Iran for Iranians

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In my final post from my visit to Iran this past fall, I wrote the following:

We’d be foolish to deny that there are troubling human rights issues that Iran would do well to address. But at the end of the day, the solutions to these problems are certainly not ours to impose.

I felt that passionately then and as I watch the Iranian people take to the streets day after day to demand justice in their country, I feel it even more passionately now.  I’m also immensely proud that our President refuses give in to the misguided voices that urge him to force himself on this process as it unfolds. Our country seems to finally be learning that imposing our “democracy” on other countries might not be the most effective foreign policy.

This is particularly the case with Iran, a nation that has experienced its share of empires meddle in its affairs over the centuries. Indeed, even as thousands of the Iranian people bravely demonstrate for democracy, you can be sure that it is lost on none of them that the last country to overthrow an Iranian regime was none other than the United States. The Islamic Republic may be odious in any number of ways, but at the end of the day, we must remind ourselves that it is the first Persian regime in centuries that truly belongs to its people.

Yesterday, I read a letter to the editor of the NY Times that said simply: “The Islamic Revolution has become the shah.”  A horribly mistaken analysis. For Iranians, the Shah was not simply an oppressive ruler – he was an oppressive ruler who was installed by the Americans after they took it upon themselves to overthrow Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister.

Take a look at the picture above (also from the New York Times.) It’s very telling: a demonstrator’s sign juxtaposes the Ayatollah Khomeini with Mir Hossein Moussavi (who was himself one the leaders of the 1979 revolution. An interesting article in today’s NY Times, in fact, explores the historically close relationship between Khomeini and Moussavi.)

This is enormously important for us in the West to understand: whatever we might think about Khomeini, in the eyes of many Iranians, he was the one who gave their country back to them. Whatever we might think about the republic to which the revolution gave rise, it is the Iranians’ republic. Those who demonstrate in the streets are not rebelling against the revolution – they are demanding that it live up to its promise.

“Justice, justice shall you pursue.” This is what precisely what we are witnessing in the streets of Iran. We can surely support their pusuit in any number of ways, but in the end, this particular justice is theirs’ to pursue and achieve – not ours’ to dictate.

PS: Among the many blogs and e-news outlets I’ve been following, my favorite is a photo blog called Tehran 24 that updates daily with astonishing pix of the demonstrations. Definitely worth a thousand words…

4 thoughts on “Iran for Iranians

  1. I hardly think that my Iranian university classmates who supported the revolution and then were killed by forces loyal to Khomeni when they returned home would look fondly upon your comment that, “Khomeini, in the eyes of the Iranian people, …was the one who gave their country back to them.” Many different groups contributed to the making of the revolution. Khomeni jailed and killed tens of thousands of revolutionaries who threatened his hegemony. Perhaps in Iran history has been rewritten to cover-up the broad-based mass movement that made the revolution.

  2. Aliza,

    I certainly didn’t intend to whitewash the abuses of the Islamic revolution (that’s why I used terms like “odious.”) My point is that for all the crimes associated with it, the 1979 revolution represents something very important for many Iranians: namely, Iranian autonomy. When I was in Iran, I spoke with many Iranians who told me, in effect, that Khomeini did what centuries of Persian kings could not: he overthrew foreign rule and gave Iranians the opportunity to govern their own nation. For all the abuse wrought by the revolution, I believe this is a crucial point for Westerners to understand.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful response. I certainly am no expert on this matter but jumped when I read what appeared to me to be the false impression that somehow Khomeni overthrew the Shah. He certainly spearheaded the post-monarchy government and has kept the U.S. out for the most part. Of course, when it was convenient he let them in on his terms. Remember the Iran-Contra scandal?

  3. What most in the West fail to realise is the fact that 1979 was not necessarily a step backwards with respect to peoples’ wishes; people didn’t revolt in 1979 because they wanted a theocratic regime so deeply – they revolted because they wanted to be heard. As you’ve also mentioned, they wanted to get rid of the monarcy that had become a puppet of the US and others and served only to West’s and its own interests, not taking into account that of the people. Since current regime has become almost as oppressive as the Shah regime, most Westerners forget that regime of Shah, people of Iran overthrew, was a monarchy, a really oppressive one. Unfortunately, people of Iran couldn’t achieve everything they wanted – hence they are on the streets now. Mousavi isn’t a secular reformist; as the photograph of the article beautifully presents, he was an important figure during the revolution and somebody with close ties to Khomeini. But he seems to have understood mistakes of the regime and is eager to open a new page, which Iranians are also eager for.

    It troubles me a lot to see so many “respected” people in the West to be calling for a “intervention” of the US to the issue. Such an intervention would only justify Khamenei and his rhetoric, which continuously declares that current protests do not come from “Iranian people” but rather is a ploy of the West. Any intervention would only make people feel that they are being used by the West – and a true step backwards, some kind of a legitimacy to the current regime in the eyes of common Iranians. For this very reason, the US should do what it should do – mind its own business. People of Iran has taken care of a corrupt regime before, they can take care of another – may be not today, but surely some day in near future.

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