The Day that I Hit the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The other day I went to the laundry room of my graduate school building early in the morning where I encountered an Iranian student who, like me, lives in this building. His face was covered with tears. As I did not know him well enough I pretended that I had not seen him; I did not want him to feel uncomfortable around a stranger while crying. I wondered about the reasons for these tears on his face. As I was lost in my thoughts, he walked up to me and said in Persian, “They killed them. They hung them both this morning. It’s my birthday, too. I hate myself right now.” Clueless and shocked, I looked at him and said, “Happy birthday! Who killed whom?” He said, “They hung the two Iranian prisoners who had participated in the pre-elections demonstrations in the summer. They hung them this dawn in Iran.”
As soon as I heard this piece of news, I felt that my entire body began to freeze from head to toe. I did not cry like he was. Instead, I felt filled with anger and grudge. Instead of sadness, I felt the desire to avenge. I felt that there is simply no reason for being “peaceful” when they hang us for having peacefully expressed our objections. I grew up in a family whose religion is fighting a peaceful fight against injustice. But, in that laundry room and while standing in front of a crying young Iranian man, I felt that being peaceful is sometimes overrated. I was angry. I was not sad. I was enraged.
That whole day, I tried to calm down and to think less emotionally about this devastating piece of news. That night, when I slept, I had a rather insane dream.
In my dream, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had turned into a person. It had turned into a shy, nerdy and clumsy man. For some reason, I knew this man and when I saw him walking out of the Kennedy School, I began to scream at him in public. I told him, “shame on you and your useless existence in the world.” I told him that he might as well die as his presence and rhetoric, more often than not, have no impact on our lives. I told him that whoever and whichever government that wants to violate his so-called thirty articles, goes ahead and freely violates them all and kills those who oppose the ruling power. I grabbed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and began to hit him in tears. He was standing still and watching me hit him hard. I said to him, “you tell the world that everyone has the right to liberty, life and security of a person and that no one shall be subjected to torture, or to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment. Well, tell me, who exactly is listening to you? Can’t you see how awfully useless of a document you are. I am sick of you. All of the scholars and activists in the world refer to you and recognize you as the standard for human rights and yet you just have no power over those who are killing the innocent. Stop being so unbelievably vague and useless! Wake up Mr. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, walk around the world and see how most of the powerful governments and individuals in this world are violating every single one of your principles and are laughing at you.”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was looking at me all terrified and was not speaking. He told me that he had to run and that we could talk at a more appropriate time. He embraced me and asked me to calm down. But I was not calm. These men and women(including myself) walk around in nice clothes, refer to this and that international document, human rights organizations release urgent actions and press releases and yet they still wake up one morning and hang the innocent and proudly release the news of these executions to the world’s media.
I woke up that morning thinking that I had a funny and yet miserable dream. It was funny that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had turned into a man that I yelled at for a while right outside the Kennedy School. It was funny that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had to run and wanted to have coffee with me and discuss the world affairs over coffee. But, it was utterly sad that I felt he was the least powerful man I had ever met in my life. He was just as clueless as I am about all of these violations of human rights. His voice was just as low as mine when it came to talking about these leaders who wake up and eliminate whatever and whoever that stands up against them and makes them feel threatened.
They punish our brothers and sisters for speaking the truth, but who in this unbelievably insane world is responsible for their punishment. I sometimes hate this phrase of “Forgive, but don’t forget!” I have become convinced that sometimes you ought not to forgive. Forgiving and healing are maybe for the end of a fight, but not for when they have taken up ropes and guns to ruthlessly kill your kind for their opinions and simple demands that are contradictory to theirs. If we think that we have come a long way in establishing human rights norms in the world, we are utterly mistaken. This road is a long one and we are only in the beginning of this road…