(Gozaar.org) | February 24, 2010
A Lecture by Dr. Akhavan in Chicago

Human rights and Iranian identity

What does it mean to be Iranian? What does it mean to be a human being? These are the questions confronting the Iranian people at this crucial juncture in their long history. In the incredible and unforgettable scenes that have unfolded in the streets of Tehran, and Isfahan, and Shiraz, and Tabriz, and Mashhad, and Ahvaz, and every other city and town in Iran, we are witnessing a struggle far greater than a mere political contest between different presidential candidates. We are witnessing a struggle for the soul of the nation; a struggle to build a new identity for the Iranian people. The encounter between the protestors and their tormentors is an encounter between the dark past and the bright future. It is an encounter between violence and non-violence, between the courage of those that are willing to sacrifice their lives for justice, and the cowardice of those that savagely beat and murder the defenseless. It is an encounter between the best and worst potentials inherent in humankind.

The millions marching in the streets, youth and women, student and labour movements, intellectuals and artists, web-loggers and journalists, a social movement of unprecedented unity and resolve, have demonstrated that without legitimacy there can be no lasting power. They have demonstrated vividly the deeper meaning of the words democracy, human rights, and the rule of law; words that we throw about loosely in our world without always appreciating the price that must be paid for its attainment. The power of their demands lies in its simplicity. The Iranian people are asking whether the God that we all worship and all that we hold sacred, whether the dreams and aspirations that we have for our children, they are asking whether these do not demand that those in power treat their citizens with justice and equality? They ask why the hope of our youth in the future should be extinguished, why our mothers and sisters should be treated with such disrespect in our laws, why our workers should live in such poverty amidst our national wealth, and why a utopian ideology that has long promised both freedom and prosperity has achieved neither?

For the people of Iran, democracy and human rights are not intellectual abstractions. Freedom and tolerance are not about idle theological disputes. For them, these are existential needs in the face of a daily onslaught of violence, deception, corruption, and hatred. For them, these demands go to the very meaning of what it means to be Iranian and what it means to be a human being. What they seek simply is an Iranian nation where every citizen enjoys fundamental human rights.

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