|Iran on the Brink
And the U.S. does nothing
By Michael Ledeen
May 3, 2002
Source: National Review Online
On Wednesday, April 24, an obscure deputy in the Iranian parliament went to the podium
at 10:45 in the morning to read a prepared statement.
Few in that hall could have known what was coming: a fatwa issued by one of
the country's most prestigious and revered religious leaders, the Grand Ayatollah
Montazeri. His message was directed far beyond the boundaries of Iran, to all members
of the Shia faith. It was a powerful and politically important message: Suicide terrorism
is antithetical to the teachings of Islam, and those who practice it, and kill women,
children, and babies, are doomed to eternity in hell. The struggle between the Palestinian
people and Israel must be resolved by other means, above all by negotiations. A tumult
broke out when the import of the statement became clear, but the parliamentary president
permitted the deputy to read the fatwa in its entirety.
The proceedings were broadcast live throughout Iran. Therefore, although no Iranian
publication and, to my knowledge, no foreign-news service reported the event, the
Iranian people were able to hear it in real time.
This is an event of enormous importance, for it is the first time that a leading
Iranian cleric has condemned suicide terrorism, and it is an explicit attack on the
Iranian regime, which has praised the terrorists and called upon Iranians to volunteer
for suicide missions. It is even more significant against the background of the latest
efforts of the Iranian people, who are trying desperately to free themselves from
the mullahs and ayatollahs.
Two weeks ago, the leader of the student movement called upon workers and teachers
to shut down the schools and factories during the May Day period. Shortly thereafter,
another student group -- heretofore vigorous supporters of the "reformist"
President Khatami -- denounced him and proclaimed the reform movement a total failure.
Throughout Khorassan Province workers and students have been demonstrating for nearly
a month. Over the weekend, new demonstrations broke out near Tehran, where many workers
have not been paid for a year! At Friday prayers, in an amazing confession of failure,
Ayatollah Janati -- the head of the Council of Guardians and one of the five most
powerful men in the country -- admitted to the faithful that Iran was in desperate
economic straits. Iran, he said, was as badly off as Argentina, perhaps even worse.
Janati continued with a vicious attack against the United States, proclaiming that
the failure of the American hostage rescue mission in 1980 showed that God was on
Iran's side, and he warned the United States not to try to take advantage of Iran's
crisis. He then unleashed a condemnation of the Jews, defining them as "murderers
by nature," and indeed, "murderers of the messenger," a reference
to the prophet Mohammed himself.
These are signs of a desperate regime that knows the Iranian people love America
and hate their rulers. Last Thursday, the regime hung six young men in public, under
the pretext that they had "disturbed public order," the usual phrase deployed
by tyrannical regimes to kill anyone they do not like. The hangings took place the
day after the disgraceful vote in the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva,
defeating an American resolution to condemn Iran for its many egregious actions against
its own people.
But the people of Iran have not been silenced. Last
week more nearly 300 students at Tehran University were taken to the hospital for
food poisoning, and some witty students issued a statement that "it is safer
to be a prisoner in Guantanamo than to be prisoners in Poli Sci at the University."
And what are our leaders doing about this? They are doing nothing. No, they are doing
worse than nothing. The State Department continues to send its diplomats to meet
with Iranians, most recently in Cyprus (when news leaked in Iran, the regime hastily
fired their own representatives), apparently still believing that some deal can be
made with Tehran's killers and torturers. And while the White House occasionally
repeats the president's condemnation of an unelected regime that thwarts the Iranian
people's desire to be free, these rare statements are inevitably lost in the greater
silence of our top foreign-policy officials.
Time has run out on Secretary Powell and his bunch of clever diplomats, and on National
Security Advisor Rice and her cautious managers. The Iranian people need to hear
and see that America believes in them, supports their cause, and hates their oppressors.
We have assistant secretaries of state and National Security Council officials who
are supposed to condemn human-rights violations. Where are they? They can start by
mourning last week's victims in Tehran: Reza Soltani, Behnam Nouri, Turaz Shafii,
Mohammed Bosarghi, Farhad Akrami, and Morteza Mahsumi, three in their twenties, one
teenager, one aged 44.
Our leaders need to say, over and over again, that it is time for the mullahs to
submit to the just desires of their own people. As the Iranian people have been chanting
for many months in the streets of the country, there should be a referendum on the
Iranian government. Let the people decide if they want to continue the Islamic republic,
or if they prefer a secular republic or a constitutional monarchy. We have no horse
in that race, and our leaders must stress that we are not supporting any individual
or any group; we support an Iranian government chosen in a free and fair election.
The stakes are very high. The fall of the mullahs in
Tehran would send a devastating message to the entire Islamic world: Theocracy has
been tried, and it has failed. Osama bin Laden's vision has been rejected by the
people of Afghanistan and the people of Iran, by Sunnis and Shia alike. We must help
the Iranian democrats. We must give money, urgently and immediately, to Iranian National
TV, now struggling to stay afloat in Los Angeles. We must assist the student and
labor leaders, who are often forced to choose between feeding their children and
heating their homes. We must help them communicate with one another. Can't we provide
some wireless PCs to the Iranian opposition?
The most important thing is our leaders' words to the Iranians. We want the fall
of the regime. That is what the war on terrorism is all about. To remain silent is
to be complicit in the repression of Iran. There is no diplomatic "solution."
We want a free Iran. Don't we?
Michael Ledeen is an Nationa
Review Onlione contributing editor & resident scholar
in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute. This article was published
in Nationa Review Onlione on April 29, 2002. He
is author, most recently, of Tocqueville
on American Character. See more
articles by Ledeen.