Thursday, February 02, 2006

International cooperation, attention – not force – needed in Iran



A short while ago, I had an opportunity to debate Iranian politics on an American website that was devoted to right-wing, neo-conservative ideology. Although the people that I spoke with were not generally politically well-groomed, one aspect of our conversations struck me. My new-found “neo-con” acquaintances were under the impression that Iranians were not doing their part in the resistance against the regime. In fact, one commented that if the Iranian people were not standing up, the rest of the world wasn’t obliged to stand with them. Another fellow, in an extension of the previous comment, questioned the extent of the unpopularity of the regime among Iranians and believed that the claims of overwhelming opposition against it were false. The sentiment among many of my new acquaintances was that the use of force was the only solution. I was taken aback by these statements, not because of their factual inaccuracies, but because I began to appreciate the extent of the ill-advised accepted wisdom about Iran that I believe is due to a combination of half-truths that is spread by the Iranian regime and a lack of understanding of the Iranian people by those who reside in this country.
The first obvious question seems to be why people in Iran tolerate such an unpopular regime in the first place. Indeed, eighty-five percent of the people in Iran are not supporters of the Mullahs. However, the problem in Iran is complicated and is partly due to historical and cultural factors that I will explain briefly. To begin with, Iran has historically seen a large amount of foreign interference in its internal affairs by the colonial powers. This was due to two reasons. First, Iran was always seen as a strategic country where very lucrative trade routes, the Silk Road is one example, crossed from Europe to Southern and Eastern Asia. Second, the early 20th century brought the discovery of vast oil reserves that were needed through two world wars and a growing world economy. In fact, the recent history of our country, starting with Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1951, has been rife with foreign meddling. Mossadegh, who was democratically elected, was removed from power by U.S. and British intelligence agencies because of his support for the nationalization of Iran’s oil industry that had primarily been in the hands of Britain before his short term in office. He was replaced by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi until his removal by popular revolts that lead to the Islamic Regime of today.
These events are still fresh in the minds of the Iranian public and it means that Iranians, generally, have a hard time trusting western and Iranian opposition leaders that pitch democracy and openness on the one-hand and the impending use of force on the other. Iranians feel betrayed because of the events of the last fifty years and this betrayal in combination with relatively high literacy rates and education has turned many Iranians into pessimistic and unenthusiastic consumers of political discourse. This negative attitude to politics in general is greatly intensified with the threat of force. I am not inflating the truth when I assert that using any sort of force in Iran will have exactly the opposite effect that the international community is seeking. Iranians are very nationalistic people. We take pride, not only in our historical achievements, but our present ones as well. Like it or not, Iranians are proud of their civilian nuclear program. The dilemma is not the Iranian nuclear program per se, but the fact that this regime may use the technology it has gathered to manufacture weapons. If the international community were to act violently towards what the people feel has been a great achievement, it would be disastrous for any sort of political change in the country. In fact, many people who are now preaching democracy would, in the event of an attack, either be silenced or switch sides. This is not because Iranians are hypocrites or otherwise flawed, but rather, because it is treason for an Iranian to support a foreign element in what is perceived as an attack on the nation. We were not traitors to our countrymen when Cyrus the Great was King of half the world in 539 B.C. and we are not now.
As I write this article there is a war-of-sorts being waged in Iran and people are dying because of it. The north of the country has consistently been unstable because of street protests over the last year. Furthermore, southern Iran has also seen uprisings, especially in oil-rich Ahwaz province which is home to many Iranian-Arabs. The capital city, Tehran, has also seen its share of violence as well and the hostility is intensifying. In fact, the Islamic Regime has recently issued hand-guns to all of its judges after one was killed and another was brutally disfigured by unknown assailants. People are being sent to prison and others are losing their lives every day because of the fight. Unfortunately, there is little being reported by the western media. I'll give you a prime example. Last year, there were a series of riots in Tehran that erupted after a couple of soccer matches. Contrary to what the news media described during those events, the riots were not staged by the familiar "hoodlums" that would be found after an English soccer match. The riots were organized, planned, and executed by the opposition groups. The response by the people in Tehran was fierce. For the first time in twenty-six years of occupation by this regime there were actual street battles between civilians and the military. The crowds defended themselves well and even went on the offensive. At one point the regime actually feared losing control. It baffles me that the international community didn’t stand in solidarity with the Iranians at that time. Furthermore, the international media refrained from reporting the truth. Instead, they merely regurgitated the regime’s portrayal that the violence was merely hooliganism and not political activism. The Iranian people know what happened, how come the rest of the world doesn’t?
When Ukraine had its “Orange Revolution” in late 2004 and early 2005, the world media played a very significant role. In fact, the government of the United States was very vocal in its support for Viktor Yushchenko who ran against the incumbent Viktor Yanukovych. When the revolution took place against Slobodan Milosevic’s regime in Serbia, it was directly because of foreign support. The revolutionaries had tactical and planning assistance. They received printing presses and fax machines to spread their message. These uprisings didn't happen because the people in those countries were more driven than the Iranians. I can wager that the reality is just the opposite. Iran has more journalists in jail than any other Middle Eastern country. We have political prisoners in jail by the thousands. In fact, there have been so many political executions that a new website has been created with the express purpose of cataloguing the colossal number of victims (http://www.abfiran.org/). We are fighting a war for freedom and we have been putting our lives on the line for twenty-six years. All that we ask for is a little help. Instead of telling us what a danger the regime is, reach out a hand.
What the Iranian people need is a commitment from the international community that they will put aside their self interests in short term monetary and political gain for the long term benefits that only stability can bring. Unfortunately, the trend in the region has been for the former and not the latter. For instance, Western Europe, China, and Russia have all made lucrative trade deals with Iran that largely consist of oil and they fear losing those contracts in the event of a Regime change. Thus, these countries have been after their own interests at the expense of the Iranian people. This trend must be put to an end. Please help us help our countrymen by giving us the tools we need to organize against this regime. I can assure you that the Islamic Republic is teetering on the brink and all it needs is a push in the right direction. Revolutions are rarely spontaneous events; they require extensive planning, training, and support. In fact, America’s fight for independence was not void of international help. If it wasn't for French military support in 1776, this great country may never have been freed.

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