Tags: Next | Iran?

Next Up @ Iran?

Wednesday, 25 June 2003 12:00 AM

"Happy colors became sinful, joy became a crime, and death was worshipped." That's how Reza Mahmoodshahi, writing last December in The Cornell Review, describes what happened in 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile and assumed his post as Iran's supreme spiritual leader.

"Tragically, the revolution was less progressive than it had originally promised," writes Mahmoodshahi. "Today, many Iranians recognize the events of '77-'78 as a step backward, a movement away from the democratic ideals exposited by activists in the flurry of the original revolutionary rhetoric."

In a classic case of jumping from the frying pan into the fire, the Iranian revolution traded the shah and the most advanced economy in the Middle East for a dictatorship of unelected theocrats who have run the Iranian economy into the ground.

"After 24 years of the Islamic Revolution, Iran is nothing short of a failed state, complete with double-digit unemployment, rampant corruption and mounting domestic repression," writes Ilan Berman, vice president for policy at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington.

"Economically, the fiscal policies of the ruling clergy have all but bankrupted Iran and turned it into an international pariah," He continues. "All this despite the fact that its proven oil and natural gas reserves place Iran at the head of the class as a global energy producer."

Khomeini rode to power with the slogan "Death to America." Today, reports Dale Gaylak, writing from Cairo, a different slogan is being shouted in the streets of Iran:

"The biggest anti-government demonstrations in months appear to be gaining momentum. Demonstrators chanted, 'Death to dictators,' and for political freedom. Some young protesters shouted slogans against Ayatollah Khamenei, an act that in Iran is punishable by prison sentence."

On June 16, the sixth night in a row of protests in the Iranian capital, Tehran, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcast this report:

"Cars are reported to have clogged the streets near the University of Tehran, the focal point of the protests against the country's clerical leaders. Dozens of hard-line Islamic militants – some reportedly carrying Kalashnikov rifles – walked between the cars, stopping and searching some and threatening any drivers who honked their horns in a sign of support for the protests. Yesterday, police warned the vigilantes – who are loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – [against] taking the law into their own hands. The vigilantes have attacked demonstrators with chains, knives and clubs."

An arts graduate from the University of Tehran provided BBC News with a firsthand account of the protest: "A lot of women have gathered around the front gate of the Tehran University and they've taken off their scarves in the demonstration. They've been severely beaten by chains. You know the old chains and locks they use here for motorcycles? Do you know how thick they are? I broke down in tears when I heard this."

She doesn't see things cooling off:

"When the time is right, we will all join. I can smell it in the air. This time is different. I despise Islam and the mullahs even though I am officially a Muslim now. I don't have the right to change my religion in Iran. I despise the regime and so do 90 percent of the Iranians. The masses support the students and are waiting for the right time to make the final impact."

She might be right. A Christian Science Monitor poll shows that "90 percent of Iranians want change" and "70 percent want dramatic change." Last week, some 250 prominent Iranian dissidents in an open letter accused Iran's clergy of "setting themselves in the place of God."

Responding over Iran's state-run television, Ayatollah Khamenei blamed Washington for the turmoil, charging that the Bush administration knows it can't topple the Tehran regime by military means and so is attempting to whip up social disorder.

A second student, arrested several times, told the BBC that change couldn't come by way of officially permitted means, and that he hoped for a more active role by Washington: "We think it's impossible to improve the reforms legally because we disagree with the kind of government, constitutional law and everything about it and also anything related to theocracy. We hope that Mr. Bush doesn't only talk but does more."

And how much more? Consider the following:

Our response? For starters, I'd say we shouldn't miss any opportunity in helping those in Iran who are now risking everything in order to put an end to the "Death to America" regime in Tehran.

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"Happy colors became sinful, joy became a crime, and death was worshipped." That's how Reza Mahmoodshahi, writing last December in The Cornell Review, describes what happened in 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile and assumed his post as Iran's supreme...
Wednesday, 25 June 2003 12:00 AM
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