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A Tale of
Two Theocracies

A Tale of
Two Theocracies


In the wake of the absurd remarks by Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, political writer David Rhea explores how yesterday's Axis of Evil became today's soul mate in morality.

Very little that happens in this perplexing world truly rates as surprising anymore.Yet Monday's remarks by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Columbia University stunned just about everyone who heard them.

According to Ahmadinejad, gay people simply do not exist in Iran.Gays are a mere "phenomenon" that occurs, he suggests, only in Western culture. It reminds me of former first mother Lillian Carter's assertion a couple of decades ago that gays also don't exist in Georgia, which one could excuse somewhat as age and the faultless ignorance of the times and culture in which she was raised.

While Ahmadinejad may have a cultural void in common with dear Miss Lillian, he certainly cannot attribute any portion of his ignorance to the times or to age.

Perhaps the real phenomenon here is the culture that allows a man with such a clear void of either intellectual curiosity or a firm grasp of historical and scientific reality to ascend to the highest office in his country -- albeit in Iran, where that office is effectively a theocratic dictatorship.

Upon reflection, two bitter realities then hit.

First, numerous reasonable, highly respected individuals have said the very same about the heads of America's current regime. What is our excuse?

And second, while Ahmadinejad's assertion that there are no gays in Iran seems preposterous on the surface, his statement -- while not quite true just yet -- is increasingly becoming reality with each passing month. When a reporter informed Mr. Ahmadinejad after his remarks that she personally knew many gays in Iran, he openly asked for their addresses so that his country's authorities could check into it.

Iran's morality police routinely and systematically entrap, round up, imprison, torture, and typically execute gays -- and in some cases, those even suspected of being gay. Some are executed in staged, very public forums. Others are hanged in secret, right in their cells -- without even the pretense of a trial. Iran's criminal code, in fact, prescribes execution as the standard punishment for any man accused of having relations with another man, while women get off somewhat more lightly -- 100 lashes upon first offense and execution after four offenses.

Gays in Iran presumably do have at least one right: They are given their choice of death -- by hanging, stoning, being halved by sword, or dropped from the highest roof. Hanging is the justice system's preferred method of execution, although some jurisdictions favor stoning, especially if the accused is married. At least one report of these hangings indicates the common use of thin ropes or wire, knotted to the side rather than the back to maximize suffering by slow, painful strangulation over several minutes.

In order to prevent public sympathy for these accused infidels, Iran's government in recent years has begun adding trumped-up charges, such as rape, theft, extortion, or kidnapping. Bearing not even a remote resemblance to the actual truth, these groundless charges are designed solely for one purpose: to win in the court of public opinion.

This imprisonment and executions of gays are in blatant violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is party. These actions hark back to the Holocaust's atrocities against Jews, gays, gypsies, and other minority groups, which Ahmadinejad continues to deny even occurred.

Human Rights Watch documented in 2005 alone four high-profile Iranian executions on charges related to gay sex, including a boy who was 17 at the time of his arrest. One report from an Iranian gay rights group indicates that 4,000 gays were executed from the 1979 Islamic Revolution to the mid 1990s, the last period credible estimates could be made.

Yet those numbers only hint at the real extent of the repression. Beginning in April of this year, a massive nationwide morals campaign has imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Iranians on various morals charges. Most eventually have been released, a notable exception being those imprisoned for same-sex orientation. Few of those are expected to survive their captivity.

These arrests and subsequent executions serve as a clear warning from the clergy puppet masters pulling Ahmadinejad's strings to anyone who may be harboring an infidel's instincts. At this rate the only gays left in Iran soon will be those in their cribs, far too young to have expressed a preference yet for either sex.

The truth is, Mr. Ahmadinejad -- and W, you might as well listen up too -- eliminating this entire class of individuals from society cannot happen either by stroke of pen, by whip, or by bullet. Gays have been around since the dawn of time, and nothing any self-righteous leader or citizen can do will change that. Blatant attacks on gays' God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in that life will not stop mothers in any society from giving birth to gay children.

Nor will that be the end result of less obvious, indirect attacks -- like funding abstinence-only programs exclusively, at the expense of safe-sex messages; or advancing other public policies that help foster a self-righteous climate of intolerance, prejudice, and violent hate crimes. Or higher youth suicide and drug abuse rates that, tragically, reflect the need for escape mechanisms from rising everyday rejection, discrimination, and other attacks on self-worth. A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that gay teens are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts.

Yet gays simply are not going away that easily. Increasing volumes of scientific research support the notion that many, if not all, gays enter this world programmed from the very start to favor same-sex relations. And like it or not, Mr. Ahmadinejad, this phenomenon, as you call it, exists in every society of the world -- including yours.

For a leader to deny this fundamental truth in the way that one might ignore...oh, say, global warming is, as Columbia president Lee Bollinger suggested, either pure recklessness or pure ignorance. And if this is not the leader's own ignorance, then it certainly is catering to that of his followers, for the despicable intent of protecting not society but his own political hide.

One can say the very same about America's leaders. Our own nation is hardly immune to politicians who solidify their hold on power by appealing to some of the most ungodly instincts in human behavior -- prejudice, hypocrisy, and divisiveness -- or by making ridiculous assertions that they often don't even believe.

Efforts by two human rights organizations to work with the United Nations in protecting the basic civil rights of gays worldwide, including Iran, were blocked in 2006 when that proverbial shining city on the hill, the United States, backed an Iranian initiative to prevent these organizations from advancing their work through the U.N. More than three dozen U.S.-based human rights organizations formally objected to the initiative in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

This aggressive assault on the life and liberty of Iranian gays placed the U.S. in the same curious company as the initiative's other proponents: Cameroon, China, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Senegal, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Most of these countries rank among the most intolerant and, all too frequently, dangerous places in the world for gays. Oddly, on Tuesday -- the day following Ahmadinejad's remarks -- George W. Bush himself blasted several of these very countries before the U.N. general assembly for their gross human rights violations.

The parallel universe in which many accuse the Bush administration of operating has just been found. It is called the Islamic Republic of Iran. Indeed, today's Evangelic Republic of America may have just found some common ground on which to build stronger relations with its soul mate in morality, once known as part of the "axis of evil."

It's enough to make one want to pull out the ol' prayer mat and moon the nearest evildoer you see.

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David Rhea