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Iran on the Brink
And the U.S. does nothing

By Michael Ledeen
May 3, 2002
The Iranian

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.

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