Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
First of all, I wish to thank Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and the The World Values Network for having considered me, and inviting me to be honored tonight. I am humbled and deeply touched by this recognition. I also thank Mr. and Mrs. Levin for their kind introduction.
Many of you here tonight know that Iran has a foundational connection to the universal concept of freedom. The Cyrus Cylinder is considered to be the first charter of human rights, in which Cyrus the Great freed the Jewish slaves in Babylon and helped them rebuild their temples. 25 centuries later, during the dark time of the Second World War, when most of the world was turning a blind eye to the decimation of European Jews, Iran was one of the few countries that welcomed and sheltered Jews that escaped Europe – a fact that is a source of pride for my country and my family.
But while Iran has this proud history, my own compatriots have been held hostage for 37 years by a clerical regime that abuses the very notion of freedom. Since I left my beloved Iran, I have dedicated my life to fighting for my compatriots’ freedom and their human rights. I do appreciate the fact that, by recognizing my efforts, you have demonstrated your care and concern about the plight of the millions of Iranians who have suffered under the repression of the clerical regime ruling my homeland.
I dedicate this recognition to the brave Iranians who have lost their lives in the struggle – and to those who continue to fight for freedom.
To Generals Rahimi, Khosrowdad and Jahanbani, to Prime Minister Hoveyda and our first female minister Farokhrou Parsa, and many other brave military and civil servants, who were executed shortly upon Khomeini’s return to Iran;
To Prime Minister Chapour Bakhtiar, Fereydoun Farokhzad and many other dissidents who were assassinated on foreign soil by the regime’s terrorists;
To Neda Agha Sultan, Mohammad Mokhtari, and so many young protesters who were killed during the 2009 Green Movement;
To 17 year-old Mona Mahmoudnejad and Simin saberi, who were executed for being Baha’i, and to all those Baha’is who were forced into exile;
To Christian priests and converts Haik Hovsepian, Mehdi Dibaj and Tateos Michaelian, who were all murdered because of their faith;
To countless members of the Iranian Jewish community, so few remaining – mostly now in exile – who have always defended their Persian heritage with passion and stood up to the clerical dictatorship;
To the Gonabadi darvishes and all persecuted Sufis;
To Ayatollah Kazemin Boroujerdi, who has been jailed and tortured for many years, but who continues to bravely preach secularism and the separation of religion and state;
And to all civil activists, journalists, lawyers, workers, students and educators, who have defied repression, and continue to fight injustice in our national struggle for freedom.
Ladies and gentlemen, the list of atrocities is long, but the extent of the regime’s damage to our society is not limited to discrimination, torture and executions. This regime has also destroyed an economy that once had the highest GDP in the region prior to the revolution, turned Iran into a pariah state, and has also destroyed Iran’s delicate environment.
I am particularly concerned about the extremely serious damage to Iran’s ecosystems, particularly as it relates to desertification, mass soil erosion and poor water management.
Iranians devastated by desertification may now be forced to migrate to other regions of the country – with very little chance of employment, housing and access to resources.
We have already seen in the news, Iranians counted among the flood of human misery that is washing up on Europe’s shores. Officials have predicted that in the next decade, millions of Iranians will be migrating from my country. This will certainly mean a greater number of refugees attempting to reach Europe, or take the sea to reach the coast of Australia, increasing the instability to world order.
Ladies and gentlemen,
You may ask yourself, why have we come to this?
Well, it is very à propos that we are gathered tonight in the spirit of values. I have argued all these years that what we face today is not – as some politicians or journalists have described – “a clash of civilizations” or “a war of religions”. Rather, I believe that we are experiencing a war of values.
They are those like us who believe in Human Rights, equality and who stand united against all kinds of discrimination. And they are those, like the Islamic Republic and ISIS’s of this world, who believe in the domination of a single, perverted ideology, at the expense of all those who do not belong in their “gang”.
Let me be clear: WE CAN NOT CO-EXIST… Period!
This is a real battle. Only one side will prevail. The ultimate question is: Are we as dedicated to fight for our shared values as the other side is? I say, we better be!
I thank you all for your recognition and support.