June 25, 2019 Last week, Elham Pourtaher, an Iranian graduate student at the State University of New York in Albany, wrote about how U.S. policies cause suffering and trauma far beyond U.S. borders. Her diabetic father, for example, is in danger of losing access to medicines because sanctions against Iranian
by Kathy Kelly
May 21, 2018
On May 10, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia informed the UN Security Council and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that Saudi Air Defenses intercepted two Houthi ballistic missiles launched from inside Yemeni territory targeting densely populated civilian areas in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. No one was killed, but an earlier attack, on March 26, 2018, killed one Egyptian worker in Riyadh and an April 28 attack killed a Saudi man.
Unlike the unnumbered victims of the Saudis’ own ongoing bombardment of Yemen, these two precious, irreplaceable lives are easy to document and count. Death tolls have become notoriously difficult to count accurately in Yemen. Three years of U.S.-supported blockades and bombardments have plunged the country into immiseration and chaos.
In their May 10th request, the Saudis asked the UN to implement “all relevant Security Council resolutions in order to prevent the smuggling of additional weapons to the Houthis, and to hold violators of the arms embargo accountable.” The letter accuses Iran of furnishing the Houthi militias with stockpiles of ballistic missiles, UAVs and sea mines. The Saudis’ letter omits mention of massive U.S. weapons exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The Security Council resolutions invoked by the Saudis name the Houthis as a warring party in Yemen and call for an embargo, so the Houthis can’t acquire more weapons. But these Resolutions don’t name the Saudis as a warring party in Yemen, even though Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has, since March 2015, orchestrated Saudi involvement in the war, using billions of dollars of weapons sold to the Saudis and the UAE by the U.S. and the UK.
The Saudis have an undeniable right to call on the UN to work toward preventing the Houthis from acquiring ballistic weapons that could be fired into Saudi Arabia, but the air, sea and water blockade now imposed on Yemen brutally and lethally punishes children who have no capacity whatsoever to affect Houthi policies. What’s more, the U.S. military, through midair refueling of Saudi and Emirati warplanes, is directly involved in devastating barrages of airstrikes while the UN Security Council essentially pays no heed.
As Yemeni civilians’ lives become increasingly desperate, they become increasingly isolated, their suffering made invisible by a near-total lack of Western media interest or attention. No commercial flights are allowed into the Sana’a airport, so media teams and human rights documentarians can’t enter the areas of Yemen most afflicted by airstrikes. The World Food Program (WFP) organizes a weekly flight into Sana’a, but the WFP must vet passengers with the Saudi government. Nevertheless, groups working in Yemen, including Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Save the Children, Oxfam, and various UN agencies do their best to report about consequences of the Saudi-Emirati led coalition’s blockade and airstrikes.
On May 18th, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) issued a report about airstrikes against the Saada governorate which notes that “in the past three years, the coalition has carried out 16,749 air raids in Yemen, i.e. an average of 15 a day. Almost a third of the raids have hit non-military sites.”
Earlier in May, MSF responded to a series of Saudi-Emirati coalition led airstrikes on May 7th which struck a busy street in the heart of Sana’a, killing six people and injuring at least 72.
“Civilians, including children, were killed and maimed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said João Martins, MSF head of mission in Yemen. “No-one should live in fear of being bombed while going about their daily life; yet again we are seeing civilian victims of airstrikes fighting for their lives in hospitals.”
Lacking access to food, clean water, medicine and fuel, over 400,000 Yemeni children are, according to Save the Children, at imminent risk of starvation. “Most of them will never see a health clinic or receive treatment,” says Kevin Watkins, the organization’s UK Director. “Many of those who survive will be affected by stunting and poor health for the rest of their lives.” Watkins says the Saudi-UAE led coalition is using economic strangulation as a weapon of war, “targeting jobs, infrastructure, food markets and the provision of basic services.”
On March 22, 2018, Amnesty International called for an end to the flow of arms to the Saudi-led coalition attacking Yemen. “There is extensive evidence that irresponsible arms flows to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition have resulted in enormous harm to Yemeni civilians,” their statement says. “But this has not deterred the USA, the UK and other states, including France, Spain and Italy, from continuing transfers of billions of dollars’ worth of such arms.”
The UN Charter begins with a commitment to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. The UN Security Council has miserably failed the Yemeni people by allowing the scourge of war to worsen, year by year. By approving biased resolutions that neglect to even name the most well-funded and sophisticated warring parties in Yemen — Saudi Arabia; the United Arab Emirates; the United States — the Security Council promotes the intensification of brutal, apocalyptic war and enables western war profiteers to benefit from billions of dollars in weapon sales. Weapon manufacturers such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing then pressure governments to continue selling weapons to two of their top customers, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Earnest, honest and practical steps to stop the war are urgently needed. The U.N. must abandon its biased role in the Yemen conflict, so it can broker a peace in which the Houthi minority can retain some dignity and representation in majority-Sunni Yemen, which even before the Houthi uprising lacked any legitimate elected leader. The Houthis must be given an option to lay down arms without landing in any of the clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen, reported to be little more than torture camps. Even more urgent, the violence and economic strangulation by foreign invaders must cease.
At the very least, citizens in countries supplying weapons to the Saudi-Emirati coalition must demand their legislators forbid all future sales. The time for determined action is running out in the U.S. as the State Department is already taking preliminary steps toward a massive, multibillion-dollar sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The package is said to include tens of thousands of precision-guided munitions from Raytheon.
Yemeni civilians, especially children, pose no threat whatsoever to the U.S. Yet, U.S. support for airstrikes, blockades and the chaos inevitably caused by prolonged war threatens Yemeni civilians, especially vulnerable children. They have committed no crime but are being punished with death.
cartoon: S. Reynolds (CC-BY-SA 4.0)
I am not much influenced by the rantings of Mr. Trump and his ignorant, paranoid minions. So when invited to speak at the conference, ‘United States, Human Rights and Discourse of Domination’, sponsored by the University of Tehran, in cooperation with Iranian World Studies Association, to be held in Tehran, I readily agreed.
I was able to spend four days in Iran. It seems from my observations there in Tehran over a period of two days that that city may not be exactly what the corporate-owned media proclaims it to be. It is a modern city: the downtown area is crowded, noisy and exciting, like most major cities. Yes, all women must wear headscarves, but they don’t need to cover their hair; many women have hair showing in front of their head. Additionally, all imaginable styles were worn by the women: blue jeans, slacks, dresses; high heeled shoes, sandals and sneakers.
During my two days there, I saw women driving, sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by other women, and sometimes accompanied by men. Several women with Ph.Ds spoke at the conference; some attired in black with only their faces showing, and some wearing ‘Western’-style clothing, accompanied by a headscarf.
U.S. government officials are forever foaming at the mouth about the sorry state of affairs of women in Iran, yet they are silent about conditions for women in Saudi Arabia. If one were to visit that country, one would not see women driving, or wearing the array of clothing that this writer saw in Iran. Any conference in that country will not have educated women presenting; obtaining higher education for women is next to impossible. And should that be achieved, women finding work in their field of expertise is almost unheard of.
Following the conference in Tehran, I flew to the city of Mashhad in the northern part of the country, for a second conference. Mashhad is Iran’s second largest city, and has far more religious significance than Tehran. I saw more Imams, not unusual considering the sacred significance of the city to Muslims. But in the two days I spent there, I saw no difference in the dress and treatment of women: some women dressed in black, with only their faces showing, and others with a variety of fashions.
Security in both cities was evident from a tourist perspective; this is hardly unusual, considering that Tehran experienced its first terrorist attack in years just weeks earlier. My luggage was scanned when entering my hotel in Tehran, and prior to entering the conference center in Mashhad, my briefcase was put through the scanner. I saw a single armed solider on two occasions, both times in the airport in Mashhad. I saw two other soldiers awaiting a flight at the airport,
One interpersonal experience is worth noting. I had guides with me, associated with the University of Tehran, in both that city, and Mashhad. When leaving Mashhad for the return trip to Tehran, my guide said something to several people standing in line to get on the plane. What he apparently asked was for someone to assist me in finding my contact once I arrived back in Tehran.
Certainly, I could have found my contact in Tehran, but there is something a bit intimidating about looking at the arrivals and departures boards, and understanding nothing; everything is written in Farsi. But I certainly appreciated the gesture. And since my guide in Mashhad had given his contact information to the gentleman who volunteered to assist me, that gentleman was able to call my guide in Mashhad, when I discovered on arrival in Tehran that I had left my wallet and cell phone at airport security in Mashhad. My guide was then able to retrieve those items, and is sending them to my home.
Another thing worthy of note is the traffic. Driving in downtown Tehran or Mashhad takes nerves of steel, quick reflexes and a working horn; each of my drivers’ was well-equipped in those areas. On major thoroughfares, with multiple lanes and speeding traffic, the white lines painted on the road are apparently there only for decoration. As such, they appear to serve the same purpose as the speed-limit signs.
So what does all of this mean? Perhaps, just perhaps, U.S. government officials are lying in implying that Iranians are so ‘different’, and we all know that in the parlance of U.S. Doublespeak, ‘different’ means inferior and probably violent. But perhaps women in Iran aren’t oppressed, the nation isn’t ‘backward’, and the people aren’t hostile to the U.S. ‘because of its freedoms’.
As a disclaimer, I want to state that I recognize that Iranian society isn’t a Utopian one. Much social media is not available there, homosexual activity can be a capital offense, and it’s likely that not all women, even if Muslim, are so devout as to want to wear a headscarf at all times. But unlike Saudi Arabia, with which the U.S. has full diplomatic relations, women can drive, obtain higher education and work in their chosen fields. And it certainly appears that there is sufficient freedom of ideas and speech in Iran for people who want to work effectively for change to do so.
I never expected to visit Iran, but am very glad to have had the opportunity. If more U.S. citizens could have a similar opportunity, continued U.S. hostility toward Iran could not be sustained. And that would be a great benefit for the entire world.