“My enemy is the government of Iran. It is not Israel,”Iranian-born author, Marina Nemat, tells The Oslo Times
May 30, Oslo: Author and Human Right Activist Merina Nemat who came into limelight for her two memoirs about her life growing up in Iran, serving time in Evin Prison for speaking out against the Iranian government, escaping a death sentence and finally fleeing Iran for a new life in Canada. The Oslo Times International News Network’s Editor-in-Chief, Hatef Mokhtar, met with Nemat for an exclusive interview on her life, her views on Iran and other dictatorial regimes, freedom of expression and so forth,
The Excerpts below give us an insight into the interesting talk that followed:
Welcome to The Oslo Times International News Network. Can you tell me little bit about yourself?
Well, I was born in Iran in 1965 and was 13 years old when the Iranian Revolution happened in 1979. I am Christian and was born in a Christian family. My grandparents both faced the Russian revolution and therefore migrated to Iran, which is where I was born and raised. After the revolution I accidentally became a student activist simply because I wanted to dress the way I wanted.
You told me you a Christian? You practice Christianity?
Yes, I am a practicing Christian but not a fundamentalist Christian. I am not the Christian who doesn’t believe in gay marriage. I believe gays should have the right to get married. I believe that women should allowed to become priests and religious leaders. I don’t believe that governments should be religious in any form. I believe in secure government. And yes, I am Christian and I am a practicing Christian. I don’t go to Church every week but it is my religion.
How can you see Christian or minority rights in Iran under the administration of President Rouhani?
It’s impossible in Iran. There is no freedom of religion in Iran and it has nothing to do with Hassan Rouhani. It doesn’t matter who is the president of Iran as long as Iran’s constitution, Iran’s law, which is based on Sharia law, under such laws there is no freedom, there is no equality. Under Sharia law a mother is not allowed to convert into another religion. It doesn’t matter if Rohani is the president, or if Rahimi is the president. It doesn’t matter. Iran is governed under Sharia law and Sharia law doesn’t allow freedom of religion.
How you can see freedom of expression, media freedom of speech in Iran? As some people believe, including western countries, Rohani’s government, when compared with Ahmadinejad’s presidency, is better. What is your view?
Absolutely not. Please go to my facebook page. Just few days ago I quoted news that a women’s magazine in Iran was just recently shot down simply because it has promoted equality between the rights of men and women. And it was shot down within a few days of the presidency of Mr. Rohani. So, I mean Mr. Rohani talks a lot. He talks about freedom of speech, he talks about freedom of this and freedom of that, but it all impractical. He has not delivered anything. I challenge anyone who believes that under Rohani things have become better. Come to me with facts. Because even the number of executions has increased in Iran under Rohani and there are numbers to show this.
Can you give some examples about this because some people say this is a claim against religion.
No. Please go to Amnesty International’s website and all the numbers are there. So to Amnesty International and the number of executions in Iran in the month of April, if I am not mistaken and I haven’t memorized the number, if I am not mistaken it is up 20 percent following the previous month and then the previous month was up by five percent. So very constantly, again you want the numbers please go to Amnesty International’s website. The number of executions has increased consistently every month since Mr. Rohani come to power.
Let’s change the topic. Concerning the situation with Iran’s diplomatic relations with Western powers, especially with the US. How can you see this power based on human rights, based on women rights, based on the lives suffered because of human rights violations, because of freedom, because of the values that you have for your life?
Well, the truth for me is that even though the United states talks a lot about democracy and women rights and people’s rights and religious rights and this and that, in practicality their history illustrates otherwise. For example in 1953 we had the democratic government in Iran, which the US eventually subverted to serve it’s own interests – it wanted to nationalize Iran’s oil supply. So the US is not really after freedom and democracy when it comes foreign policy. It is after free and cheap oil or whatever it takes to further its agenda and not that I would expect any less. Of course the US is after business and making profit and that affects its foreign policy. But we have to keep that in mind when it comes to the relationship with the US and Iran right now. It is not about training the people of Iran or giving them democracy or giving women rights. Not at all. It is about their own profit and their own business. I mean, Iran has 70 million people. That is a big market and it also has a lot of oil. So the US having a better relationship with Iran will benefit it now financially and economically.
So you think the US is concerned exclusively with its economic interests in Iran and not with human rights?
What is going to be the alternative? We can see the US is supporting many human rights activists and NGOs, and where a dictatorial regime is working, like Kazakhstan, Tajikistan in another part of Africa, the US is supporting organizations that work to expand freedoms of expression and human rights altogether. What do you think about this?
Well, the thing again, as I said before, there is true issue to keep in mind with Iran. When you are talking about the US and its policies, you first have to look at what the US interests in that country and in that region are specifically. Again, I do not know the whole situation in Kazakhstan or Tajikistan. But what I know is that Iran is much bigger, stronger and has more money and oil than those countries. And it has much more resources in general. And not only that, Iran basically has become a regional superpower. It controls a lot of things that happen all over the east. I mean Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is in Syria and they are fighting ISIS. So, between ISIS and Iran the US has decided to be on the side of Iran. So I guess the United states is looking at the possibilities, the situation underground, what it can and cannot do and what it will profit from more than anything else. Again I am not with the US department for foreign policy or any of that. But what I am seeing from the United states and its foreign policy is that they have a history of changing who their allies are. Look at the Afghanistan the last few decades. When Afghanistan was under Soviet control, the US decided to help the Jihadi right? So they put money and weapons and what not into the Jihadi movement. Right. But then that Jihadi evolved in its own interests. And then the US evolved and the two eventually became enemies. So now the US has decided to take the side of Iran because it works for them. So now they are negotiating to have nuclear deal.
Can you tell little bit about women rights in Iran? Many people claim that there is still a big problem regarding women’s right there. You have some new things that many human rights activists worry about concerning the present situation in Iran.
The condition of women rights in Iran has not changed in the past thirty years. Again, Iran is governed by Sharia law. According to Iran’s current law, the testimony of a woman is worth half that of a man. What more do you need? What more do you need about the rights of women in Iran? I mean you and I, I am a woman you are man, if we go to a court room in Iran, literally no matter what I say or what you say, if I am a witness to an event to crime having been committed on the street, you are the witness of the same event, having happened on the street outside, the judge would take your testimony 50 per cent more seriously than he would take mine. So in such a country how can you have any real women’s rights or equality between men and women, it just does not exist.
Are you a Persian?
What do you mean?
Do you belong to Persia.
I was born in Iran. One of my great grandfathers was a Kurd, and one of my great grandfathers was a Turk. Two of my grandmothers were Russian and one of my grandfathers was born in a city in Russia.
Let me refine my question by giving an example. In Iran and Afghanistan we have two languages, where Farsi is the official language. But more than 20 or 30 million Turks live in Iran and they do not have the legal right to speak their mother language in their local schools and neither in Iranian Universities altogether. What do you think about this?
The same thing goes for the Baluchis population. I lived in Sistan and Baluchestan of Iran for about three years. My husband was a university professor there from around 1986 – 1989. The Baluchi people have their own language, but the majority of them are Sunni so there is also the Sunni issue. Did you know that in Tehran there is not even one Sunni mosque when there are at least 10 Christian churches? There are even Jewish synagogues in Tehran but there is not even one Sunni mosque.
What do you think about relationship between Iran and Israel in the future?
I do not know. I mean, I am kind of familiar with the Jewish culture because as a Christian, I was taught the Bible, you know as a part of the Bible the old testament, which is the book of the Jewish people so, I am very familiar with their religion. Actually the Jewish people and their relationship with the Persian Empire goes way back, like during the time of Persian empire, we are talking before Christ so this goes back a long way. The Jewish people still have a feast for Queen Ester that they still celebrate even today. When I was in Israel, I noticed that the Iranian community is of significant size in Israel and there are indeed Iranian Jews in Israel. And I have gone to their homes, had dinner with them and they still cook Persian food. They still speak Farsi. I mean our relationship with the Jewish people, it goes back very very long time. And Iran had a very good relationship with Israel during the time of the Tsar and then of course with the Iranian revolution things changed. But Jews have lived in Iran since the Persian Empire. Jewish people have been part of the Iranian identity for millennia now. This is not something that we can ignore, as it is a fact. Now suddenly because of political issues, because the government of Iran needs to have an enemy outside its borders to distract the people and say look Israel is after us, it is going to kill us, it is going to destroy us, Israel is the enemy and we have to go after it. I mean it is a political thing and it has got nothing to do with reality. It has nothing to do with history. It has its roots in ignorance and I mean the government of Iran is trying to use that ignorance to its own advantage. That is basically what it is.
I have a last question. What does human rights mean to you?
Human rights means to me that I should be able to believe in whatever I want, even if it is a glass of water. Even if that glass of water is god, I should be allowed to believe in it. Why would that take away from anybody else’s belief? I mean, who ever believes in Allah or in god or in whatever. If I believe in glass of water in order to be god, so what? So, human rights to me is to be able to believe in whatever I want to believe or not to believe, or to dress in whichever way I want to dress, or to behave in any way I want to behave as long as it does not directly hurt other people. It is not hateful to other people if it does not spill blood. To me that is human rights. Basically for me human rights and freedom are the same thing. Human rights means freedom. To be whatever you want, to believe in whatever you want to believe in as long as it does not hurt other people.
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