How Obama can change the US-Iran dynamic
Regarding the April 1 article, "Clinton says US met with Iran delegate": President Obama used the occasion of the Persian New Year to reach out last week to the Iranian government, offering in a video message a new era of "engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect."
Change in America's Iran policy is much needed and long overdue. Yet, that change is not conceivable without understanding the dynamics of Iranian politics. Every US president since Jimmy Carter has sought a coherent Iran policy and has been interested in negotiations with this regime. But all have failed for one reason or another.
Iran observers generally acknowledge that there are two Irans: the one of octogenarian mullahs and the one in vibrant cities. And these two Irans are worlds apart.
As long as Iran remains synonymous with the fundamentalist regime that rules it, US policy options are very limited: more concessions or military action, both of which are doomed to failure.
But how can the US reach out to the Iranian people? The key to such change is the administration's approach to the mullahs and their main opposition, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).
In 1997, the Clinton administration proposed direct dialogue with Tehran. To set the stage, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright designated the MEK as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. One senior Clinton official acknowledged at the time that the "inclusion of the Mujahedin was intended as a goodwill gesture to Tehran and its newly elected moderate president, Mohammed Khatami."
The Bush administration not only continued with the same policy, but went even further by bombing MEK's camps in Iraq during the 2003 invasion, as part of a quid pro quo with Tehran.
It is evident that making concessions to Tehran is counterproductive. Constraining the MEK was a gift to the mullahs, who perceived the move as a sign of weakness and became even more brazen in their dealings with the West.
If Mr. Obama is serious about change in US-Iran policy, he should take the bold initiative of revoking the MEK's terrorist designation as the most vivid hallmark of that policy change. Such a move would even make talks with Tehran more effective, since it sends the mullahs a message of strength. This indeed is the change which is not only overdue, but one which puts the United States on the right side of history.
Theocracy is a threat to freedom of speech – no matter the religion
In regard to the March 30 Opinion piece, "The new threat to freedom of expression": I agree with author Paula Schriefer that attempts to outlaw speech that defames religion are unacceptable violations of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion.
What I disagree with, however, is her focus on Islam as the only example of a religion which seeks to silence its opponents. Just as there are both tolerant and intolerant Muslims, there are also tolerant and intolerant Christians, Jews, etc.
Remember that Christians used to burn "heretics" at the stake. There are also many people today who would like to turn the United States into a Christian nation, despite the First Amendment. For these people, saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" is evidence of a "war" on Christianity.
Does this mean all Christians are irrational bigots? Not at all; many other Christians have generously given their time and money to help people of other faiths.
No religion, in and of itself, is a threat to freedom. Theocracy in any form, however, violates the fundamental rights embodied in international law.
Don't romanticize illegal immigration
Regarding the March 31 article, "Hundreds of African migrants die in shipwreck off Libya's coast": This article's description of the recent smuggling tragedy in Libya tends to romanticize (and thereby aggravate) the problem of illegal immigration. It is hardly an accurate picture, even if those being smuggled were actually lucky enough to arrive at their intended destination.
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