Today's announcement by President Obama and European leaders that
Iran is building a secret underground nuclear facility adds fresh
urgency to an issue that's been festering for years. Tensions will
now be considerably higher among negotiators at the planned Oct. 1
meeting about Iran's nuclear program.
Already, there is talk of much-harsher sanctions if Iran does not
meet international demands in the next two months. "Everything must
be put on the table now," said French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
One issue that should be put on the table was displayed by
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this week in New York: Iran's
Iran's deplorable record on human rights is often treated as
separate from the nuclear issue. It's not. If Iran's government
can't be trusted to treat its own citizens with basic dignity, how
can it be trusted with nuclear technology?
Mr. Ahmadinejad's theatrics involved including five religious
minority parliamentarians in his entourage to the UN General
Assembly, this week. This act shows how eager Tehran is to be
accepted back into the community of nations. Thus, the human rights
card could be considerable leverage for Western powers in coming
When he addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Sept.
23, Ahmadinejad professed concern for "justice, freedom, and human
rights." He apparently thought his five props would help him project
a tolerant, peace-loving face. It was a stiff performance.
Iran is one "big and unified family" with full legal rights for
religious minorities, he declared when choosing these minority
representatives, according to official reports. Yet these people
could not refuse.
Not only could they be punished if they resisted, their religious
communities would suffer the hard-line regime's reprisals as well.
"Communal welfare is important," a well-placed Iranian religious
leader explained before the New York trip. "So absence will not be
Iran's Constitution technically grants all citizens freedom of
worship, sanctity for holy sites, equal standing under the law, and
access to employment. But the Islamic Republic has destroyed its
great cultural patrimony and reduced freedoms to unconvincing,
exploitative acts of propaganda.
Under the Constitution, the election of these five
representatives is one of the few rights afforded the four
"recognized" religious minorities predating Islam in Persia. These
minorities live essentially as dhimmis, the protected though
subjugated "people of the Book" of medieval times.
Since the Islamic revolution of 1979, they have been barred from
high government office. Their religious ceremonies and celebrations
are subject to police raids to ensure they abide by "Islamic
Their synagogues, churches, fire temples, and tombs (including
that of the prophet Daniel) are frequently defaced with monumental
photos of ayatollahs and other propaganda. Their schools are
administered by Iran's Education Ministry, which imposes a state-
approved religious textbook and typically appoints the principals. …