Barely acknowledging these troubling developments, Mr. Sobhani casts the recent unrest in Bahrain as instigated by the Iranian regime and the entire Bahraini opposition as nefarious agents of the same. There is no doubt that in seeking to establish regional hegemony and undermine regional rivals in the Gulf and elsewhere, the theofascists of Tehran stoke ethno-sectarian tensions when they can. But this should not lead us to doubt the sincerity of every Shi’a dissident. Abdulemam, for example, is a genuine liberal and an admirer of Iran’s
opposition Green Movement. Indeed, the fundamental values he advocates are the same ones Iran’s dissidents strive for – and the same ones Tehran’s brutal theocrats, like their “moderate” Bahraini counterparts, consider intolerable.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Obama administration is only too happy to follow the line of reasoning put forth by the likes of Mr. Sobhani. Speaking during a visit to Bahrain, Janet Sanderson, assistant secretary of state for near east affairs, clarified that “[w]e are not here, frankly, to impose our views on others, but to encourage the countries of the region to fulfill their priorities in this area.”

Beneath the polished mask of cultural relativism here is the administration’s apparent willingness to abdicate moral responsibility in the name of realpolitik. Arab and Iranian dissidents – not to mention the American people in whose name such cynical words are spoken – deserve much better.

Bahrain should be rewarded for its economic liberalization, for making progress in some (though certainly not all) areas in human rights, and for its strategic partnership with the United States.

But as a friend of Bahrain, the United States also has a role in promoting human rights and respect for the rule of law. Surely, the presence of the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain would not be jeopardized were the American Embassy to release a two-paragraph statement urging the authorities to provide political detainees with due process.

But God forbid we “impose our views.”

Sohrab Ahmari is a law student at Northeastern and an organizer in Boston’s Iranian and Muslim communities. He has written on democratic reform in the Muslim world for the Boston Globe, the Guardian, Huffington Post, Commentary Magazine, and PBS | FRONTLINE.