Susanna Kokkonen
Speaker on Jewish-Christian relations; anti-Semitism; the Holocaust and persecution

Liberal Love for Iran

It is so interesting because it makes absolutely no sense. It is about the beautiful nation of Persia with ancient traditions -and until the 1979 revolution- beauty and culture too.

Iran, according to Amnesty International executes the second most dissidents globally. Some organizations believe that it is actually the world’s number one in public executions. For instance, by mid-July 2019, Iran had executed almost 200 people (estimates vary), among them minors, which last fact caused the UN to criticize Iran’s use of death penalty. Iranian human rights activists, international NGO’s and the UN have all criticized Iran because of ongoing persecution and lack of freedoms.

Lack of political freedoms, citizens’ belief that Iran’s political elite is corrupt and great economic distress recently caused demonstrations on Iranian streets. These were connected to the regime’s increase in gas prices that Iranians cannot afford. According to The Guardian, about 200 000 people participated in the recent mass demonstrations. The same source says that 7000 were arrested and hundreds brutally killed. The Guardian called this ‘the regime’s most deadly response’ to demonstrations so far. In addition, Iran in November blocked much of the country’s Internet access, thus cutting ordinary Iranians of the world.

In terms of religious freedom, unsurprisingly, Iran is not a great place. It is one of the top countries on the Open Doors annual list of 50 worst persecuting countries in the world. This is specifically about persecution of Christians. Estimates say that there may be as many as 800 000 Christians living in the Islamic nation. Even so, they would be a very tiny minority since the total population of Iran is about 82 million. Tax exemption status according to the Gatestone Institute was removed from churches and synagogues. Although in Iran, technically, Assyrian and Armenian minorities should have limited freedom of religion, in practice all minority religious groups face various degrees of persecution.

Finally, let us recall that Iran withdrew itself from the 2015 nuclear agreement. Iran has repeatedly threatened the State of Israel with Genocide.  Having done all of that, Iran has deliberately taken steps to get to its ultimate goal, to being in possession of a nuclear weapon.

This brings me to the main point of this blog. Why do Liberals so love Iran?

Perhaps all will agree with me that today Europe is the most liberal actor on the world stage. Europe is also the actor, which was able to create a mechanism enabling trade with Iran despite ongoing sanctions. This mechanism is known as INSTEX and its original members were France, Germany and the United Kingdom. INSTEX, simply put, allows the participating countries to trade with Iran without breaking U.S. sanctions. Just now, six more EU countries joined the club. These are Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Apart from the EU, membership, what do these countries all have in common?

As a Scandinavian, I would say that these are -on the surface- the countries that are most committed to human rights worldwide. Perhaps they now share only their self-righteousness since it can hardly be the case of human rights anymore? I am saying this because the representatives of these nations’ governments were literally shaking the bloodied hands of Iranian executors, as Iranian citizens were being brutally murdered on the streets of Tehran. If a TV screen was split, you could see the demonstrators being murdered on one side and these countries representatives shaking hands with the executioners on the other. I felt so ashamed of my birth nation being part of this.

Why is this happening? What is the power of Iran? Why do its neighbors not succeed in convincing the freedom-loving democracies of the world that Iran needs to be curtailed? Should these particular European governments (power fortunately changes hands often) have anything to say in terms of human rights violations anywhere else in the world? If you side with the evil, can you have it both ways?  Are you not either with them or with us?

Us – us being the ones who do care for Iranians’ human rights.

About the Author
Dr. Susanna Kokkonen, originally from Finland, has lived in Israel for the past twenty years. She has a doctorate in Holocaust Studies and has pioneered Jewish-Christian relations including at Yad Vashem, as the Director of the Christian Friends of Yad Vashem. She travels around the world speaking about Israel; the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and current issues.
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