Neda and Obama

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

It was the sniper shot heard round the world. One mo­ment, a young woman is stand­ing on the side­walk, watch­ing the Ira­nian peo­ple stand up to the state. A sec­ond later, she crum­bles to the side­walk, blood pump­ing use­lessly out of the gun­shot wound in her chest. A face­less po­lice sniper has killed Neda Agha Soltan, but also made her im­mor­tal. Her mur­der was video­taped and sent world­wide. Her death is now the defin­ing im­age of the 2009 Ira­nian revo­lu­tion.

For 30 years the world has tol­er­ated this cruel and cal­cu­lat­ing regime, as it took hostages, paid ter­ror­ists and built bombs meant for al­lied troops in Iraq. Now the peo­ple of Iran are plead­ing their case be­fore the world. While events are still un­fold­ing, some lessons can be drawn re­gard­less of how the revo­lu­tion ends.

Free­dom is uni­ver­sal

As re­cently as a month ago, many Amer­i­cans doubted that the Ira­nian peo­ple wanted demo­cratic change. That de­bate is over. No one can cred­i­bly claim that the West is foist­ing the ideals of free­dom on Iran’s mil­lions. They are telling us through their ac­tions that th­ese truths are self ev­i­dent and not lim­ited to any cul­ture, time or place. To para­phrase Thomas Jef­fer­son, they are plac­ing be­fore mankind the com­mon sense of the sub­ject in terms so plain and firm as to com­mand their assent.

The phony democ­racy the Ira­nian cler­ics had erected to le­git­imize their rule is crum­bling down on them. For a time, Ira­ni­ans bought into the idea that their voices counted even in a sys­tem in which the vote was ma­nip­u­lated by theocrats hand­pick­ing the el­i­gi­ble candidates. But the 2009 elec­tion was an out­right fraud. At­tempts to ex­plain it away have in­sulted the in­tel­li­gence of Ira­ni­ans and the world. The mul­lahs are of­fer­ing many in­sult­ing ra­tio­nal­iza­tions — there were too many votes for fraud to have worked, that the num­ber of fake bal­lots would not have changed the fi­nal re­sult, or that since vote fraud is il­le­gal in Iran it could not have hap­pened. This is rem­i­nis­cent of em­bat­tled Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad say­ing there are no ho­mo­sex­u­als in Iran even as Ira­nian courts con­demn gays to death. Iran’s Guardian Coun­cil has ad­mit­ted there was wide­spread fraud and that the to­tal votes cast in 50 cities ex­ceeded the num­ber of reg­is­tered vot­ers. They at­tempted to down­play this find­ing on the grounds this occurred in fewer of the 170 cities in which there were claims of fraud, a piti­ful ex­am­ple of spin.

But the de­bate over the elec­tion is sim­ply a cat­a­lyst. The up­ris­ing has moved well be­yond the bal­lot is­sue. We are wit­ness­ing 30 years of frus­tra­tion pour­ing into the streets. We see de­mands for a liv­able min­i­mum wage, the end to com­pul­sory veil­ing for women, free­ing pris­on­ers of con­science, ban­ning the death penalty and guar­an­tees for the rights to free ex­pres­sion, or­ga­ni­za­tion, strike and protest. The peo­ple don’t want a re­count; they want what they have been chant­ing for days: “death to the dic­ta­tor.” This is one step short of a true rev­o­lu­tion­ary call for the end of the regime it­self. Free­dom is on dis­play in the streets of Iran. The peo­ple are tak­ing back their sovereignty, mak­ing a stand in de­fense of their in­alien­able rights.

And in their wake, they have left the tat­tered claims of the cul­tural rel­a­tivists.

The poverty of Is­lamic rule

The Ira­nian up­ris­ing is a di­rect chal­lenge to the rad­i­cal Is­lamist pro­gram pur­sued in Iran since the Ay­a­tol­lah Ruhol­lah Khome­ini’s 1979 revo­lu­tion. The Ira­nian peo­ple have had enough of rad­i­cal cler­i­cal rule. This is not to say they are not, for the most part, be­liev­ing Mus­lims. They are sim­ply peo­ple more mod­ern than their rulers. They are ob­ject­ing to mul­lahs ex­ploit­ing their faith to bol­ster a cor­rupt, re­pres­sive theoc­racy.

The Is­lamic regime stands and falls on its abil­ity to main­tain its re­li­gious le- giti­macy. That au­thor­ity is now in ques­tion, partly due to the regime’s tac­ti­cal mis­takes. Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei quickly de­clared the tainted elec­tion re­sults a “di­vine as­sess­ment” and since has stood firmly be­hind this con­clu­sion. Once God is in­voked it is hard to back­track.

But God does not stuff bal­lot boxes. Now ev­ery night the peo­ple of Iran take to their rooftops and cry “Al­lah Ak­bar” into the dark­ness. They are ap­peal­ing di­rectly to God against those who pre­sume to be his agents on Earth. The le­git­i­macy of the ji­had crowd to speak for or­di­nary Mus­lims is slip­ping away.

Iran wants Amer­ica’s at­ten­tion

Pri­vate me­dia are run­ning rings around broad­cast out­lets funded by Amer­ica and Is­rael to chal­lenge Iran. The up­ris­ing in Iran has be­come an in­ter­na­tional sen­sa­tion through the global reach of dig­i­tal in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy. Youtube, Twit­ter, Face­book and e-mail have al­lowed the pro­test­ers to com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly to the world, by­pass­ing feck­less regime at­tempts to sup­press jour­nal­ists. The raw­ness of the videos and the frank­ness of the tweets al­low ob­servers to ex­pe­ri­ence the events vis­cer­ally. The im­pact is pow­er­ful.

As for those who are say­ing it is wrong to “med­dle” in Iran’s in­ter­nal af­fairs, would you please note that Ira­ni­ans are hold­ing signs in English. Many of the blog posts, tweets and YouTube nar­ra­tions are also in English. If they are not cry­ing out di­rectly for Amer­i­can aid, why are they us­ing English?

Neda Soltan’s death is gal­va­niz­ing many Amer­i­cans too. While many oth­ers have been killed in re­cent days, the im­me­di­acy and the shock of this lovely woman dy­ing on the streets has struck a chord. Peo­ple who were barely aware of con­di­tions in Iran now weep be­fore their com­puter screens. Neda — whose name means “voice” or “call” — has be­come the voice of the as­pi­ra­tions of the Ira­nian peo­ple.

En­gage­ment is dead

Even if the regime in Tehran de­cides for some rea­son to ex­tend an un­clenched fist, Pres­i­dent Obama would be shak­ing a bloody hand. The hu­man-rights vi­o­la­tions shown on Amer­ica’s com­puter screens make it im­pos­si­ble for the pres­i­dent to en­gage in some 1970s-style de­tente with Iran. Even the re­al­ists re­al­ize that is now un­re­al­is­tic.

The diplo­matic cli­mate nec­es­sary for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s en­gage­ment pol­icy is gone. The sub­tle sig­nal­ing dance of the last few months is im­pos­si­ble now. The Obama team’s orig­i­nal timetable, call­ing for progress by the end of the year, has been over­come by events.

Iran’s bomb now can’t be ig­nored

Iran’s quest for nu­clear weapons now wor­ries more Amer­i­cans than ever. If the regime is will­ing to be this cruel to its own peo­ple, could the Amer­i­can sol­diers or Is­raeli cit­i­zens liv­ing within reach of Iran’s mis­siles ex­pect any mercy? United Na­tions nu­clear over­seer Mo­hamed ElBa­radei said two weeks ago that he had con­cluded the regime was seek­ing atomic weapons to send a mes­sage to the rest of the world: “Don’t mess with us.” With the frailty of the regime broad­cast world­wide, its sense of in­se­cu­rity will have in­creased and, with that, the need to have a nu­clear in­sur­ance pol­icy. It is ex­treme folly for the United States to con­tinue the of­fi­cial cha­rade that the Tehran regime is not ac­tively seek­ing such weapons. Politi­ciz­ing this in­tel­li­gence must end. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion should take this op­por­tu­nity to de­mand an im­me­di­ate halt to Iran’s bomb pro­gram.

The time has come to face the Is­lamic Repub­lic without the comfortable blind­folds we have worn over the past few decades. The re­al­ity of Neda Soltan, dead with her eyes open, should open our eyes too.

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