For criticizing the Iranian regime, Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi’s 72-year-old father was jailed and tortured for 492 days. Now 80, he is still under house arrest, jailed in his own home, she said. But that hasn’t prevented his daughter from continuing to blast the rulers of her home country.
“My family doesn’t do ‘quiet,’” she said, speaking after addressing a gathering at Kean University on Oct. 28. “My mother, my sisters, everyone speaks out, and my father encourages us to. We know that keeping silent doesn’t make anyone safe; it’s far more dangerous to stay quiet.”
Zand-Bonazzi, a writer and film producer and human rights activist who has lived in the United States since 1982, was one of four speakers at Focus on Iran: Insider Accounts of Human Rights Violations and the Threat of Nuclear Weapons.
The event, held in the university’s new Science Technology and Mathematics Education building, was chaired by Prof. Hank Kaplowitz, director of Kean’s Human Rights Institute.
The focus was on human rights abuses within the country, the threat the outside world faces from Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, and what can be done on both scores.
The turnout was small — about 80 people — but many were from organizations intensely involved in the issue (see sidebar).
The program opened with a portion of an HBO documentary, For Neda, about the shooting death of Neda Agha-Soltan during the June 2009 post-election protests. Her fiance, Caspian Makan, was to have come from Canada to speak at the event, but was apparently unable to get a U.S. visa in time, Kaplowitz said.
When she spoke, Zand-Bonazzi delved into the fates of multiple groups victimized by the regime. Though there are deep schisms within the inner circles of power, the “Hitler-like” control of the population has become harsher and harsher, she said.
Iranians regard President Barack Obama as way too soft on the Ahmadinejad regime, Zand-Bonazzi said; a McCain-Palin administration would have been better. But when an audience member asked her if it would help to bomb the country, she emphatically told him, “No!” Aside from the human cost to the country, she said, the Iranian government has 40,000 trained terrorist bombers “deployable around the world,” ready to take action if any such attack occurred. She did not cite a source for her figure.
She was followed at the microphone by David Ibsen, the director of policy and coalitions for United Against Nuclear Iran. He gave a rapid-fire rundown to suggest how close Iran has come to enriching uranium, the ominous status of its missile program, and the pressure needed on all fronts — on individuals, corporations, and official entities — to end Iran’s nuclear proliferation.
Ibsen argued that economic isolation could have significant impact, and that already there have been signs of disruption caused by a decline in the country’s foreign exchange reserves.
That view was challenged to some degree by Dr. Siamack Shojai, the dean of the School of Business at Central Connecticut State University. He said that unless sanctions are done multilaterally and there are real penalties for violators, they are a waste of time. As for the latest round, approved by Congress this year, “For the first time in 30 years, they might be having some impact,” he said, “but it is not enough.”
The problem, Shojai said, is that the regime doesn’t care if its citizens suffer. Those in power rather only want to cling to power and pursue their plans to become a nuclear force in the Middle East, “to extend the hegemony of their religious, fascist government beyond the country’s borders.”
Stressing that Iran does pose a threat “to humanity,” he said, “We need a blockade and an embargo, and it must be honest.”
Iranian-born Jim Daniels of Short Hills, chair of the Stop Iran Now Campaign, gave the closing remarks. He said that if Iran develops nuclear weapons, it “will change the balance of power as we know it.” Already, he said, Iran is killing U.S. soldiers through its proxies in Iraq and Afghanistan, has taken control of Lebanon and Gaza, and “has turned Turkey, which was an ally, into our enemy. It has extended its divisive tentacles into our own backyard — into Venezuela, Brazil, and Bolivia.”
There is a “moral obligation for each of us to do everything we can,” said Daniels, “not to cause fear, but to galvanize our community into action.”