Debating Iran, or Just Plain Taking the Bait?
Were the world merely an Oxford stage, Britain could congratulate itself for scoring a debating point against the Iranian team. Earlier this week, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his cohorts criticized the British for their handling of the recent riots in the U.K. Iranian officials accused British police of "savage" aggression against the "protesters" and called for human rights investigations into, and United Nations condemnation of, Britain's actions on its own turf.
The British Charge d-Affaires in Tehran has now responded with an open letter addressed to the spokesman of Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ramin Mehmanparast, politely explaining that the U.K. has a standing invitation to all UN rapporteurs, has already launched its own investigation, and "British policing is among the best in the world" -- thank you very much. The debater's touche comes in the fifth and penultimate paragraph of the letter, where, with a wry British twist, the Charge flips the argument, writing: "I urge the Iranian Government to extend a similar courtesy to the dedicated UN Special Rapporteur for the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, to enable him to address the international community's grave concerns about ongoing human rights violations within Iran."
It would all make a neat bit of dialogue for a thriller about the showdowns of our time, or a movie starring, as the articulate British diplomat, Colin Firth. First you have the cynicism and raw hyopcrisy of Iran's accusations. Then you have the cool British reply, meticulously courteous, yet biting. As a debating point, it works.
But the world is not an academic stage. While Britain is scoring debating points, Iran's regime is scoring its own points, by way of being dignified by British democracy as a worthy debating partner -- on human rights, no less.
The bigger question here is: Should Britain stoop to debate Iran's government at all?
The Obama administration, not to mention the rest of the democratic world, has already and repeatedly tried the experiment of offering Iran's regime dialogue and "mutual respect," including breast-beating Western self-criticism sessions in venues such as the UN Human Rights Council -- meant at least in part to inspire the likes of Iran's regime to follow suit. That's failed. Iran's regime takes whatever platforms and access it can get, puts out whatever propaganda it chooses, and in this case has just been dignified by the British with the favor of a direct reply.
To correct the record, or remind the world of Tehran's hypocrisies and atrocities, not least against its own people, there is virtue to speaking out. But better to speak past the Tehran regime, which long ago forfeited any reasonable claim to take part in any remotely serious discussion of human rights. Congratulations to the British Charge for debating skill, and deft turn of argument. But next time, please address any such letter to the people of Iran, the people of Britain, the citizens of the world, or even the bigwigs of the UN -- anyone except the officials of the current Iranian regime.