WHILE the Bush administration is focused on the menace of Iraq, neighboring Iran remains almost as objectionable and, in its own way, just as dangerous.
Wistful observers look for signs that Iran is moderating. President Hashemi Rafsanjani, goes their argument, is looking for ways to reintroduce Western technology and aid to rebuild Iran's economy; he has been "helpful" in getting American hostages released; he is seeking, in parliamentary elections next month, to curb the hard-line fundamentalists and give parliament a more conciliatory caste.
But the facts are that the Iranian regime is one of the most ruthless oppressors of human rights within its own borders. Abroad it has engaged in terror and murder against its critics and opponents. And it is in the midst of an arms buildup, possibly attempting the acquisition of nuclear capability.
In its latest tantrum, the Tehran government is kicking out the International Red Cross, apparently because the international relief organization has cooperated with the United Nations in pinpointing the torture and execution of prisoners, the ill-treatment of women and religious minorities, and other abuses of human rights in Iran.
Recently the UN Commission on Human Rights issued a tough report on Iran, claiming that the number of executions in that country in 1991, totaling 884, was considerably higher than in the two previous years despite UN protests and Iranian promises of legislative reform.
The UN commission also deplored the Iranian government's endorsement of death threats to author Salman Rushdie and the violence toward those involved in the publication of Mr. Rushdie's book, "The Satanic Verses." Alberto Ettore Capriolo, who translated the book into Italian, was stabbed in Milan last year by a hit squad demanding the location of Rushdie's hiding place. Also last year, the Japanese translator of the Rushdie book, Hitoshi Igarashi, was murdered near Tokyo.
The UN report also cites Iran's involvement in the murder of political opponents in Europe.
Many of the executions in Iran were supposed to be of drug traffickers, but political prisoners were also executed by public hanging. The UN protested some particularly cruel methods of execution, including three alleged cases of stoning to death, and the case of a man reportedly pushed from a cliff top last July.
The UN cited involuntary disappearances and torture to gain confessions from prisoners by means of flogging, whipping, suspension by the wrists, deprivation of sleep, and psychological torture.
With respect to trials, the UN commission found them falling far short of international standards of fairness. Defendants are often denied legal counsel, and the proceedings last only a few minutes. Public and press are barred.
Numerous instances are cited of discrimination against women, particularly for not using full Islamic dress or for wearing makeup. Hundreds of women have been arrested for dress-code "offenses" and others barred from government offices, hospitals, cinemas, and other public places. Revolutionary Guards have beaten some women for being improperly veiled.
Religious minorities fare just as badly. Assyrian shopkeepers are obliged to place signs in their windows identifying their religious faith, a measure designed to hobble their businesses.
Members of the Bahai faith are harassed and discriminated against. They are denied the right to property, access to universities, businesses, employment, public services, cemeteries, and places of worship. Some 10,000 Bahais who lost their jobs in the 1980s are still unemployed. Retirement pensions from the state are denied them. Former public employees have continued to receive demands for the return of salaries or pensions paid in previous years. Many confiscated Bahai properties have been auctioned of f without compensation to the owners. The Bahai are barred from joining agricultural cooperatives and are denied credit and use of machinery usually provided by the cooperatives.
In the face of such widespread and calculated lack of civilized behavior, it is ludicrous to accept at face value the Iranian regime's hints and promises of reform.