Wednesday, July 13, 2005

On the subject of “political prisoners”

Nov 2003 article by Amir Taheri.
Jerusalem Post.

Anyone looking for a Muslim Nelson Mandela is bound to be disappointed. Muslim tyrannies do not allow a serious opponent to live long enough, even in prison, to acquire the iconic status that the former ANC leader won in South Africa.

The apartheid regime, evil as it was, observed some rules. Muslim tyrannies observe none, except the dictates of their survival instincts. Had Mandela been held in a Muslim tyranny, he would have been dead and forgotten long before the world knew his name.

The Muslim world accounts for some 80 percent of political prisoners in the world. But none are allowed exposure that might enable them to acquire a Mandela-like star status.

Prisoners at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum to the regime become non-persons — seldom seen even by their families, and never spoken of. The only prisoners allowed some exposure are those who shared the regime’s roots before breaking with it for personal and/or political reasons.

In Iran, for example, many opponents of Khomeinism, from monarchists to Marxists, when captured, were simply murdered between 1980—1997.

Today, there are an estimated 30,000 political prisoners in Iran. Most are lower or mid-ranking democrat, monarchist, Marxist or other leftist elements that lack the name-recognition needed for "Mandelaization." No one knows how many are still alive.

Our search for potential Mandelas, therefore, has to focus on the 2,000 or so prisoners who emerged from within the regime.

This is a motley crowd and includes former hostage-takers, former terrorists, repentant Khomeinist clerics, and former high officials.

The longest-held prisoner in this category is Abbas Amir-Entezam, aged 70, who was deputy prime minister in the mullahs’ first cabinet in 1979. He was jailed on a charge of espionage for the CIA in 1980 and has been behind bars ever since.

Also noteworthy is Hashem Aghajari, a former Revolutionary Guard member, who started calling for a separation of mosque and state last year, now in prison under a suspended death sentence.

Mention must also be made of Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, aged 81, who has been under house arrest for some 15 years. In 1979, he was the Islamic Revolution’s number-two, after Khomeini, who named him his political heir.

Montazeri broke with Khomeini in 1986 and since then, in his own words, "has tried to pay for some of my sins in the revolution."

That’s about it. Sorry, guys, no Mandela in our neck of the woods.

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