the way of the “inevitable march of history,” however that may be understood? Not wanting a perceived “lack of unity,” in the country of one’s birth, choice or affection to cause undue embarrassment? Or not to embolden the enemy (of day!)? Not wanting the religion of one’s choice to be seen deficient? Not wanting to get in the way of a “grand experiment,”—the quest to revive that ancient “Golden Age” of something or other? Or quite simply not wanting to pass on the opportunity to claim a new century or two?
The price though becomes atrociously high. Playing competitive sports with our cherished Rights creates a land with no discernable principles. The desire to cut the other side down to size creates a land of the midgets. The desire to always defend “one’s” own creates nothing worth defending. Our present, judging by some of the reactions in the blogosphere to the brutalities in Iraq, could be the dreadful future lurking for many outside this heartland of evil.