“It has been reliably reported that Mohammad-Reza Ali-Zamani, a 37-year-old Iranian, was sentenced to death on Monday.” There are three things that make this sentence of great significance.
First, Zamani is the first Iranian sentenced to death by the regime for demonstrating against the Islamist government’s stealing of the June 12 election. There are, however, a lot more people still to be tried, probably after being tortured. Zamani was charged with waging war against God, insulting what is holy, propaganda activity against the Islamic regime, actions against national security and illegally exiting Iran.
Zamani’s testimony is going to be used against a lot of those currently held prisoner because, probably after being tortured himself, he made wild claims in court about his being an agent of the shah who had been groomed by U.S and Israeli intelligence to sow confusion.
This is also important because at the moment the United States is engaging Iran that regime is stirring up hysteria about American subversive plots on which all internal opposition is blamed. Among many other things the Iranian government is doing, this is not the behavior of rulers who are moving toward making a deal with the United States and its allies.
Second, how do I know about this? Because the death sentence was publicized by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), located in New Haven, Connecticut. Now, however, the U.S. State Department has cut off funding for this center. Why? Because the Obama Administration is engaging Iran, not viewing it as an enemy or even as a repressive, aggressive dictatorship.
Third, the U.S. government has not seriously protested and certainly not taken any action regarding the trials, the election-stealing, the appointment of a wanted terrorist as minister of defense, the promotion of a key man in hiding Iran’s nuclear program to head of the Basij, the concealment of a huge nuclear enrichment facility, and dozens of other actions of the Iranian regime.
The reason is the Obama Administration’s philosophy, which misunderstands the nature of international affairs. It believes that you can either engage or put on pressure, not both. Yes, I know that there are meetings going on behind the scenes and constant reassurance from the administration that it is working on sanctions. But this is so low-key and deliberately designed not to scare Iran as to be ineffective for anything except persuading those dissatisfied with the policy to be patient.
So here’s the combination of what we see: defunding those who monitor human rights in Iran, ignoring the regime’s extreme repression, and engaging it in a way that for all practical purposes can be called uncritically. (Yes, I know that there are some State Department statements at press conferences expressing formal concern but this is the minimum the administration can get away with to assuage domestic critics.)
Meanwhile, a small event virtually ignored in the United States shows how what once would have become a major scandal is now brushed aside.
The Egyptian-born Dina Mogahed, a White House advisor on the President's Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, appeared on a television show in Britain to praise Islamic Sharia law. She said the Western view of Sharia is "oversimplified" and, "The majority of women around the world associate gender justice, or justice for women, with Sharia compliance.”
The sophistication of her thought can be shown by the fact that Mogahed contradicted her own statement. According to the Daily Telegraph, she:
“Admitted that even many Muslims associated Sharia with `maximum criminal punishments’ and `laws that... to many people seem unequal to women,’ but added: `Part of the reason that there is this perception of Sharia is because Sharia is not well understood and Islam as a faith is not well understood.’"
In other words, most Muslims also misunderstand Islam, too.
The equally big problem is that she was appearing on a London-based television program of the Hizb ut Tahrir party, a revolutionary group that is viciously antisemitic and seeks to overthrow every moderate regime in Muslim-majority countries in order to create a caliphate ruling under Sharia law.
A Sharia law, I might add, that Mogahed either thinks they either do or don’t understand properly. If she thinks they misunderstand it, however, she certainly didn’t say so on the program.
In a recent previous program, members of the group attacked all existing Western law as merely “man-made,” condemned the Western system as a “lethal cocktail of liberty and capitalism,” and said women (presumably including Mogahed) should not be permitted to hold any important jobs in government.
This is standard Islamist ideology, but why is a White House advisor validating it by her appearance, failing to contradict such ideas, and in some ways even agreeing with the same basic approach?
Presumably, this is what nowadays passes for moderate Muslims.
(Oh by the way, at almost the exact moment the show with Mogahed was being made, Hizb ut Tahrir was leading violent riots in east Jerusalem over a false claim that Jews were assaulting holy places on the Temple Mount.)
During the broadcast, she described her White House role as "to convey... to the President and other public officials what it is Muslims want."
The problem here is that--based on her interview and statements elsewhere--she apparently thinks that most Muslims want Sharia law to apply at least over themselves in the United States. That's pretty shocking.
Clearly, the problem is that in defining “Muslims” she is not backing those few who are courageously advocating a moderate, reformed Islam but those who hold radical Islamist views. She might mean that most Muslims don't correctly understand their own religion because, for example, they believe that any Muslim who wants to change religions should be killed. But Mogahed is certainly not campaigning against these interpretations.
Under any previous criteria, Mogahed should resign right now. But she won’t and no one will ask her to do so.
Finally, it is always important to have a sense of what passes for accurate information in the Arabic-speaking world and the level of rationality on which its elites operate. In an interview on al-Jazira television, October 6, Fadil al-Janabi, former head of the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission, was interviewed from his safe haven in Damascus.
Might not Western governments like the chance to question Janabi on what he knows about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program? Well, they can’t, you see, because he is being protected by the Syrian dictatorship.
Might not his extradition or availability for interview be a condition for engagement and other benefits given to Syria?
Alas, we live in an era in which democratic countries are just supposed to make concessions to radical terrorist-sponsoring dictatorships. (When I read that sentence I said to myself: Surely that should be toned down and is too polemical. But on consideration it seems completely accurate.)
There is a story, still unconfirmed, that the European Union is about to sign a very beneficial economic deal with Syria without any agreement on the part of Damascus regarding human rights, the sponsorship of terrorism, or anything else in that regard.
Janabi repeated several times his contention that the United States and Israel murdered 1,500 Iraqi scientists. The interviewer noted in passing that this seemed “a rather large number,” but Janabi responded it was an underestimate.
Being challenged to deal with facts seriously, confusing ideology with reality, and simply making up whoppers is all too common in the Arabic-speaking world, as no one knows better than frustrated Arab liberals. One reason for this is that the region lacks the strong Enlightenment heritage and institutions that are supposed to rein in such craziness—free newspapers, open-minded universities, for example—that exist (used to exist?) in the West.
Thus, when the UN Goldstone Commission goes to Gaza and interviews Hamas officials and Gazans living under their rule (either supporting the regime or intimidated by it), all sorts of lies about Israel’s behavior during the Gaza war is made up. The UN Commission then collates it, prints it up, and the next thing you know Libya and other such regimes are posing as champions of human rights setting the international agenda.
Meanwhile, the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center loses its U.S. government funding. Guess we’ll have to depend for our information about what’s going on in the Middle East on Libya, Dina Mogahed, Hamas, and Hizb ut Tahrir.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books