A Marriage Made in Hell


There is no obstacle in the way of implementing agreements between Iran and Iraq. —Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad The New York Sun , September 13

With big smiles and hearty handshakes, the prime minister of Iraq, Nourial-Maliki—currently trying to control a brutal civil war, partly fueled by Iran—met in Tehran on September 12 with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. From now on, said Ahmadinejad, exporter of terrorism throughout the Middle East, “these two brotherly neighbors will stand by each other.”

George W. Bush did not send felicitations as the Iraqi government he helped install harmonized with the nation that he has designated a key member of the “Axis of Evil.”

Meanwhile, to soften the image of Iran in the United States, its former “reformer” president, Mohammad Khatami, has been on a gently spinning tour here. At Harvard University—during Khatami’s lecture on the “Ethics of Tolerance in the Age of Violence”—an Iranian student in the audience broke into the spiel by asking him about the late Iranian Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, whose life came to an agonizing end in an Iranian prison while this lecturer on tolerance was the “moderate” president of the Islamic Republic. As Amir Taheri reported in the New York Post, Khatami, “with a broad smile, told the student he wasn’t quite sure how the poor woman had died in one of his prisons.”

Many Canadians, including officials in the Canadian government, are furiously sure how she died. So is Persian American human rights lawyer Lily Mazahery, who, invited by students and faculty, spoke at Harvard on the same day as Khatami.

Before an audience of nearly 300 people, Mazahery provided a searing analysis of Khatami’s eight-year reign in Iran—and filled in certain details of the Canadian journalist’s death.

Although Khatami’s successor, whom some of you saw soft–shoeing past Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, has seized some 110,000 forbidden satellite dishes in recent months, enough are still lurking that Mazahery’s speech reached Iran.

As for the former president Khatami’s ode to the ethics of tolerance, Mazahery said that when Kazemi was imprisoned for taking pictures of Evin prison in Iran, then president Khatami “demonstrated remarkable tolerance when [she was] violently raped, tortured, and ultimately murdered. And ignoring all forms of civilized practice and ethical standards, Mr. Khatami tolerated the denial of access to Ms. Kazemi’s body to not only the Canadian officials who had requested such access, but to Ms. Kazemi’s own son who, to this day, is fighting to bring his mother’s killer to justice.”

Mazahery also delivered a horrifying insight into Iranian codes of justice, citing the case of 16-year-old unmarried Atefeh Rajabi, sentenced to death by public hanging for having committed “adultery” (which is very elastically defined in Iran). She writes that the sentencing judge “who presided over Atefeh’s sham trial is reported to have raped Atefeh himself before he personally placed the noose around her tiny neck.” According to Shariah law, championed by Khatami, “virgin girls are not allowed to be executed—for their purity might open the doors of heaven to them. To avoid this, virgin girls, such as Atefeh, who are sentenced to death, are raped before execution to ensure their proper place in hell.” (This is a coldly ingenious Iranian definition of “adultery.”)

Mazahery has worked to bring sunlight to the names and fates of individual victims of the barbaric Islamic regime in Iran. Born in Tehran in 1972, she tells me, “I witnessed the Islamic revolution firsthand, as my father, a government official under the Shah’s regime, was the target of [Ayatollah] Khomeini’s killing machine.” (Khomeini, as history shows, is Iran’s ultimate executioner.) Mazahery’s father escaped, and after six years of separation, the family reunited in 1984 in Washington, D.C. After graduating from law school, she started working there as an associate attorney for one of the world’s largest law firms, Jones Day.

She continues: “Although representing the Fortune 500 companies of the world was an interesting experience, I decided to leave that ‘glamorous’ life.” Instead, she has founded the Legal Rights Institute so that she can concentrate on civil and human rights. The group has been spreading its message online and organizing demonstrations in Europe. Working with a wide range of American and international groups and individuals, Mazahery notes, “we have been able to bring international attention to obtain stays of execution and new trials for a number of women and girls who were sentenced to death for having been raped, for allegedly committing the crime of ‘adultery,’ and for engaging in ‘acts incompatible with chastity.’ ”

It is this ruthless Iranian regime to which the “liberated” nation of Iraq has been tied by its new government. Meanwhile the American ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, said last month, according to the September 11 New York Times, “that Iran was urging Shiite militias to step up attacks on the American-led forces [in Iraq] in retaliation for the Israeli assault on Lebanon.” (The Iraqi government is dominated by Shiites, as is Iran.)

Given this whirlpool of lethal distortion of religious principles—and the Bush administration’s appalling initial ignorance of the ethnic and religious forces in fathomless conflict in Iraq—there is tragic irony in this [London] Daily Telegraph report from September 8:

“The brutal excesses of Saddam Hussein’s regime were relived yesterday as Iraq’s new government announced that it had hanged 27 prisoners convicted of terror and criminal charges. Mass executions at Abu Ghraib’s prison . . . were suspended after coalition-led troops overthrew Saddam three years ago. Yesterday’s executions took place just days after control of Abu Ghraib was handed over to Iraqi authorities. . . .Mass executions of convicted prisoners took place on an almost weekly basis under Saddam’s regime.”

His statue was torn down when we came, but he must be smiling in the courtroom.

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