I don’t intend to make a habit of commenting on current affairs but it just so happens that the current government election fracas in Iran fits into my train of thought on ignorance and irrationality.
The complete lack of human rights in Iran is not a new thing. People, usually those from the fortunate West, forget that the fabled Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not a treaty; it’s not something that countries sign at a summit and abide by. It’s a declaration, like the USA’s declaration of independence. It is a statement of the rights that should be granted to every human on this planet. These rights are not privileges to be earnt or bartered from an oppressive institution, league or government; they are to be given unconditionally upon birth.
And for many Westerners, like you and I, they are. In Iran, as with most of the developing world, these rights are merely a mythical concept afforded to only a handful of lucky, aristocratic or autocratic individuals. We don’t know how lucky we are, nor do we appreciate just how recent the concept of human rights actually are. Speaking out of turn 100 years ago would result in being caned as a child, or beaten into a bloody pulp as an adult. Falling pregnant out of wedlock would throw you into social exile. Believing or acting upon religious beliefs outside the norm would get you stoned, drowned or burnt to death.
For the longest time we didn’t even own our bodies: nominally under our control, but only during peacetime, or when not under duress and whipped into chain gangs. Historically, we were under the singular jurisdiction of the local Lord, or owned by whoever employed us. This only changed with the form of trade unions and the downfall of antiquated European feudal systems, but for centuries this was sadly the case across what we now consider ‘the Western world’.
Just one thing has remained entirely ours: our mind and our thoughts. As long as we didn’t vocalise those thoughts, our minds have long been the last remaining stronghold of freedom. Of course, religious dogma and torture are usually employed to wean out any remaining free-thinkers — usually those that made the mistake of opening their mouths. But some people kept on dreaming, kept on fighting. Enough of us fought back against the Dark Age’s oppression so that we might one day experience our Renaissance and Enlightenment. Without either golden age we wouldn’t be living in this world today. Those brave souls that kept thinking outside the box, even after being brutally tortured or their families were killed — when all seemed truly lost, they kept on sticking it to the man, hoping for change. To those men and women we have a debt of immeasurable gratitude.
I have a theory (and it deserves its own blog entry): the Middle East is simply behind the times — from a Western point of view. To us Europeans and Americans the atrocities and injustices occurring in Iran are backward. We decry and condemn the unfairness of it all. We break down in tears at the thought of free people being brutally beaten and unfairly subdued by an oppressive force. And to us, it is inhumane and immoral: to deny their rights of thought and expression, refusing their right take part in the government and arbitrarily arresting those that try — these are breaches of important, fundamental human rights that we Westerners take for granted.
But to them it is the norm. This is the bit we don’t agree with, but we must get our heads around: the Middle East is, to us, akin to antiquity — that’s how we used to do things, centuries ago. We used to have slaves, and deny the vote to certain classes and castes. Not so long ago, making a public stand would get you shot. Once upon a time we had as few rights as our persecuted brothers and sisters in Iran. That’s why it hurts so much. That’s why it feels so incredibly unfair, so unjust. We turn on our TVs to see centuries of hard work spent on gaining our human rights pissed on by the government of Iran.
I hope those in the Middle East keep on fighting. Those that oppress you are afraid of losing control, and believe it or not, that’s progress. That’s the beginning of a revolution and history has shown that freedom will be yours. Eventually.