Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Plight of one, plight of all

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I left Iran, my country of birth, 26 years ago. I vividly remember, as I walked away, turning my head and taking a glance at my mother standing on our balcony fighting off her tears.

I was 17 and one of the last members of my circle of family and friends to head for a life in the diaspora.

This was happening for the second time in the history of my family, as my grandfather, too, had left Russia and sought refuge in Iran in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Over the years, I've closely watched the developments in Iran and in the Middle East.

What still causes me anguish is the deteriorating situation of human rights in Iran and the region as a whole. From the mistreatment of women and minorities to the suppression of social and political dissent, Iranians of all ages and status are suffering a great deal.

The right to choose one's social, political, and religious beliefs free of persecution, which many of us take for granted, is denied to many in the name of national security and preserving a dominant dogma.

Today I received an email from a friend about the expulsion of a student (Kian Hashemi) from a college in Iran for being a Baha'i.

What's remarkable about this case is the letter written to him by his fellow students who question the decision by the authorities as immoral and illegal.

Reading the letter, I was reminded of the quote attributed to Martin Niemllr: "First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me."

The students of that college in Iran took it upon themselves to speak in defence of someone whose very basic rights were violated. They did not succumb to complacency. They did not let the voice of their classmate go unheard. They did that despite the danger posed to their own safety for defying the authorities.

In the globalized world of today the plight of one is a plight of all. Bringing an end to despotic, undemocratic, and inhumane treatment of people around the world is the responsibility of all.

To end tyranny we must use our abilities to give voice to the voiceless, choose a peace based on social justice, and most important of all, believe in the principle that violence and war are not the answer.

Changing the condition of those suffering from social, political, and economic oppression needs an arsenal of books, poems, blogs, films, music, plays and people-to-people exchange.

Today more than ever before, we as individuals have the power to change the course of human history and end human misery. The first step is to draw attention to it by choosing to end cultural relativism and to become true citizens of the world.

 

Allan Wise is a social-political

commentator living in Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2012 J19

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