Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Human Rights Agenda For the New Iranian President

The organization Human Rights Watch sent an open letter to the new Iranian president, demanding several key reforms.  Iran is a country that is more modern than most other Middle Eastern countries, as illustrated by their hosting of free elections.  Despite this, many question the legitimacy of this label.  There are certainly questions about the fairness of Iran's last election, in which Ahmadinejad was "reelected" despite mass disapproval.  Iran also has a long history of human rights abuses, especially towards political prisoners.

The letter demands the freeing of political prisoners or enemies of the state, as well as ending the house arrest of prominent leaders who oppose the regime. The letter also calls for, notably, an expanded academic environment, more women's rights, and a guarantee of the rights of women.  In general, it can be said that the majority of The West is hoping that the new president will begin the slow steps of modernization in this proud and ancient country.

One groups analysis of another group's treatment of their people is always a difficult subject because each group probably defines human rights in a different way.  There are some truths which are self evident to all people, in all cultures.  Some of these truths are being violated by Iran; such as the discrimination, imprisonment, and mistreatment of minorities.  Restrictions on the media, unfair detainment of civilians, and cruel and unusual punishment are also areas in which we can all agree the government needs to shape up, as Im sure the people of Iran will agree.

Some areas, however, are less black and white.  Women's rights are one area where there is a lot of grey area caused by cultural differences.  On one hand, I think we would all like for women to have the rights to be educated, own property, and be generally independent.  We must be careful, however, to carry over such generalizations to cultural legacies, such as the veil.  While many western women see the veil as a sign of subjugation, many women feel it is a wonderful institution that protects their dignity and worth.  It is easy to see that point when one stops and observes the way in which western culture has objectified women's bodies.  Men are more likely to mistreat and subjugate a women when she is nothing more than an object of his desire.  I would argue that in some ways, middle eastern culture is much more respectful of women than their western counterparts.

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