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Coverage goes but Iran problems stay

Guest Column/Daniel Pugh


The national press and media have allotted an enormous amount of coverage to the problems of South Africa in the last few months. Race riots and deaths have carried the headlines daily. Groups have jumped to condemn any business which dares to deal with South Africa.

Apartheid could become another of a string of issues which dominate the news briefly and then fade into obscurity. Yet in most cases the underlying problems remain essentially unchanged. Iran was one such situation between 1979 and 1981. After the Iranians released the American hostages, the press stopped coverage of the still-volatile situation in the country.

Even during the early years of the Carter administration, the human rights condition in Iran was poor. Amnesty International had exposed the terrible conditions for years, including the atrocities committed by Sovak, the Iranian secret police. Early in his term, Carter spent a Christmas in Tehran to encourage a better human rights record. He became the first president to try to deal with the problems. Despite these human rights difficulties, Carter called Iran an "island of peace" in the Middle East region because there were no wars going on. That was 1977.

In early 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran to spearhead a religious revolution, after 15 years of exile in France. Driven by hatred for Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, Khomeini turned his sights on the Shah's closest ally, the United States. The rest is history: militant Moslem students imprisoned American citizens for 444 days while the world watched helplessly.

When the hostage crisis ended, so did the coverage. But the revolutionary government is tightening its stranglehold on the country. During and after the revolution, those associated with the Shah's regime were forced to flee the country or be executed. Of those who remained, nearly all were killed. Anyone who opposed the revolutionary government or in any way associated with the Shah was suspect. Among those killed were prime ministers, legislators, generals and other army officers, even soldiers and civil servants.

A massive roll-back of nearly every significant modernization or advancement made under the Shah accompanied the killings. Most significant of these were the closing of the universities and the education system, with only a few subjects such as medicine or theology being taught, and the reversal of women's social standing. These roll-backs effectively reversed the most important and widespread of the changes which had come to Iran. The revolutionary government destroyed all vestiges of Western culture.

The war with Iraq continues to compound problems. Because of the fierce fighting, all young men must register for the draft. Full conscription is the norm. Thousands of these young men are killed each month.

The war has its greatest effect on the economy. Iran depends entirely upon its oil production as the major support of the economy. This has been true since 1973. The war, however, has decimated the number of oil wells and refineries. Iraq destroyed the Kharg Island refinery, one major oil producer. Because outside investment built most of these factors of production, there is no way to replace them under the remaining strength of the economy. The oil production is coming to a nearly complete halt.

The Iranian people are forced to work at few jobs, with low pay even in the face of hyper-inflation. Most have to supplement their earnings from savings. When these savings are gone, there will be no means of support. Those who cannot support themselves must resort to the black market or crime.

Most importantly, the human rights situation in Iran is the worst in the world. The ruling regime arrests the people of Iran at will. Summary executions are commonplace. Not even religious tolerance is allowed: believers of the Ba'hai faith are set afire if they do not renounce their beliefs.

The leaders of Iran are fanatical religious men and have no qualification to run the country. Their only concern is the advancement of their Moslem faith and the persecution of other sects of religion, even if that pursuit destroys the country. The average Iranian is the victim of the policies of the government, repressed and helpless to change the situation.

The national media has not covered these problems in the last few years. Amnesty International has continued to report human rights violations, but there is a saturation point after which another atrocity fails to even make the eye blink.

We need to spread our ability to concentrate beyond single issues to encompass several areas of the world at a time. Our concerns must reflect the true problems of the world.