I learned one thing from the recent rebellions in Iran, it is this:
the Iranian people have a lot of heart. These are folks you would
want with you when times get tough. Strong folks, to be sure, particularly
the women. They have endured beatings from the Ayatollah’s paramilitary
motorcycle gang, the Basij. And some took bullets for the cause
for which they were fighting. The graphic videotaped killing of
a young woman, 26-year old Neda
Soltan, by sniper fire became a painful symbol of the struggle
for democracy in that country.
The masses fighting against the military in the streets
of Tehran and other Iranian cities knew what to do when their rights
were at stake. It was an appropriate reaction by an outraged public
to a stolen election, in which incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
was fraudulently reselected by the religious rulers to another term
of office. Despite the groundswell of support for reformist candidate
Mir Hossein Mousavi, the regime informed the people that Ahmadinejad
won in a landslide. But it is really about more than that now, as
this is a part of a resistance movement which was years in the making.
And in that regard the people’s democratic tendencies and thirst
for human rights provide a spectacular model for all of us to follow.
Iran’s citizens exist in a regressive theocracy that
has carved out a paltry window for democracy in the form of these
sham elections. They decided they were tired of living in a repressive
society, a nation-as-prison branded as an international pariah and
a sponsor of terrorism. They decided they grew weary of living in
a place in which people are disrespected and disregarded, where
women are second or third class citizens who are beaten in the streets
with sticks like dogs, and brownshirt thugs mete out street justice
on behalf of the religious elite.
But in the U.S., a putative democracy, when elections
are stolen, the people retreat into a world of escapism and multimedia
diversions, of celebrity gossip and reality television, of mindless
consumerism (at least before the recession hit), and become sidetracked
by issues of little or no concern. In November 2008, however, they
appeared to take back their democracy, although the jury is still
The Iranian theocratic establishment responded to
their people’s cries with brutality through the barrel of the gun.
Unprepared for the first ever revolution conducted through Twitter,
Facebook, and YouTube, through text messaging, cell phones and camera
phones, the regime of Ayatollah Khameini cracked down on political
dissidents. It imprisoned reform leaders and journalists, jammed
the phone lines, and waged a media blackout on coverage of the protests.
And demonstrators were threatened with the death penalty. But what
we all soon learned was that the world is one big network. You cannot
hide the truth in a technological world with a 24-hour news cycle.
Independent citizen-journalists still got the word out to the greater
Iran’s religious rulers have a problem: their moral
bankruptcy, corruption and illegitimacy have been revealed for all
the world to see. They are trapped in the 1979 revolution which
unseated the Shah - Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, a puppet monarch
installed by the Americans and the British - from power. And oddly,
the current regime remains fixated with a revolutionary mindset
in which the U.S. is the great Satan, and the U.S., Britain and
the European nations are to blame for the current unrest.
Now granted, the U.S. and Britain have to shoulder
much blame for what has happened in Iran over the years. In 1953,
the CIA and British SIS staged a coup d'état, in which Mohammed
Mossadeq, the democratically-elected prime minister of that country,
was overthrown (Mossadeq was a nationalist who was committed to
nationalizing the country’s British owned petroleum industry). Installed
by his Western puppet masters, the Shah - with his personal opulence,
autocratic rule, suppression of political dissent, and regime of
violence - paved the way for the Islamic revolution that overthrew
him and cast him into exile. The protests against the Shah in the
streets in 1979 mirror the protests against the rule of the mullahs
today in 2009. And as Malcolm X would say, chickens came home to
But it would seem that blaming the U.S. and others
can only go but so far. And those in the streets who want relations
with America apparently are not buying that worn out message. The
Iranian revolutionary government suffers from the same disease that
infects many other revolutionary regimes, and it harkens back to
a theme in George Orwell’s book, Animal Farm - revolutions can produce governments that are just
as oppressive as, if not more malicious and loathsome than, the
regimes they replaced. Throw off one yoke of oppression, and replace
it with another, only under a different name or shape or color.
Oddly, the Iranian constitution provides for a number of freedoms, including the
protection of human dignity, equality before the law for men and
women, freedom of belief, freedom of the press, of association and
assembly, a ban against torture, and no arrests without due process.
But you would not know this these days, as rhetoric and reality
have parted ways, and staying in power is more important than following
the will of the people, and even their own laws.
President Obama, whose Cairo speech surely provided
a catalyst for the Iranian protests that followed, issued the following
“The Iranian government must understand that the
world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is
lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and
unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly
and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands
with all who seek to exercise those rights.
As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds
in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge
the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks
the respect of the international community, it must respect the
dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.
Martin Luther King once said - "The arc of the
moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." I believe
that. The international community believes that. And right now,
we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth,
and we will continue to bear witness.”
Dr. King’s message of human rights to the streets of Tehran, Obama’s
message is a cautionary one, yet a hopeful one. No one knows what
will happen next, and this is for Iranians to decide. But surely,
repressive regimes everywhere are observing the Twitter revolution
taking place in Iran, where brutality and injustice can no longer
take place in dark, secret, hidden dungeons like the old days. Those
were the days when the law was the law because the angry and sadistic
old crackpot at the top said it was so, and everyone else be damned.
But now, the people beg to differ.
Editorial Board member David A. Love, JD is a journalist and human
rights advocate based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the
Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service,
These Times and Philadelphia
Independent Media Center. He blogs at davidalove.com,
Daily Kos, and Open
here to contact Mr. Love.