Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bloody Hands

A few days ago someone sent me an e-mail about the sins of the Iranian government. The text of it, forwarded from a well-known "progressive" Muslim activist read:

To all those who are fascinated by the so-called anti-imperialist nature of the Iranian regime, here is evidence of its cold-hearted brutal nature as it conducts public hangings of four young Baloch men in a city square inside Iranian Balochistan.
I won't link to the video here - if you are desperate to see something like that, it is on YouTube under the name "Baloch." The video, under 4 minutes long, shows 5 Balochi men standing with nooses around their necks, standing atop barrels and boxes behind a line of police cars parked at an intersection. Soldiers and policemen surround them, and large crowds can be heard in the background. Whatever they have been accused of, a section of the crowd either believes in their innocence, or is not ashamed of the crime.

As the men in charge are checking the ropes, the man in the middle, a well-built, middle-aged man with a beard, whose hands are tied behind his back, speaks to the crowd, who are being held at a distance by a line of soldiers and police. The men in charge do nothing to stop him. A few seconds pass and the camera, probably a cell phone, shakes around a bit. I have struggled with the most respectful but realistic way to describe what happens next, or whether to describe it at all. In the end, the men are killed.

I have said before here that I am not against the death penalty in principle, although the practical likelihood that it will be misapplied is a grave danger when a punishment is so irreversible. Not everyone killed, either officially or unofficially, by the Iranian government since 1979 may have been innocent, but if HRW, Amnesty International, and the Iranian Human Rights Documentation Centre, are to be believed, people have been killed who did not commit a heinous crime.

No one is claiming that the Iranian government is particularly saintly. Proponents of the revolution pointed to the Shah's awful human rights record as well, but its hard to say that the people who have been in charge since then have been objectively better; they may indeed be worse, and they have in the meantime associated some of the brutality with the name of Islam.

The problem in our world today, as it has been since the dawn of recorded history, is that lots of people with power are murderers. Because they don't hurt the people close to them, we don't label them as psychopaths, but their ability to abide and abet cruelty without remorse is nevertheless astounding. We live in a world where half of the heads of state seem to have blood on their hands, and the ones who don't all have friendly relationships with ones who do. It would be great if we could find a neat line to draw a line somewhere on the globe and say "Good leaders over here, bad leaders over there." That is not reality.

What to do, though, when one group of psychopaths attempts paint another as the common enemy? If the United States and her remaining allies are going embark on a crusade against Iran, then let's be clear that it has nothing to do with concern for "human rights." And if some of us are booing as the drums of war beat, it isn't because we're fans of Ayatollah Khamenei. When two psychopaths go to war, and in doing so, send a lot of comparatively innocent people to their deaths, there isn't going to be a good side and a bad side. There just might be, however, one that started it.

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