Human Rights Watch is not known for praising the human rights of any country. Which makes this tweet and article on their site all the more jarring:
Positive step for women’s rights as women are allowed to attend male volleyball tournament in #Iran. #Watch4Women https://t.co/L6pL1oowmn pic.twitter.com/pCHEyNCyNf
— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) February 17, 2017
The more you read in the article, the worse it gets:
The apparent decision by Iranian authorities to allow women to attend the Kish Island Open volleyball tournament is a positive, if small, step in the right direction, Human Rights Watch said today. Recent media reports said that female spectators will be allowed to attend the four-day beach volleyball competition, from February 15 through 18, 2017. Women had been barred from attending volleyball tournaments under a 2012 decree, in violation of international rules.
“From now on women can watch beach volleyball matches in Kish if they observe Islamic rules,” said Kasra Ghafouri, acting director of Iran’s Beach Volleyball Organization.
The Kish Island Open is a premier international men’s tournament organized by the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) as part of the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour. Women were not allowed to attend the first Kish Island Open, in February 2016, in spite of previous assurances to the FIVB by Iranian officials, prompting renewed calls for reform and a reversal of the discriminatory 2012 ban.
HRW has no idea what specific restrictions the women must be under to “observe Islamic rules.” No cheering? No standing? Watching the game on an old black and white TV in the bowels of the stadium? We don’t know, and neither does HRW, even as it is lavish in its praise.
Worse, this policy is one time for one tournament in one sport. Iran didn’t suddenly say that women can attend sporting events; it was responding to pressure for one event only. There has been no change in Iran’s no-women policy altogether; this is the exception, not the rule.
And HRW celebrates.
The reason that HRW chooses to compliment Iran for its ultra-progressive position of possibly allowing women to attend a single tournament in a single sport one time is because HRW believes that, unlike Western countries, Iran will be more amenable to human rights issues if they are treated with kid gloves. After all, it was reported this weekend:
“Iran doesn’t respond well to threats,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of top diplomats and defense officials. “We don’t respond well to coercion. We don’t respond well to sanctions, but we respond very well to mutual respect. We respond very well to arrangements to reach mutually acceptable scenarios.”
HRW is afraid that Iran might give back this huge concession if they criticize the country for doing too little, too late.
But the fact is that the only reason Iran did as little as it did in allowing women to attend this tournament is exactly because of pressure and threats – the FIVB threatened to drop the tournament altogether days before it was to start unless Iran followed its rules.
HRW has the calculus exactly backwards. Iran is susceptible to pressure because Iran is sensitive to being shamed. Iran cares more about how it appears than how it acts. This is honor/shame in action. The ones who scream the most about how awful it is if they are humiliated are the ones who are the most frightened of being humiliated – and the ones who respond to pressure. The shame culture only pretends to accept others’ ideas of what is right and wrong when it is forced to.
Human Rights Watch learned the exact wrong lesson from this volleyball incident. Instead of using the same tactics to build on to the next win, it caved and pretended that it can lay off the pressure for now because Iran is showing signs of acting 0.01% normally.
Which is, when you think of it, the exact same logic that drove the P5+1 to give in to Iranian demands as well.
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