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洛杉磯女律師呼吁族裔融和

FROM RHETORICAL GESTURES TO EPOCHAL DECISIONS: THE HISTORIC CHOICE IS BETWEEN BOYKIN AND EBADI
By Tom Plate

May 14, 2004

LOS ANGELES --- A middle-aged woman Iranian Muslim lawyer visited the sun-splashed campus of the University of California at Los Angeles this week and showed the world what tolerance, mutual respect and cross-cultural understanding is really all about.

Shirin Ebadi, winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, laid it all on the line in the manner of a Muslim Martin Luther King or an Iranian Cesar Chavez - two famous civil rights leaders that every UCLA student has heard of. And after her appearance Friday (May 14), in an event organized by the UCLA International Institute, many added the name of Ebadi to that luminous roster of freedom fighters.

A lawyer and human rights activist, Ebadi was one of Iran's first woman judges back in the days of bad old Shah Pahlevi (who, though, did more for women than any mullah). But she is not fighting for human rights for just some people (for example, Arab women or Iranian Muslims); but for all, and all of the time. By her lights, human rights are universal and round-the-clock, with no exceptions for national security, even during wartime.

As she puts it, "If the 21st century wishes to free itself from the cycle of violence, acts of terror and war, and avoid repetition of the experience of the 20th century - that most disaster-ridden century of humankind - there is no other way except by understanding and putting into practice every human right for all mankind, irrespective of race, gender, faith, nationality or social status."

It is the totality of that concept of human rights that prompted me to go into anger-overdrive last October when U.S. Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a key figure in the anti-terror campaign and undoubtedly a brave soldier, made an extremely harmful raft of anti-Muslim remarks in public.

He decried Islam as idolatry, because Allah was not "a real God," and claimed the United States was being targeted "because we're a Christian nation ... and the enemy is a guy named Satan." An evangelical Christian, Boykin poked fun at one Muslim fighter who said Allah would protect him from U.S. forces because "I knew ... that my God was a real God."

How could a prominent U.S. military official, in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, jabber on this way? And so, in high dudgeon, I wrote back in October: "Boykin should go."

But, of course, he didn't. The Bush administration simply (and increasingly characteristically) made a few lame remarks about how the general's views were just his own, and not reflective of the president's, etc. And this sore continued to fester.

Now it looks as if the Boykin problem has burst again.

A U.S. Senate committee conducting hearings about abuse of Iraqi prisoners has been told that Boykin may have been the top general to send the signal to the lower ranks about the acceptability of prisoner abuse, so as to "soften up" Muslim detainees. If these charges pan out, the consequences will be devastating.

The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee had repeatedly urged the administration to put Boykin on a back burner - and not on the front lines of the Iraq effort - until the full official Pentagon investigation could be completed. Sound advice, unheeded.

It's true that President Bush has made some nice gestures on behalf of religious tolerance. But with new photographs and videos of U.S. abuse of Iraqi prisoners surfacing every other day, the time for rhetorical gestures, even from the White House, is long past.

The United States did win the military war against the Saddam Hussein regime, but it is in danger of losing the far more important fight: for the genuine respect of international public opinion. Without that respect - rightfully earned, and never taken for granted - America cannot maintain its leadership role. That will dramatically change the international political order, perhaps not for the better. For all its faults, America still offers the potential for inspirational world leadership.

However, today that potential is painfully unfulfilled. We use unnecessarily harsh interrogation tactics (at times, apparently, on hapless captives who had nothing to reveal) in our effort to liberate Iraq; our anti-terror visa and immigration restrictions are keeping many foreign students from enrolling in our universities; the cost of the war is not doing anything to ease the U.S. deficit, now so large that it threatens to destabilize the global economy.

The Bush administration has got to get a grip. America is facing a global crisis - or at least an epochal turning point in its history. And the direction in which we turn, and the manner in which we do it, may determine our collective future from Asia to the Atlantic -- for quite some time.

 
 

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