Marina Nemat is the author of Prisoner of Tehran and After Tehran.
Dear President Barack Obama and all the leaders of the P5+1:
In August, 2014, Islamic State abducted thousands of Yazidis, monotheists whose beliefs are linked to Zoroastrianism and other ancient Mesopotamian religions. Many of the abductees were women and children. A few hundred of them have been released or escaped, but it's believed that about 4,000 remain captive. Many women and girls have been gang raped and sold into sex slavery, and some have become pregnant, including a 9-year-old girl who is now in Germany. IS believes Yazidis are heretics, and it published an article in its propaganda magazine, Dabiq, to justify their mistreatment in accordance to theological rulings of early Islam. Some Yazidi men have volunteered to marry the women who have returned violated and traumatized, but the ones who are pregnant have little hope. They are too close to the trauma, constant reminders of unspeakable horrors that most want to forget. Many of the women have resorted to suicide.
Sexual violence in conflict zones is nothing new, and I am no stranger to it. In 1982, I was arrested at the age of 16 in Tehran. I was a student activist born in a Christian family, and I didn't like the fact that Iran's revolutionary regime not only did not deliver any political freedoms, but also it took away the personal freedoms of Iranians. We protested, and many of my teenage friends and I were arrested. I was tortured and was forced to convert to Islam and "marry" one of my interrogators under the threat that if I didn't, my family would be harmed. My so-called husband, Ali, raped me over and over again. I became pregnant at 17, but I miscarried. After 2 years, 2 months, and 12 days in Evin prison, I was released and returned home. My father had already disowned me. My boyfriend, Andre, told me that even if I had come home with a baby in my arms, he would still have wanted to marry me. I was grateful to him. With Andre's support, I survived, and we made it to Canada. Many of my friends were not so lucky; they are buried in mass graves in Iran.
Do you see the similarities between the experiences of the Yazidi girls and mine? Do any of you have daughters? Do you realize that when you negotiate with Iran about its nuclear capabilities, it is your moral duty as fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, brothers, and sisters to pressure Iran to improve its human rights record? The conditions of Evin and other Iranian prisons have not improved since I was there. The bystander allows atrocities to take place, and no amount of justifying would take the blood off your hands. I'm not asking you to bomb Iran. No. I believe that violence never leads to lasting good; it perpetuates the cycle that turns victims into torturers and torturers into victims. Unlike my captors, I believe in justice according to the rule of secular, democratic laws that refrain disallow shooting first and asking questions later or never, laws that do not allow crimes against humanity, including torture and rape, to be justified for any reason. If you lift the sanctions against Iran, whether quickly or slowly, you would be releasing billions of dollars of frozen assets to a brutal killing machine that is not fundamentally different from Islamic State. IS hides behind the name of God to gain power, and so does the Islamic Republic of Iran. Both "caliphates" are built on mass graves, rape of women and children, and various other atrocities.
A few days ago, Iranians danced on the streets of Tehran and other cities to celebrate the possibility of a deal between Iran and the United States. Iran's economy has been suffering because of the sanctions, and money has been tight, so people are desperate for some economic relief. The last time I saw such celebrations in Iran was when the Islamic revolution of 1979 succeeded. It didn't take long after that for Iran's revolutionary regime to throw thousands of Iran's best children into prison and torture, rape, and kill them. Without knowing it, in 1979, Iranians were dancing on the graves of their own children.
Please do not give in to the IRI and do not pour money into its bloodthirsty machine. This will lead to nothing but more devastation. The enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend. The IRI and IS are two sides of the same medieval coin.