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Iran’s Opposition Comes to Washington

"We are all Iranians now."

9:00 AM, Jan 25, 2010 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Understanding little Farsi, I without doubt missed most of the details of Kadivar’s sermon, although he has a fascinating and inspiring website with English translations.  His commentaries include reporting, in an interview with the German weekly Der Spiegel, that during Montazeri’s funeral in Qom, the clerical center of Iran, the hundreds of thousands of assembled mourners shouted “Death to the dictator! Our leader is our shame!” – words never before heard in that conservative city.  He continued, “I am convinced that the regime will collapse… Western countries should stop treating Ahmadinejad’s government as the legitimate government of Iran.”

Still, I did not need to check the Internet to understand the meaning of the GWU meeting.  The content was obvious from the videos and the Islamic vocabulary in praise of Montazeri, which is based on Arabic terminology known to any serious student of Middle East studies.  This point is paradoxical: The discourse of freedom struggles is universal, but opportunities for their success may be lost if their protagonists cannot convey the full import of their message to others, especially in America.   The words of Iran’s millions of dissenters must not remain locked in a Farsi-language box.   

It is no exaggeration to say that the future of the world depends on developments in Iran.  Thirty years after 1979, the year when the challenge of radical Islam as a state ideology emerged with new and menacing vigor in that country, the stolen election of 2009 may have begun a new cycle of global democratization.  Such might end radical dominance over Muslims, dispel the threat of terrorism, and create new opportunities for real dialogue between the Islamic lands and the West.  

But for so positive an outcome to be realized, the barriers of language between the Iranian Green Movement and those outside Iran who sympathize with them must be dissolved.   The indifference of the Obama administration to the Iranian struggle is scandalous enough.  But Washington is replete with democracy experts, veterans of the efforts to aid the contras and Polish Solidarity, proponents of Cuban and Chinese dissenters, and many other liberals and conservatives who may have nothing in common with the Green Movement but hatred for Khamenei and Ahmadinejad.   All these potential allies of the martyred Iranian people must come together, boldly and openly, to change the policy of the White House toward Iran, beginning with provision for the Washington-area partisans of Iranian liberty to present their case in English and in major media.  Most Iranians living in and around Washington speak perfect English.  Televised commentaries about Iran by cautious talking-heads are insufficient.

We must show the Iranian people that in America there are people – many people – who understand the global urgency of the political conflict in Iran, and who are prepared to act decisively in favor of universal popular sovereignty rather than an unprincipled, fake diplomacy that would appease the clerical usurpers.  Some will argue that open support for the Iranian opposition will serve the oppressive regime by validating the claims of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad that the resistance they face is instigated by the U.S. and Israel.  But it is clear that Iran’s new revolutionaries have surpassed any susceptibility to such obvious demagogy. 

I emphasize: Friends of democracy, the time has come to mobilize, to translate and circulate as widely as possible the writings and YouTube clips produced by the optimistic challengers of the Islamic Republic, with all the energy and resources we can muster.  With millions in that tormented country filling the streets with their demands for liberation, any other course would be a shameful and ineradicable stain on our democratic principles and heritage.  

Leaving the Montazeri memorial at GWU I felt deeply moved, and for the first time thought “we are all Iranians now.”   

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