Silence coming to an end soon

If Ahmadinejad does not have the guts to hear the other side then why bother?


Silence coming to an end soon
by Goudarz Eghtedari

In anticipation of President Ahmadinejad’s annual trip to the UN General Assembly, the Iranian Mission to UN has asked Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) to invite representatives of the peace movement in the US to meet with him in NYC. Fellowship of Reconciliation is a faith based peace and justice organization, which for several years has been active in the movement against a war on Iran. They have organized many citizen delegation tours to Iran in recent years. President Ahmadinejad has traditionally met with interfaith groups every year in NY and it appeared more natural for them to ask FOR to facilitate the meeting with representatives of the peace movement as oppose to more secular groups. Subsequently, FOR prepared an invitation and sent it to all the peace organizations and individuals that they had identified as being interested in such meeting with the Iranian President. The invitation was accepted by many from across the country and was rejected or ignored by some including the author of this note. Honestly I would have not minded visiting the President, after all the years that has passed since we were classmates at Iran University of Science and Technology of Tehran (elm-o-sanat) in mid 1970s, would it not be for the million years that separates us today.

For this meeting FOR asked interested participants to submit short essays and questions if they were interested in presenting personally at the event. Supposedly a committee including FOR Chairman Mark Johnson, and Rostam Pourzal an Iranian American member of the Coalition Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII) vetted the essays and questions to come up with a list of 10-15 representatives who were asked to speak in front of the President. Ardeshir Ommani, a co-founder of the American Iranian Friendship Committee of New York has written a critique of the meeting and how it was administered by FOR. Furthermore, Mr. Ommani has taken it upon himself to speak for the Iranian American peace activists, a self proclamation far from the truth. From the content of his statements one can assume that Mr. Ommani most probably was not amongst the selected few who spoke at that event. As an Iranian American who has spent the past 7 years fighting alongside the American peace movement and against the threat of a war on Iran, I would like to take the liberty to share few comments in response to his remarks.

In the first portion of his article Mr. Ommani criticizes the FOR leadership for selecting speakers based on their criticism of the Islamic Republic on its internal affairs. He writes: “FOR excluded all those voices that did not fit into its vision of challenging the domestic policies of the Iranian government, elevating criticism of the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran above cooperation between the anti-war movement in the US and the Iranian people.” First of all; I am not sure how the illusion that speaking with President Ahmadinejad and its entourage equals to cooperating with “Iranian people” is justified here? I am of the opinion that the Iranian government represents Iranian People as much as the US government represents the American People.

One would hope that the President of the Islamic Republic comes to the US, especially when initiating the meeting with the US peace activists, to hear without filter the genuine opinions of American progressives that are against a war on Iran. If the President does not have the guts to hear it from grass root activists of the other side then why does he bother to set-up such meeting? I must say that I have not seen any indication so far, that the Iranian President was offended by those comments, simply because he believes that he is protected by higher forces and surrounded by angels. Mr Ommani should refrain from trying to act as the protector of the Iranian regime and leave that role to the government of the Islamic Republic and its mission to the United Nations, who hosts the President on these trips. Please note that fortunately the Islamic Republic of Iran does not have any shortage of financial or human resource to protect its own image.

In the second portion of his critique Mr. Ommani has criticized the FOR leadership for intentionally not selecting any of the Iranians attending the meeting to speak. Again, Mr. Ommani is short sighted by complaining to a US organization for not offering Iranian expatriates the chance to speak to their President. I am surprised that the AIF Committee is not complaining to the UN mission of the Islamic Republic for not inviting independent Iranian expatriates such as Mr. Ommani to meet with the President directly where he could detail his opinions for the President. The fact of the matter is that most of the Iranian peace and justice activists such as me left the country because nobody there needed or even cared to hear what we had to say to begin with.

Ommani states that: “In their presentations and queries, some of the participants who vaunted as champions for peace and normalization of relations between the U.S. and Iran focused almost entirely on domestic woes of Iran and the government of the Islamic Republic’s mal-administration of justice with regard to ethnic minorities, the rights of women, youth, and gay groups, than how to remove impediments in the way of establishing peace between the two countries. In their questions to President Ahmadinejad, what was largely ignored by the speakers chosen to address him were the crimes committed by past and present U.S. administrations in Iraq and Afghanistan and their continuous military presence in the Persian Gulf, with threats of another war, this time against Iran.” I am puzzled by the latter part of the statement. What would indeed be the benefit of spending the President’s and audience’s times speaking about the atrocities of the US military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are public knowledge? Did anybody in that room really need a refresher course on the American war crimes of the past or present? Did we want to scare Iranians of what the US can do in a war? President Ahmadinejad, I argue, has got his Doctorate in anti imperialism rhetoric and this would be the last topic to lecture him about. From the continuation of his critique, however, it appears to me that Mr. Ommani is really upset for not having had the chance to read his monologue of criticizing the US government, as if there is not enough of that on Iranian broadcasting systems inside or outside the country.

I am convinced that Mr. Johnson and his associates meant to use the limited time to best serve the cause of the peace movement in opening access to activists who are eager to visit Iran, and solve problems that exist. Consequently it is relevant to ask the following from the Iranian delegates: Why is Medea Benjamin not granted a visa to visit Iran? knowing that her organization, Global Exchange, is a great ally in the anti-Iran-war movement and arranges several citizen tours to Iran every year. What does the Iranian government have to loose by allowing a person who was arrested numerous times for her actions against the war in this country to visit? In fact, one of the major problems in having a genuine citizen to citizen relation between the two nations is the imbalance of the independent NGO on both sides of the ocean. The NGOs in Iran are in effect worried to get involved with their American allies because those who do, end up on the black lists of the Iranian intelligence system and propaganda machine. Apparently the Iranian party is interested in facilitating the contact only with those that are under control of the government apparatus. The denial of Mr. Ommani of this fact stems from the opinion that he sees the Islamic Republic of Iran totally free to do whatever it likes to its citizens without a question justifying it with cultural relativist argument. When it comes to the US, however, he finds it perfectly appropriate for American NGOs to struggle with the US administration only. This by itself is the admittance of superiority of the Western rights that he later rejects.

Ommani then under the title of “Meaning of Peace,” discusses individual statements made by attendees and challenges their validity and relevance. He writes: “For the U.S. government or individual peace activists to challenge the conduct of the Iranian government with regards to women, gay groups, ethnic minorities, issuing visas, or its foreign policy with respect to a third country, for example, Israel, sounds like imposing pre-conditions for establishing peace or an attempt to interfere in the domestic or foreign policies of Iran.” Mr. Ommani erroneously combines US government and the peace movement together and then concludes that any question in these subject areas is tantamount to setting preconditions. Stating the facts and asking for the clarifications are by no mean setting pre-conditions on the Iranian party. The peace movement is just a movement and can not declare peace or war on anybody, so how would having a dialogue with the Iranian President be considered a pre-conditioned meeting for peace making? Besides, the criticisms that were presented, I am told, were legitimate questions and concerns that exist in the movement with regards to the Human Rights records of the Iranian government.

Addressing these issues is not a new challenge for the peace movement. During the Balkan war, part of the peace movement totally denied any mention of the atrocities committed by Serb forces in ethnic cleansing of minorities for the same reason Mr. Ommani advocates for. A similar theme was again presented during the first and second Iraq war. A state of denial in regards to Human Rights violations of Saddam Hossein’s regime and its use of chemical weapons against Kurds did not earn the peace movement any credit. A similar denial when it came to the Taliban’s record of treating Afghan women left the oppressed women of Afghanistan with Laura Bush as their advocate. Supporting peace and actions against the war and violence and defending the Human rights in target countries are not mutually exclusive. There is no reason to believe that we can not walk and talk at the same time. Ignoring the facts about discrimination against minorities and violations of human rights of women, gays, bahais, sunnis and others in Iran would not give the peace movement any additional credibility. Instead it makes the movement an out of touch and an elitist bunch of activists, whose ideas will not resonate with people of the country they try to connect with. Unfortunately, this clarity may slightly offend the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. But I can assure you that it would speak to the concerns of the majority of Iranians, who are welcoming and communicating with peace ambassadors that are travelling to Iran. Whether Mr. Ahmadinejad welcomes these questions and concerns or not will not erase the problem. If, as this event indicates, he Islamic Republic of Iran counts on the support of the progressives of the world, it should also act within their standards and be responsive to their concerns.

Ommani in effect accuses Priscilla Fairbank from Women Against War of calling into question the legitimacy and actions of the Islamic Republic. Apparently Ms. Fairbank has dared to ask President Ahmadinejad: “How can people-to-people contacts between U.S. and Iranians be effective if the Iranians who “interact with or seek the support of U.S. citizens or U.S. non-governmental organizations” are being “accused of trying to bring about the overthrow of the Islamic Republic of Iran?” Ommani says that Ms. Fairbank’s question amounts to an accusation, by way of insinuation. It appears that Mr. Ommani has not heard of constant propaganda machine of President Ahmadinejad accusing each and every independent group and individual in Iran, who tries to reach out, of being a tool for velvet revolution. Is there any doubt that the Intelligence Ministry of the Islamic Republic and Iranian Radio/TV work hand in hand producing a series of public propaganda that do exactly what Ms. Fairbank claims?

Mr. Ommani who must have free pass to travel to Iran, unlike the rest of us expatriates living in exile, should know better about these threats. After all it is public knowledge that the Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, who by no standard can be considered anti-revolutionary, is being harassed constantly by the authorities for her contacts with outside world. A similar case threatens all other Iranian scholars that are travelling abroad to attend conferences or even just go on sabbaticals. Women’s rights movement members and their leaders who live in Iran are being similarly imprisoned on the allegation that they are facilitating the velvet revolution exported by the West. Leaders of the labor movement are also in prison for pure pursuit of workers right to organize. I acknowledge that most of these charges are justified by the Islamic Republic under the pretext of defending the State from the US’s 75 million dollars regime change fund. But we know and the Islamic Republic knows that the State Department funds are not going to Shirin Ebadi or Akbar Ganji, who have repeatedly rejected numerous invitations to meet any administration official while in the US.

Let’s not even talk about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Iran is still amongst the first signatories of. I am asking about the treatment of those who were imprisoned exactly for doing what the Islamic Republic delegates came to meet about, the peace activists who have worked on this very same issue and against the Iran war. Is it legitimate to ask why pacifist Ali Shakeri, an Iranian American peace activist, is arrested and taken into solitary confinement for 5 months while in Iran burying his mother? It is also legitimate to ask why Haleh Esfandiari, a well known Iranian American scholar, who has spent majority of her career in facilitating the dialogue between the scholars of the two countries, gets arrested and imprisoned for many months while visiting her ailing mother in Iran. Therefore one can assign all guilt of the world to FOR’s Mark Johnson for not inviting Iranians to speak, but that song does not resonate with this Iranian American activist who has dedicated his life for peace and justice in the old country as well as in the US.

Finally, Ardeshir Ommani takes off the gloves and attacks the peace movement and the left in this country for being liberal, ideologue and racist. He states: “why did Ms. Fairbank and Rev. Sinkford feel at ease to inject such toxic substances in the fragile course of building peace between the two nations? … One may ask if these individuals out of their feelings of ideological or racial superiority justify their demands for political and social change in Iran.” He then continues by asking “Shouldn’t the leaders of these peace and reconciliation organizations distance themselves, their questions and policies from such politics of intervention and subversion? It seems that a minority of the American peace movement, the liberal factions coming in all hues, such as the social democratic Nation magazine, have assumed the role that no longer can be played by the U.S. troops.” All of these accusations for asking a couple of questions about the status of Human Rights in Iran may seem radical, unless one knows that Mr. Ommani’s writings are also published on the Workers World Party website. Oh, well, from that viewpoint liberalism and writing for the social democratic “Nation”, becomes sort of routine name calling. And expecting Robert Dreyfus to shut up when given the audience with President Ahmadinejad is quite normal.

In a world crushed by globalization and neoliberal agendas we need to learn how to build coalitions, not how to destroy common ground. Mr. Ommani and the American Iranian Friendship Committee of New York should encourage allies in the peace movement for standing up for Iranian people against the atrocities of the US administration and at the same time speak out against the violations of the Human Rights by the Iranian government. We may postpone one of these for the sake of the other, but should not forget that peace and justice are two sides of the same coin, and justice here includes the rights of the people in Iran too. It has now been 7 years that in aftermath of the tragic events of the September 11th, some of us, the Iranian Americans in the peace movement have been silenced in speaking out for the struggle of people in Iran. We did not want to be perceived as inviting foreign intervention, the way some Iraqis did prior to the Bush war. This was a thoughtful decision made not by design but by heart. It was called for by a delicate situation and painful times; watching our brothers and sisters being harassed in Iran and we could not speak out for them. Hearing that our comrades, imprisoned for no cause, were on hunger strike for months in solitary confinement, yet we did not have any voice other than going on hunger strike in solidarity and in the confinement of our own homes in the West. If people in the US finally find the voice and hopefully means that might put an end to the 8 years of madness and the war machine, it is time to support the Iranian nation to stand for their rights in a peaceful and non-violent atmosphere. It is time for Mr. Ahmadinejad to know that once the threat of war is gone, he also will be expected to deliver what his people demand.

This silence is coming to an end soon …


Recently by Goudarz EghtedariCommentsDate
A lovesick nightingale among owls...
Jun 29, 2012
My Hero Mo
Jun 18, 2012
هزار روز با اوبامایی که نبود
Jan 03, 2012
more from Goudarz Eghtedari

MKO and revolutionaries are now "peace activists"

by Mehdi on

Since MKO has utterly failed to gain any grounds by terrorist activity, now they have all turned to psychological warfare. "Human rights" and "peace activism" and such is their entrance. Deep down they simply want a war, a revolution, a taking over of power. If any of these had any bit of sincerity, they would find Ahmadinejad and just about anybody else in IRI quite willing to work with them. But they all, including the writer here, have other agenda that is not even very well hidden. Anybody can see that you sir, are not sincere and your real intention is a violent take-over of some sort, no matter how you verbally claim that you are only a peace activist. The fact is that "the million years that separates" you from Ahmadinejad, is simply an indication that you would never consider co-existence of any kind with him. You want his overthrow and you use any opportunity ONLY to that end. Stop pretending.


Deplorable relativism

by Anonymous... (not verified) on

Deplorable relativism displayed by the IRI apologist.

The so-called US atrocities does not obsolve the Islamic Republic of any of their crimes against its own citizens and against humanity.

Peter Tatchell reports that Tehran’s leaders are intensifying their repression of the Sunni Baloch people, in a bid to create a Shia dominated nation

News is filtering out of Iran of mass arrests of Sunni Muslims living in the south-east of the country, in the annexed and occupied region of Balochistan. It signifies a coordinated crackdown against religious and ethnic dissidents who oppose Tehran’s clerical sectarianism and its neo-colonial subjugation of the Baloch people.




by Abol Has "Sandanesh" (not verified) on

Nabordeh Ranj ...
M....John e..Kard



by Abol Danesh, Sociologist (not verified) on

...Boroo kaar meekoan mago cheest kaar
...Ke sar maa-ye-he javdaneest kaar



U.S. government apologists at work on

by AnonymousAnonymous (not verified) on

Somehow, the so-called "checks and balances" of the U.S. government failed to stop this government from becoming the world's primary invader and killer of foreign nations (Vietnam, Laos, Iraq, etc) and arms supplier, instructor, and advocate for murderous right-wing thugocracies on every continent (Guatemala, El Salvador, Zaire, Haiti, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, etc). The most liberal U.S. president in recent decades (Lyndon Johnson) killed more civilians in Vietnam and Laos than the most fanatical mollas of the IRI. Now, why do some people on thie website (but NOT everyone) insist on whitewashing the crimes of the U.S. government?


Excusing the inexcusable

by Fred on

You say: “I am of the opinion that the Iranian government represents Iranian People as much as the US government represents the American People.”

Therefore the logical conclusion is that the checks and balances in the U.S. system are on par with that of the Islamist republic’s where a lone unelected lifetime Supreme absolute ruler according to article 110 has “absolute” power.

And as far as the part: “We did not want to be perceived as inviting foreign intervention, the way some Iraqis did prior to the Bush war. This was a thoughtful decision made not by design but by heart.” 

The “we” that made that decision, which in essence was to whitewash the Islamist crimes as NIAC/CASMII and a bunch of lefties do, were and are flat wrong. By doing so they are accessory after the fact in every crimes of the Islamist republic more so since you profess knowing about them.

And the vetting by the CASMII lobby branch head in U.S. and the financial aspects of their arranging the touring of the Islamist republic by U.S. citizens are worrisome as well. 


Your article is too long and...

by farrad02 on

Your article is too long and it needs editing! 

Many times the management of this site rejects article posts and pushes them to be posted as Blog posts (good practice). I think there should be a limit for the opposite case! Articles like this one are boringly long! Isn't there a maximum limit for the number of words?!



who said that?

by Anonymous... (not verified) on

...too often, “peace is placed before justice, often times instead of it. I believe there’s no enduring peace without justice.”

Justice, as she put it, should not be “a luxury for only rich and wealthy nations. In far too many places I’ve been, I’ve seen refugees returned to live among the same people who attacked them,” the same people who remain in power by “threatening more violence if we attempt to bring them to justice. We let those who destroyed their country decide the future for it.

She continued: “When crimes against humanity are punished consistently, the killers’ calculus will change. If they walk away, it sends a message that they need not worry. We need to arrest those indicted. Trials can change behavior.”

And finally, “After seven years in the field I have a lot to learn, but I do know that no mother who had her children killed in front of her, no young girl sold into slavery, no boy kidnapped and forced to be a child soldier, no young girl, like the three year old I saw with her limbs cut off, should be expected to forget. No one should have to choose between peace and justice.”