Iranian People to the U.S.: Recognize Our Existence!
Equally as inspiring as the Iranians’ courage is their ability to organize despite the best efforts of a highly disciplined intelligence service and a government with no civil liberties restrictions. Michael Ledeen reported that Russian experts had been brought in to jam transmissions. My sources in Iran reported the Internet as being painstakingly slow, with users of Gmail and Yahoo reporting major interference. Classes at many universities were canceled to prevent the schools from being used as a rallying point, and anyone seen filming had their equipment confiscated and were often attacked. Cafes with Internet access were closed, mobile antennas around greater Tehran were blocked, and shops were ordered to close, especially the ones around universities. The regime’s best efforts did not stop the Iranian people from organizing, and it should be expected that all future holidays declared by the regime will result in spontaneous outpourings of dissent. Gone are the days that organizers of protests had to pick specific dates and adjust them because of security measures and spend an enormous amount of time informing people; now the regime has given the protesters’ their calendar.
The run-up to November 4 provided a glimpse of the momentum that was building. On October 28, one brave student named Mahmoud Vahidnia confronted Ayatollah Khamenei at a lecture he gave, berating him for 20 minutes for not allowing himself to be criticized, among other transgressions. Probably out of fear of creating another hero, sparking a backlash, and proving Vahidnia’s point, he has not been punished. Not yet, at least. Two days prior to the rallies, the liberal Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, who was once Khomeini’s chosen successor and is the top cleric in Iran, declared that Khamenei lacks the religious qualifications to issue fatwas, which essentially disqualifies him from office and removes all religious legitimacy the regime claims to have. He also described the embassy takeover as a mistake.
There’s a greater point that needs to be addressed, though. The protesters aren’t only trying to weaken the regime. They are desperately trying to get Western attention. They know that the celebration of an attack on Americans will gain at least some attention from the Western media, and they sought to use that opportunity to show the true face of Iran. The apology by the Green Movement for the hostage-takings is another remarkably bold act of defiance of the regime that strikes at the Islamic Revolution’s earliest days and can only be interpreted as a way of gaining American attention. As is the case with other peoples fighting for their freedom, when the U.S. is silent in the face of their cries, they begin to question our commitment to our own principles. It is not surprising that a video has hit the Internet of Iranians chanting that President Obama needs to choose a side. It is rare that the American president is criticized at such pro-democracy demonstrations and it shows the abandonment the Iranian people are feeling.
President Obama is making a sincere effort to improve the image of the United States in the world and, as I wrote, he’s achieved a great deal in this regard. One area in which he is failing is Iran. If President Obama wants to prove that the U.S. stands for its principles and wants to restore trust in our integrity, he should join the Iranian people in marking the regime’s holidays on his calendar -- and add his voice to theirs.