TORONTO — An Iranian scholar said the government of Iran poses less of a threat to Israel than it does to the Iranian people.
Payam Akhavan, RIGHT, an associate professor in the faculty of law at McGill University and an international human rights expert, spoke recently about what he believes is the exaggerated threat by Iran against Israel and the human rights concerns in the Islamic Republic.
In his talk, titled “Human Rights Under Siege: What Should Canada Do?,” Akhavan outlined what he contends are Iran’s most pressing problems and what he thinks western nations should do in response.
Jonathan Kay, TOP LEFT, managing editor of the Comment pages at the National Post, moderated the talk.
“Iran remains a rogue state and is responsible for some of the instability in the region. It is a constellation of Shiite militias of Iran and extends into Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. What is it that drives Iranian power and [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad?” asked Kay.
Kay said that he writes often about Iran and consumes countless articles about the Islamic Republic, but admitted that the country is still an enigma. “It seems to otherwise be a pro-American country, but the pronouncements of the president are vicious. And unlike other Arab countries, this one has a Jewish community. It’s hard to square that with their state anti-Semitism.”
Akhavan elaborated on still another paradox. “One is the hijab-clad, AK-47 toting ‘death to America’ crowd. The other is a lipstick- and miniskirt-wearing Iranian listening to western music on her iPod,” he said. “We’re not dealing with fossils that need to be studied and understood. The situation is complicated.”
The program, at Toronto’s Heenan Blaikie law firm offices, was part of a business lunch lecture series of the Speakers Action Group, in conjunction with the Jewish Civil Rights Association.
The group’s mandate is to provide knowledgeable speakers on topics that promote tolerance and fight anti-Semitism. This was the fifth of such events.
Akhavan was a war crimes prosecutor at international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. He also served with the United Nations in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, during the height of tensions there. He quit the United Nations in 2001 because he was “exhausted by the human cruelty.”
He spoke out against the brutality of the Iranian regime, outraged by the murder, in Europe, of 300 Iranian dissidents in the 1980s by the Islamic Republic’s operatives. Akhavan accuses a weak-kneed Europe of giving in to Iran and not investigating the crimes, for the sake of oil resources.
Ahmadinejad’s cabinet is guilty of countless crimes against humanity, too, according to Akhavan, who said that there have been some 4,000 state-sponsored executions of dissidents and moderates in recent years, which the West must take action against.
“There must be asset freezes, tribunals,” he said. “[Iranian state] investments are in Toronto, Vancouver and many other cities. Canada alone cannot solve the problem, but it has leverage with its western neighbours.”
Unfortunately, Iran’s human rights abuses are often treated as a nuisance issue in diplomatic circles, which is focused instead on keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of Iran.
“If Iran abandoned its nuclear program tomorrow, no one would talk about human rights. Just look at Libya,” he said, referring to Muammar Khadafy’s dismantling of a program to develop nuclear weapons after the United States invaded Iraq and how the international community now avoids discussion of Libya’s tyranny.
Yet, Akhavan added, if Iran ever did acquire the bomb, it may not target Israel, contrary to popular belief. Radical Arab nationalism is much more a threat to Iran than the Jewish state, he said.
“Is it rational to believe of an Iranian first strike with a nuclear bomb [to Israel]? It is so unlikely that I have to put it into perspective. Their nuclear program was developed after their war with Iraq [1980-88]. Iran doesn’t perceive a threat from Israel. Iranian conventional weapons outnumber Israel’s. But Iran knows that the great equalizer is Israel’s nuclear capability.”
Regarding the alarming hate-filled rhetoric coming from Iran’s leadership toward Israel and the United States, Akhavan said that it serves as a smokescreen to hide their own country’s problems, including the knowledge that millions of dollars are being squandered to Hezbollah to fight Israel, yet there’s no housing aid for the recent earthquake victims.