After my 23 year-old sister was executed because of her political views, you could no longer find either a prayer mat nor the Koran in our home.
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Student gathering, Khatami placard. Nov. 3, 1999. Hasan Sarbakhshian
JANUARY 23, 2002. A gay Iranian responds to the Iranian President's speech before the United Nations on November 10, 2001 in which he repeatedly echoes the UN call for a "Dialogue Among Civilizations."
To His Excellency, the President of Iran, Mr. Mohammad Khatami:
I am an Iranian who had to leave my native country because I didn't believe in the Islamic regime. Having one's own opinion is a basic human right, yet the "civilization" you talked about could not accept it.
My late father believed in Islam as a great and peaceful religion, and had been to Mecca twice. Yet, when he saw how the new Islamic regime denied the rights of women, political opponents, ethnic and religious minorities, and others, he lost his interest in Islam.
Three years into the regime, after my 23 year-old sister was executed because of her political views, you could no longer find either a prayer mat nor the Koran in our home; my father became an atheist. At that time I was 18, and knew much less than what I know today.
After four years of living in the West, I got a job in a hospital. One day, out of curiosity, I entered a small chapel there. I do not believe in any religion, yet the vicar thought, because of my appearance, that I was Muslim and said: "If you would like to pray, please feel free. We share this Christian chapel with other religions," and he showed me a prayer mat which Muslims usually use. I told him that in my country they persecute and oppress people with other religions. "Here, we have democracy, and religious freedom is guaranteed as part of human rights," he replied.
This event opened my eyes and heart to Western civilization.
I want to ask you one question: Why do you think people from most of the so-called Muslim countries want to leave their societies and seek refuge in the West as soon as they get the opportunity? Three to four million Iranians have left Iran, a great number during your period in office. You condemn the strife caused by dictatorial regimes, but during the four years plus you have been in power, you, too, have failed to deliver any of your promises of democracy.
Last weekend, in front of world representatives at the UN, you repeatedly advocated for a "dialogue between civilizations". Do you really believe that world opinion takes your words seriously when they see that the "civilization" you are talking about has delivered nothing but misery and poverty to its own people?
This coming week, the soccer teams of Iran and the Republic of Ireland will play in Tehran and already 300 tickets have been sold to Irish women to enter the stadium and enjoy the match. Yet, you continue to ban Iranian women from watching games.
Just think for a moment and compare the effect the vicar in the small chapel had on me, and the effect of this action on the minds of those Irish women.
I am a gay man who has accepted his sexual orientation and feels comfortable with it. Here in the West, not only does the law protect my rights, but even my partner's family and friends support us. In Iran, under your "civilization," homosexuals are not only oppressed by family and relatives, but are cruelly executed under the "Islamic Penal Law" which has been in force since the Islamic regime took power. You claim Iran's Islamic rule as part of the territory of your "civilization," though it is responsible for the cruel deaths of thousands of homosexuals.
What does your "civilization" have to offer when your chief prosecutor, Mohammad Gillani, announces: "Set up a fire and throw a person who committed homosexual acts into the fire"?
Why is your civilization not in line with modern science, according to which homosexuality is a natural and normal sexual orientation for some members of every society?
Mr. President, I am not afraid of the possible accusation that I am being absorbed by Western culture and civilization. You present a better one and I will be absorbed by yours. Until then, I will be proud of Western civilization, which I've already adopted, as have millions of my fellow country women and men.
Please do not misunderstand me. I don't mean I always agree with U.S. foreign policy. The values I do share with the West, including the U.S., are values like human rights, women's rights, gay/lesbian rights, the rights of ethnic and religious minorities and political opponents, democracy, freedom etc. In contrast, there is nothing I can share either with Bin Laden or the Taliban, or with the "civilization" you are talking about.
Democracy, human rights, gay rights, etc. are the West's achievements, like telephone, electricity, the Internet and so on. They should belong to all mankind, no matter where on our planet we live.
For the sake of your God and your religion, keep your regime from oppressing my fellow country women and men.
A "Western" Iranian
This letter has been slightly edited for publication in The Gully.
To download the speech of Mohammad Khatami, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran before the 56th Session of the United Nations' General Assembly, New York, November 10, 2001.
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