Iran to Defend Women's Rights and Philosophy? No, Unfortunately, it's Not a Joke

We are now nearing the moment when, from little arrangements to great back-downs, from cultural concessions to totalitarian power grabs, the United Nations institution itself will be ready for the scrap heap.
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We're not done with Iran. First of all, of course, because of Sakineh, who has been granted a new stay of execution but remains imprisoned, in solitary confinement, like her own son. And the sentence may be executed at any moment. The summum of ignominiousness, the local presiding justice of Tabriz had the gall to declare that Sakineh is in good health. But because of two other affairs (I don't dare say two new affairs, for they are known and have been going on, the one and the other, for several months now) that have been little discussed, far too little, when they are just as indicative of the blindness, the cowardice, and the absence of democratic reflexes of the West when confronted with Iran.

The first concerns World Philosophy Day, organized every November by UNESCO and which, it has been decided, will be held this year in -- Tehran! Before the incredulousness and disturbance the news caused in philosophical circles, the organizers attempted to duck the issue by scheduling a pre-opening, in Paris, on November 18th, followed by a series of meetings in the days thereafter in Mexico, Tunis, or Dakar. But they did not go so far as to cancel the days in Tehran. So, if things remain as they are, one will philosophize from November 21st to 23rd in one of the world's capitals of fanaticism and tyranny.

We'll discuss "theory and practice" -- the theme of these day sessions -- in a country where, in August 2009, after demonstrations against the fraudulent elections, humanities were banished from the universities' curriculum. We shall debate the means of progressing towards excellence -- another theme of these days -- under the presidency of a "thinker" (Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel) whose greatest accomplishment is to have married his daughter to the son of the Supreme Guide, and in the presence of two others (Mohammad-Javad Larijani and the Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi) who have to their credit little more in the way of philosophical titles than, for the former, a subtle theory on the relative "humanity" of death by stoning and, for his colleague, a delicate analysis of the Jewish "race", described as "the most corrupt in the world".

And I'm not even mentioning the fact that serious contemporary Iranian philosophers such as Ramin Jahanbegloo, Daryoush-Ashouri, and Mohammad-Reza Nikfar, are all forbidden to speak in their country and will therefore be replaced -- it's official -- by colleagues who come exclusively from the holy city of Qom. Pinch me, I'm dreaming. The Ubuesque aspect of the situation leaves one dumbstruck. Yet that is what will happen if 1) the 400 foreign philosophers who have been invited (the list of whom is kept secret to avoid the pressure of boycotters) do not have the elementary dignity to cancel, or if 2) the Director of UNESCO (whose election, and I know a little about it, inspired such hope just a year ago) does not very rapidly take the decision to delay until the after-Ahmadinejad a manifestation that, for the moment, can only sanction a regime that censures, exiles, imprisons and assassinates free thought. It is not as though it would be the first of UNESCO's moral disasters, but this one would be impressive. With ridicule added to dishonor, it is by no means certain the organization would recover from it.

The second affair concerns the creation of UN Women, this new United Nations agency charged with promoting the cause of women in the world and where the Asian region chose a representative of the Iranian government as one of the 41 members of the board of directors destined to pilot the thing. Truth compels one to say that the Asia group proposed another country whose choice would scarcely have been better: Pakistan. Worse still, it seems that, in the contingent of delegates reserved for so-called "donor" countries is a third whose presence in this conclave is scarcely less incongruous -- Saudi Arabia.

But Iran! The country of Neda and Sakineh charged with promoting the advancement of women's rights. One of the last places in the world where adulteresses are condemned to stoning, assigned to champion gender equality and the struggle against discrimination. It sounds like a joke. Or even a provocation. But no, this is reality. This is the state of the balance of power at the United Nations, one we have already seen operate in the composition of the Human Rights Commission as well as at Durban 1 and 2. And it is, in this case, a slap in the face to every woman on the planet, spitting in the faces of the most humiliated and tormented among them.

It is an insult to common sense and an affront to simple decency. It is the guarantee that, what's more, this new agency is, from now on, paralyzed, and therefore stillborn. Call the ex-President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet who, after a good deal of dithering, accepted the direction of this thing, for her to use her influence to refute this ridiculous nomination. Appeal to Ban Ki-Moon, from whom, strangely, we have not heard during the entire Sakineh affair. He should, without delay, put what remains of his authority in the balance to block a decision whose inconsistency would draw smiles were it not potentially tragic. An Iranian commissioner in an agency dealing with women's rights is like a Pol-Potian responsible for human rights or a neo-Nazi guiding the fight against antisemitism. The United Nations cannot eternally play with the worst. We are nearing the moment when, from little arrangements to great back-downs, from cultural concessions to totalitarian power grabs, the institution itself will be ready for the scrap heap.

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