It isn't helping America's image in the world that the U.S. government is being sued by a Nobel Prize-winning Iranian human-rights activist, lauded by President Bush, in a suit that basically alleges censorship.
Ironically, the reason Shirin Ebadi wants to publish her memoirs in the United States rather than Iran, where she is a lawyer specializing in defending people harassed by the regime, is to avoid censorship by her own government.
Her suit is being added to a lawsuit filed last month by an array of publishers, scholarly publications and author groups asking the courts to strike down U.S. Treasury regulations that make it extremely difficult and legally risky to publish materials written in Iran, Cuba and Sudan.
You would think that we would want to encourage dissident writers in those countries — Ebadi has been jailed for defending victims of Iran's mullahs — but the Treasury regs don't see it that way. They are intended to enforce sanctions against those three countries.
Sanctions are notoriously ineffectual, and those that tend to clamp down on the free flow of people, information and ideas especially so. Politically driven sanctions, in their desperation to inflict harm on a hated regime, should not inflict harm on Americans. The ban that prevents most Americans from visiting Cuba is an unconscionable infringement of what is, or should be, Americans' basic right to travel.
The Treasury regulations are complicated and obtuse, but the issue is simple. Our government should not be telling people what they can and cannot publish and, by extension, what they can and cannot read.
Ebadi says that preventing U.S. publication of her book would be a "critical missed opportunity both for Americans to learn more about my country and its people from a variety of Iranian voices and for a better understanding to be achieved between our two countries."
Ebadi is likely to be extremely hard on a regime that the United States officially detests, but even if she weren't, the right of American publishers to print and promote her book should be unchecked.