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  • In Defense of PEN: Salute Mr. Hedges

    Soheil Asefi

    by Soheil Asefi

    “This appointment makes a mockery of PEN as a human rights organization and belittles the values PEN purports to defend… I will wait until the organization returns to its original mandate to defend those who are persecuted, including those within the United States, before returning to the organization.” It was the part of Chris Hedges resigned statement to PEN in recent days.

    Amid the stories of blasts at Boston marathon and the ongoing hocks pocks in corporate media, breaking news and current news for anyone who has open eyes, particularly aware journalists and men of letters around the world, was Chris Hedges resigned from PEN over its executive director, Suzanne Nossel, a former aide to Hillary Clinton who may have coined the term “soft power.”  Hedges elaborated the reasons of his resigned from PEN in a must-see interview with Paul Jay on the Real News Network, mentioned the familiar story of misuse of humanitarian agencies which is not new and added “but what's disturbing is that these people are now--are running them”

    The hazards of being an “Iranian” Journalist

    As an independent journalist who always was one of Hedges pertinacious readers, the familiar story of hijacking of human rights is pretty perceptible to me. Especially as an “Iranian” journalist amid the ongoing propaganda of the mainstream media and their Persian pundits factotums and tyranny of the Islamic Republic against the people and the history of more than hundred years struggle for freedom and social justice in that country.  It seems the most important victims of the ongoing process in the world, particularly the country which I was born there, is nothing but the true notion of human rights and democracy. All these stereotypical terms which is using by corporate media constantly. The notion which is way beyond the ongoing banal discourse in the human rights industry and its domination agenda. Thus being a journalist from the countries which are involve with the dictatorial regimes on one hand and the insatiable desire of imperialism on the other hand,  when human rights have become like a political tool in West's hands is not that easy to deal with.

    Amid the ongoing hue and cry over Iran in the mainstream media, especially in aftermath of Iran's election, I  admit that sometimes I am hesitant to present myself as an “Iranian” journalist to many of my progressive colleges and acquaintance, who does not know enough about my background and concerns and they are also sometimes quite unfamiliar the complexities of Iran political issues and apparatuses. Hearing the word “Iranian journalist and blogger” or any other things about the violations of human rights in Iran today, they usually forthwith go with stereotypes, confuse me with a number of the typical journalists and the so-called human rights activists from these kinds of countries who view themselves against the domestic dictatorship yet simply go with the global domination agenda and ongoing human rights discourse. As I mentioned earlier, regrettably journalism and blogging became a business for some Middle Eastern journalists particularly during recent upheaval in Iran.

    Not an intellectual, but a thief with a lantern

    PEN always was correctly well- respected by a number of progressive institutes within Iran and the diaspora. I still remember the time when Salman Rushdie became yet another victim of an infamous attack on free speech over the publication of his book The Satanic Verses (1988), when the Ayatollah Ruohollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death, forcing him to remain in hiding for many years. PEN’s work and advocacy is unforgettable for many of progressives in Iran. I am still seeing Arthur Miller sitting in front of Nawal El Saadawi in the fourth annual PEN world voices and the far-reaching conversation between them, when she uttered nothing is more perilous than truth in a world that lies.

    How can one forget Roshanak? Roshanak Dariush, the late Iranian Marxist writer and translator. She introduced many renowned German writers to her country’s book lovers such as Gunter Wilhelm Grass and Like A Tear In The Ocean: A Trilogy by Manes Sperber(over a 1000 pages between the trilogy), dense, and incredibly complex. She was a guest of PEN German center and passed away in Munich in exile after a lengthy battle with cancer in 2003 and wanted her ashes to be spread over the river Isar.

    How one can forget one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century, Adrienne Rich another prominent member of PEN American center who in 1997, declined the national medal of arts in protesting against the house of representatives’ vote to end the national endowment for the arts as well as other policies of the Clinton administration regarding the arts generally and literature in particular, stating that "I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration...[Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage"

    Needless to say about prominent Iranian poet and journalist Ahmad Shamlou known as “Master Poet of Liberty” and his stentorian voice when he uttered “if serving humanity is not a person’s only goal, nor does he know or recognize the pain of the masses, this person is not an intellectual, but a thief who has come with a lantern” I still remember the time when PEN American center expressed its sympathy to the socialist Iranian poet.” From a young age, Shamlou struggled internally to construct a fortress against decadence, injustice, fear and ugliness. Through his poetry, he cried out in anguish at the dashed hopes of his times, yet "never abandoned his faith in humanity."

    I remember the time, me beside my mother and father, both from the revolutionary generation and divorced years ago, were sitting somewhere on a bench in the departure lounge of Tehran's Imam Khomeini airport waiting for my boarding call when the public address blasted into life: "Flight number X Tehran to Frankfurt is delayed. All passengers should wait in the lounge for further announcements. If they are coming for me? What would be the next? To continue my education and work, I left Iran for Germany more than one year after the temporarily release on bail from prison. I reside in Germany under the "Writers in Exile" program.

    The hijacking of human rights

    The epitome is ceaseless though the moot point as Chris Hedges attested again is nothing but running somewhere like PEN American center by the forces that are the symbol of humanitarian imperialism, as have been expressed by Jean Bricmont, using human rights to sell war. What has warmonger Hillary Clinton to do with the history of PEN and the name of the game? The hijacking of human rights, what Chris Hedges pinpointed is a burglar alarm for all the journalists and human rights activist around the world who strongly believes in principles on freedom of expression. Needless to say that regrettably, it is not only the story of PEN American center today.

    As a matter of fact a number of mainstream Iranian journalists and human rights activists acquiesce to the demands of the so-called international community and justify its imperialist agenda by the crimes of the Islamic Republic in Iran and it seems to me like an ongoing tragedy. It seems we are living in the time, when human rights have lost their true aim and become the latest version of the civilizing mission so the 'end' of human rights is something  we feel it more than ever these days. Although in the case of Iran, I need to say independent journalism and activism has tried to exist under the Islamic Republic and in the diaspora under the propaganda bombardment of the mainstream media, particularly the Persian ones which is another sad long story.

    Therefore the statement and resign of a journalist who spent seven years in the Middle East, most of them as the Middle East bureau chief of the New York Times would be admired and absolutely inspiring for many of the young and independent radical journalists around the world, particularly in the Middle East, the journalists who are well aware about violations of human rights in the system which has been based on violent capital accumulation.

    The brutal sanctions and human rights

    Considering all things, the resigned of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the New York Times who could have just quietly faded into the night after a career most of us can only fathom,  just makes one rethink of the notion of resistance and true meaning of journalism in the market era and despondently days as an unemployed Iranian journalist lost in the city which was divided into two parts and still struggling for equality, against the system.

    Thus in these sinister days of a country like Iran, as I expressed earlier when bringing the people of Iran to their knees have become the scenario and the true intentions of the so-called international community, when the criminal sanctions against the people of Iran as a tool for negotiation and escalating pressure on the Islamic Republic is going on and a number of Iranian activists in the diaspora are involve in the human rights industry, it is the time to speak out against the hijacking human rights. The effect of economic sanctions on human rights is another long story. The latest reports on the oil-for-food program are pretty familiar for many of us and it just reminiscent of unfinished Iraq tragedy.

    The unheard Iranian voices

    So condemning once again, imperialist intervention of any kind, including military intervention, sanctions, public relations war, currency war, cyber-warfare and drone operation, organizing the colorful movements and making the fake opposition and so on and so forth is the voices of dozens of radical and progressive activists within Iran.

    In defense of human rights, it is the voice of people you can barely hear them amid ongoing hue and cry over Iran in the mainstream media. It is Fariborz Raisdana’s voice, prominent Iranian Marxist economist and member of the Iranian Writers’ Association, who has been released from prison some days ago. According to the Iranian Writers’ Association, Raisdana had been initially arrested more than a year ago following one of his interview in December 2010, in which he had criticized the Islamic Republis’s IMF plan for slashing redistribution schemes. During interrogations, he was also charged with membership of the Iranian Writers’ Association which was banned and under extreme pressure in the both Shah’s and Islamic Republic’s regime.

    The voice of the Iranian workers dealing with a system that refuses them the right to organize, struggling under a dictatorship pushing the country into thorny international and regional conflicts. It is the voice of Reza Shahbi, one of the founders of Iran's bus driver's union who returned to Evin Prison some days ago after a brief furlough to pass the rest of his 6 years sentence. Caustic, this coincided with presidential victory of a former bus driver and a union leader, Nicolas Maduro, in Venezuela.

    The voice of those Iranian prisoners isolated by a bunch of neoliberal prisoners even inside the Islamic Republic’s prison, isolated by whom you can hear their names by their counterparts on the mainstream media and the human rights industry time to time. I have just read the statement of some of the prisoners from the notorious Evin prison on human rights day, mentioned the notion that a human being has a set of inviolable rights simply on grounds of being human began during the era of renaissance humanism in the early modern period and acknowledged the fact that though we believe that declaration of human rights is like a prerequisite but it is not enough at all and it is not also the name of our game. They mentioned to the right to ownership - what are human rights in the system which has been based on the violent capital accumulation. Regrettably, as a matter of fact, such thing as international community in its real notion does not exist in today’s world though the scattered efforts of independent activists and some human rights organizations in defense of true meaning of human rights is going on.

    Current status quo in Larijani’s interview

    The  EU foreign ministers and its baroness Ashton from British labour party, descendants of Margaret Thatcher, who is leading the nuclear negotiations with Iran and whenever I see her on screen, it just reminds me of a master who treats her slaves,  jeopardized many lives in different countries and which is also violations of human rights.  It is significant when in a recent interview, the man dubbed "the father of Iran's nuclear program" Akbar Etemad says current Iranian government should not succumb to pressure from the west.”I think Iran has the right to do the research that they are doing and I do not see why the Western countries impose sanctions against Iran.  They pressure Iran. Why did not they do it with India, Pakistan with Israel?" he asks. Mr. Etemad currently sees no solution but thinks that ''Iran should not give in". Though we all are aware that Iran nuclear issue is nothing but a pretext in ongoing political exercise.

    Along similar lines, seeing the recent interview with Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary general of human rights council in Iran, and top advisor to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei when one of this Persian mainstream journalists as an advocacy of the so-called international community in Euronews striving to put him in the corner has many subtexts to learn for one who wants to see the current status quo. “We are ready to discuss all of these shortcomings, but not with fingers pointing at us. The west, and specially the US, and the Europeans are approaching Iran in the wrong way.” Predictably she and her other counterparts, as a bunch of professional media employees under the name of “journalist”, expect of duplicating some time-worn mainstream stuff cannot to ask one word about the neoliberal policies in the Islamic Republic today and the austerity. When despite all the discords and flagrant approach and coercion of the so-called international community the IMF is happy with the regime.

    Human rights have no borders

    We are talking about violation of human rights and tyranny of late capitalism, wherever people are in the streets and struggling for their survive and human rights.

    Although it seems the world for Iranian mainstream human rights activists is just limited to something called the Islamic Republic. The irony is they used to formulate their point of view to the upheavals of the world by action and reaction of the Islamic Republic. It seems their entire world is the Islamic Republic  and the point is, most  of them even do not know what the nature and the real meaning of that Islamic Republic in these days is. What is  the champion of the blocks of power and capital in Iran today . Regrettably, many of these so-called activists have become like a bunch of blind forces of the mainstream media and in many cases even are not interested to get into the lines of hegemony and subordination in today’s world in the ongoing story of their own homeland.

    Thus it goes without saying that talking about human rights situation of  only some countries in the world without mentioning tyranny of capitalism in other parts of the world just undermined the whole argument and this double standard just discredited the true aim of human rights.

    From Tehran to Gaza and Lisbon and from Damascus and Madrid to Berlin and Athens and Rome and Paris and from London to Toronto and from Tel Aviv and Cairo and Chicago and New York to Manama and Johannesburg and Kabul etc. Human rights have no borders and it has a lot to do with the roots of the current economic system. Not to mention, contrary to the ongoing superficial approach, the moot point still is human rights for whom?

    Needless to say about the president of drones, also with the Nobel peace prize in hands and his austerity policies. Not to mention Bradley Manning’s case, when regrettably we face the pregnant silence of PEN American center about his case and at the same time, the banal LGBT mainstream agenda. Recent issue of HRC which is another wordy story, when Glenn Beck also appears to endorse gay marriage. What a progressive cause indeed. Thus it is also the time that  LGBTQ progressive radical activists in the memory of Pier Paolo Pasolini and their heritage speak out against hijacking human rights. Speak out against human rights groups against human rights. PEN has nothing to do with the retinues of U.S. department of state and that ilk. PEN American center is still belong to us and we will wait with Chris Hedges until the organization returns to its original mandate.

    Chris Hedges resigned from PEN definitely could encourages one among of a bunch of opportunist forces in the indigence era to go through the confirmed way. He is right here on the front lines in the fight for liberty and social justice. In defense of honor of the PEN: Salute Mr. Hedges.

    Soheil Asefi is an independent Iranian journalist in Berlin. He left Iran some years ago after a ten- year professional experience of major Iranian media outlets. He was in prison and was released on bail. He came to Germany as the guest of the City of Nuremberg under the project ‘Writers in Exile’ funded by the German Pen Center. He is the recipient of the Hermann Kasten award in Nuremberg. Follow Soheil Asefi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SoheilAsefi


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