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Human rights

Iran is evolving

Sunday June 24, 2001

THE FORMER Shah of Iran ran a brutal regime, covertly supported by America's CIA. However, religious fanatics who seized the Mideastern country in 1979 created an even crueler police state.

The cold-eyed Ayatollah Khomeini turned Iran into the execution capital of the world, putting multitudes of people to death. Puritanical "morality police" flogged women who showed a lock of hair, and raided families suspected of watching Western television shows. Some women were stoned to death for sexual sins. Assassination teams were sent around Europe to kill secular-minded Iranian refugees. Bahai believers were hanged for their religion. Khomeini plunged Iran into a "holy war" against neighboring Iraq. He issued a religious edict ordering Muslims to murder author Salman Rushdie for "blasphemy." Etc., etc.

During the worst of Iran's horror, an Iranian immigrant professor living in Charleston predicted that his homeland's orgy of Puritanism would burn itself out, in time.

Well, he was correct. Young Iranians and women slowly grew weary of the rigid taboos of the ruling mullahs, and began to crave some personal freedoms. In 1997, they elected a reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, who advocated more democratic rights. Unfortunately, Iran's presidency is partly a ceremonial office, and most power remains in the hands of the holy men.

As the spirit of democracy grew, the mullahs retaliated, shutting down 40 reformist newspapers and jailing editors. Some reform supporters were murdered. Just two months ago, democracy advocates in the Freedom Movement were arrested on orders of religious judges, who charged them with trying to "overthrow the Islamic establishment."

However, the craving for individual liberties continued snowballing. In this month's election, young people and women waged an emotional drive for Khatami, who won a thunderous three-to-one victory.

The Boston Globe said the returns showed "an ardent longing to break free of an authoritarian theocracy and move toward a more tolerant and pluralistic democracy."

The human spirit rebels against all sorts of tyranny. It's heartening to see it happening in Iran.

©Copyright 2001, Sunday Gazette-Mail

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