Time to back democracy in Iran

The doctrine of Khomeinism has left little space for freedom of speech, gender equality or religious tolerance in Iran.

Obama and Rouhani puppets UN 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Obama and Rouhani puppets UN 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
One wonders why the White House and its close allies still waste so much of their precious time in evolving an appropriate response to the doctrine of Khomeinism. This version of radical, militant Islamism has come to guide the governance of Iran since the fall of the Shah. It has already resulted in an irreversibly growing conventional and nuclear armament program constituting a threat to the Western democracies as well as several peaceful nations.
The biggest victims of the Khomenist doctrine, however, is the people of ancient Persian land, known for its pluralistic traditions. They have been struggling for democracy for a long time. When the dictatorship of the Shah came to an end in 1979, one thought things would change for better. But democracy is still as evasive as ever in the country. Iran’s economy too is in a bad shape with its rising joblessness, inflation and corruption.
The doctrine of Khomeinism has left little space for freedom of speech, gender equality or religious tolerance in Iran. Apparently, Iran has ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. The present Constitution of Iran also guarantees such  freedoms. But all this has little meaning. The Khomeinist constitution clearly states: "publications and the press are free to express their ideas unless these contravene the precepts of Islam.” In effect, it means: no criticism of an archaic Sharia agenda and severe punishment for its violations. 
The 2012 US State Department report on Iran says: "The most egregious human rights problems were the government’s severe limitations on citizens’ right to peacefully change their government through free and fair elections; restrictions on civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, speech, and press; and the government’s disregard for the physical integrity of persons whom it arbitrarily and unlawfully killed, tortured, and imprisoned."
According to Amnesty International, Tehran authorities carried at least 314 executions in 2012. The United Nations report also lists widespread abuses against recognized and unrecognized religious and ethnic minorities such as Arabs, Azeris, Baloch, Kurds, Namatullahi Sufi Muslims, Sunnis, Baha'is, and Christians. It says that Iran's largest non-Muslim religious minority, the Baha'i, continues to be denied jobs and educational opportunities.  According to the World Economic Forum's 2010 Gender Gap report, Iran ranks 123 out of 134 countries in its treatment of women in the areas of  education, health, and political empowerment. 
Knowledgeable sources say that, notwithstanding his recent promise of "a constructive interaction with the world", or telephonic bonhomie with his American counterpart Barack Obama, new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani can do little to change this scenario. He would have to ultimately comply with the the doctrine of Khomeinism. Not much should be read into the release of 11 of Iran’s most prominent political prisoners, including the winner of Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, Nasrin Sotoudeh, and journalist Mahsa Amrabadi, on the eve of Rouhani’s recent visit to New York to attend the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly. This might have only been done in order to dilute the Western criticism of Iran’s nuclear program and human rights record. 
Mahsa Amrabadi’s husband and fellow journalist Masoud Bastani, American Iranian Amir Hekmati, and dozen others are still in prison. So is the case of those such as former Commerce Minister Feizollah Arabsorkhi, a member of a reformist political party declared illegal after the 2009 anti-government protests. Two presidential candidates in 2009 — former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, a former Parliament speaker — are also still under house arrest.
It is high time the governments of the Western democracies thought honestly about the situation in Iran and extended appropriate moral, diplomatic and material support to the forces working against the fascist Khomeini regime.  Recently, Western nations have taken some measures to advance the cause of democracy in the country. Washington has barred some Iranian officials from travel to the United States and imposed financial restrictions on them. The US departments of State and Treasury have lifted sanctions on companies supplying cell phones, laptops, encryption technology, and other equipment helpful to Iranians in organizing their movement for democracy. The European Union has also barred some Iranian officials and individuals who have been parties to rights violations in the country. But such measures are hardly adequate. The Western democracies could taken more effective measures in this regard.  
Time has come for the West to act. Recently,  Ayatollah Jamal al-Din , a follower of the Grand Ayatollah Sistani of Najaf (arguably the most esteemed figure in the Shiite firmament), called upon the Iranians to overthrow the current regime and restore freedom to their ancient land. The West could seize this opportunity and encourage Green leaders like Mir Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi to lead the movement for democracy in Iran.
The author is a senior Indian journalist based in New Delhi. Currently, he is a Consulting Editor to the Power Politics news magazine published out of New Delhi.