Iran's crisis — does it feel like velvet?
Much has been written, discussed and debated since the Iranian presidential election in June. One of the most interesting subjects discussed in these conversation and debates, both in the U.S. among activist groups and in Iran among politicians on both sides (the “Principalists” and the “Reformists”) is the nature of the uprisings that began right after the election and that still continue. Some argue that these latest crises in Iran are part of a planned “velvet”/soft/color revolution, much like what we witnessed in Eastern Europe in late 1980s and ’90s.Based on conversations with those who believe the above to be true, I have seen this opinion to be raised primarily by those who support Mr. Ahmadinejad and his policies toward U.S. and Israel. In identifying the real history of colonialism and apartheid throughout the Middle East, these people believe the movement in Iran has been organized and is supported by foreign powers as part of plans for regime change.
With respect to these groups, I sincerely believe that those of us who live outside Iran — Iranians and non-Iranians alike — must listen more to what Iranians living in Iran are asking for. This has been our (the peace movement’s)policy. During the time when the Bush administration considered attacking Iran, or when Mr. Obama was not sure how to engage with Iran, what we did was to listen to the Iranian people, and do our best to serve their interest as people. We did our best to promote diplomacy, to help lift sanctions, and to prevent new sanctions because that was — we believed — best for the Iranian people.
At that time, we here in the U.S. supported Mr. Ahmadinejad and his policy in any possible way we thought would help the Iranian people. Because we respected the Iranians’ choice, we confronted any and all disrespectful and unfair behavior aimed at him as the elected president during the past four years. We joined rallies in support of Iran. We met with our senators and representatives where we defended Iran and its president (and his speeches). We wrote many articles in his defense, including his New York City trip in September 2007 when he was attacked in many U.S. media and treated discourteously by the president of Columbia University. When he returned to the U.S. in September 2008 to attend the U.N. General Assembly, we applauded when he was interviewed on “Larry King Live” and we organized a respectful meeting for him with participation of many national peace organizations and activist groups to encourage and promote direct dialogue. We wanted to let everyone know that we do not support the U.S. government’s policies of “threatening Iran.” We engaged in dialogue with him in his position as the president of Iran.
We did all this not because they related specifically to Mr. Ahmadinejad. Rather, we sat with him as the president of a country whose people were threatened. We did this for every single person in Iran and because we respect the intelligence and choice of Iranians. We believe that the 1953 coup d’état was not only illegal but also disrespectful — it was based on a paternalistic belief that outsiders know what is best for Iran, rather than the Iranian people themselves — and we are committed to ensuring such attempts will not be repeated.
We believed that separating the Iranian people from their government is wrong. We also believe that designating funds for regime change in Iran under the pretense of “promoting democracy” is wrong and is a form of interference in Iranian affairs. We believe that we must support Iranians in their dream of, and struggle for, independent freedom and democracy: a dream whose seeds were planted with the establishment of the Islamic Republic as early as 30 years ago.
Then how about now? What has changed now?
The short answer is: nothing! I believe nothing has changed in the nature of our support. We still support the Iranian people. We still support their dream and desire for democracy, freedom, and independence. We still support Iranians against all foreign interferences. We still support their right within the international community. And we still support them in combating any economic sanctions or military intervention. We are asking the U.N. to lift previous sanctions, which so far has only harmed the people of Iran — and that will be the case in the future as well. We are asking the U.S. Senate to remove the funding designated for “supporting democracy in Iran.” We practice and promote the same policies as before, because we have never changed our minds about the integrity and intelligence of the people of Iran.
At the same time, we must be aware that trusting the intelligence of Iranians means that we must also believe in what it is that they are saying today. We must understand the reasons for which they are still in the streets protesting, even after many have been killed, many others lost their lives under torture, and thousands more are still in terrifying prison cells. We must acknowledge the reasons that keep the Iranian people in the streets in spite of all the hardships they face.
We must listen to the Iranian people’s cries for democracy before we take the easy path of accusing them of attempting a “velvet revolution.” Before we associate this unprecedented movement with the CIA or MOSSAD, and plans to overthrow the Iranian regime. Does a velvet revolution have 14 million (based on official reports from Iran) people in it? Does a velvet revolution include people like the two-term presidents; Khatami and Rafsanjani? Does it include the former prime minister, Mousavi, the speaker of the house, Karoubi, and all those former high officials of the past 30 years? Does it include so many of those leading figures who played such prominent role on establishment of this regime?
Before accusing them all of being members of a velvet revolution, and citing what happened in Eastern Europe as “evidence,” we must review the history of Iran, at least within the past three decades. We must ask ourselves: have these people been asking for foreign support? Are they asking anything more than what is written it in the constitution of the Islamic Republic?
I say: we should believe in the intelligence of the Iranian people, and their efforts toward self-determination should not be argued as the work of foreigners and outside influences.