Voice from the Commonwealth Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts
"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams
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This Iranian writer makes some interesting points but, I find the prescription to be very poor.
Iran's ruling ayatollahs have little to fear from the student protests that are raising the hopes of regime-change proponents in the Bush Administration.
Without a coherent message and a national organization, it is doubtful that a disgruntled, youthful majority can pose a credible challenge to the Islamic regime at this time.
This is a good point. The students call for a lot of things but there is no unified movement with a set of requests and demands. I understand it is difficult to accomplish with the regime militias and secret police watching everything. But, outside interference will not bring a happy conclusion to the ayatollahs' rule. They should turn to people like Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa and the other Soviet dissidents for examples of how to structure an internal revolution against an oppressive regime.
They need to do the equivalent of Martin Luther nailing the 95 Points to the Wittenberg church's door or creating a Declaration of Independence with the attendant list of grievances. There needs to be a central rallying point beyond wanting the Ayatollahs gone. The 'reformers' they elected to the Parliament were supposed to do this but, they have proven ineffective in standing up to the unelected councils that hold true power. Since the elation of putting Khatami in power every independent newspaper has been shut down, journalists imprisoned, student leaders imprisoned and beaten and more. Through all of this the 'reformers' have done little more than wonder if they should resign in protest or keep on trying. This is a question they have been asking for years. They diddle while unrest spreads. Events have passed them by and those who wish change must do more to create unity of action and intent among themselves.
The United States' vocal support of the protests also gives clerics additional credibility as they warn young Iranians not to be "fooled and misled by American plots."
"America, realizing that they cannot defeat us in war," said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei, "now publicly supports anarchy from within Iran."
Speaker of the Parliament Mehdi Karoubi, countering Bush administration charges that pro-democracy activists are being silenced said, "We have democracy in Iran. The national elections are symbols of democracy in the country. You will see once again massive turnouts in the upcoming parliamentary elections. The Iranian people don't like American-style democracy. They have proved this in practice."
America can best show its commitment to democracy in Iran, and the Persian Gulf region as a whole, not by trying to force another regime change. It would do better with policies that indirectly help a still-strong reformist movement in the country.
More diplomatic and cultural exchanges, as well as the lifting of crippling economic sanctions, could boost the reformists, as a more open and prosperous Iran would make Iranians even less inclined toward fundamentalism than they already are today.
Most crucially, if greater power sharing between reformists and conservative clerics evolves, the traditionally skeptical Iranians would start gaining confidence in their own civil institutions. The process could serve as desperately needed model for the entire region.
After making some other good points about where the democracy movement is going wrong I find this conclusion a bit disturbing. The writer seems to be saying that we should offer no vocal support (or any other type of support) to the protestors and those calling for freedom. That by doing so we somehow play into the Ayatollah's hands. We know from the example of the Soviet Union that our vocal support, in the face of further regime crackdowns, gave strength and hope to the revolutionaries. If we ignore their pleas and shun their efforts while expanding "diplomatic and cultural exchanges" with those in power we will send the message that the very people calling for the protestors to face the death penalty are the ones we seek to open a dialogue with. How exactly can this help bring about reform and freedom? It will do nothing but strengthen the regime. The same goes for lifting sanctions. It would only serve to strengthen those in power.
The writer suggests that while those in power scream "Death to America" that we should invite more of them here and lift the sanctions that prevent them from acquiring all they please. We are assured that this "could boost the reformists, as a more open and prosperous Iran would make Iranians even less inclined toward fundamentalism than they already are today", but we are given no evidence of this. What make anyone think this will be the outcome?
The quote from the Speaker of the Parliament is bunk. The ineffectiveness on the part of the 'reformers' led to low turnout and defeats just this year. Rising cynicism and the inability to push through reforms to give Khatami more power, while protestors are beaten and subdued and newspapers are closed every day has proven the weakness of the 'reformists' in Parliament. Of course Karoubi insists that the process is working. If he says it is not, he proves he is not doing his job.
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