Posted by: ourvoicestogether | December 17, 2007

Iran: Putting the people first

Amongst the bad boys of the world, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, perhaps tops the list. Variously described as ‘the post-modernist plasticine’, ‘Tehran tyrant’, ‘an impulsive buffoon’, the individual lacks in charisma and character one usually associates with world leaders.

Being a bundle of contradictions, he seems to suffer from symptoms of schizophrenia, lacking in power and strength of moral ethics and possessing a ridiculously reckless bent of mind.

A remnant of an ultra-rightwing movement that swept away the Shah back in the late 70s, Ahmadinejad has is possibly not suited for modern statehood politics. His raw and bashful demeanors speak of the curtness with which he preaches the unrealistic and incredibly outdated dogmas.

As a nation the Iranians traditionally and predominantly follow the Shia faith, a relatively moderate and milder version of the religion of Islam. However, with someone like the current president sitting at the helm of affairs, his extreme views regarding other religions and nations have only stigmatized Iran and its political standing in global politics.

As it is, the 1979 Mullah takeover and the subsequent enforcement of Shariah have had a devastating effect on Iran’s image. Ahmadinejad’s arrival on the scene has only added to the stress and the environment of discomfort that existed beforehand.

Having said that, here’s what the problem is. Due to the fact that the fundamentalist Islamic leadership of Iran has in the past and allegedly continues to patronize and harbor extremists and due also to the fact that Iran, according to many, has an alive and kicking nuclear program with aggressive designs against it’s neighbors, the country has endured harsh military and economic sanctions that have brutally paralyzed any prospects of prosperity and welfare for the general populace.

Iran has a rich culture. It’s a centuries old civilization that has a proud past. The Western world has had tremendously strong socio-political relations with the country. Those relations turned sour and nasty when the Ayatollah seized power by influencing nuts like Ahmadinejad and instigating a popular uprising against the ruler of the day. Whereas the fascist Mullahs have destroyed the heritage and history, Iranians, as a nation still remain steadfast and stable.

The people of Iran deserve a better deal, to say the least. Even though their leadership is nothing but a cacophony of sounds, the Western world needs to lend a helping hand to the millions who are suffering under the tyranny of the worst form of dictatorship seen in modern times.

I come across folks who matter in Washington saying that the only way out of the Iran quagmire is to carry out an Iraq-like military operation. I’ve heard people saying that there is no need to talk peace and friendship with Iran. Given Tehran’s track record, all these proposals are legitimate and hold water.

War is a sad occurrence and brings with it pain and anguish. It erodes human trust and blows away any prospects of reconciliation. Before we decide to battle it out with Iran, we must endeavor to understand a few minor points.

If I may submit, the first thought that comes to mind is that they may be neighbors but Iran is much different from Iraq. The ground realities are absolutely not similar. What may have helped bulldozing Saddam’s power structures was perhaps the disunity and distortedness within the Iraqi body politic. This may not be the case with Iran.

For all intents and purposes, Iran’s nuclear program could be just a psychological ploy that Ahmadinejad may be using to dare the Western powers to launch an attack thereby making him the focus of attention. As mentioned earlier, the guy appears to have serious issues.

May be the world needs to pay closer attention to Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA or look at the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) findings in a positive light.

Harboring extremists? This may be neutralized by employing effective intelligence measures, negotiating with allies in the Persian Gulf region for support to check militancy that originates with Iran’s assistance.

Understood that US policy is threatened when the survival of its allies is jeopardized, or when there is an economic challenge, or when there is a nuclear threat.

Understood also that Israel is the chief ally of the United States in Middle East and protecting Israel’s sovereignty is a major concern of Washington’s policy. On the other hand, Iran is a potential threat for Israel and any threat to Isreali interests is a direct hit on US interests.

However, one may submit that the US cannot afford to open up too many fronts and carry on with a number of wars at the same time. The economy has suffered major blows over the years, and thanks to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq thousands of soldiers have lost their lives on duty. Signs of US economy improving are remote and whereas we would like to continue with the role of the ‘world policeman’, yet, we cannot afford to neglect the needs of our own people.

What can be done under the given set of circumstances vis-à-vis Iran?

Granted that the Iranian leadership is not the best in the world to deal with but beyond the cloak of skepticism, the Western powers, especially the United States, with all its resources can possibly work toward certain goals to avoid a military conflict.

Iran has had some saner elements in the corridors of power. Two names that readily come to mind are Hashmi Rafsanjani and Mohammed Khatami, both former presidents who did make worthwhile contributions, despite tough resistance from the ‘spiritual leadership’, to introduce moderation and showed willingness to think in terms of guiding the Iranian society toward a prudent and rational course.

It is one’s understanding that these two gentlemen are still around and pretty much active in politics. It may not be a bad idea to approach them and use them as resources to reach out to individuals inside Iran who want a change and who would like to come forward to assist in the creation of a liberal and moderate Iran.

Since war is not the answer, the US must make appropriate gestures. Continuation and possible hardening of sanctions does not seem to be working. Not long ago, I read an interesting analysis by an Iranian scholar who suggested that the US should consider tackling with Iran on the following lines:

  • Support and defend human rights, establish contact and help all existing civil society bodies and trade unions within Iran (for instance, the doctors and lawyers guilds).
  • Encourage creation of new NGOs for the promotion of civil society.
  • Support women’s movements, ethnic and religious minorities and the youth, given the fact that the social requirement of all these groups is becoming increasingly more politicized with each passing day.
  • Promotion of activities by such organizations as the ‘International Center for Non-Violent Conflict’ for enhanced training of the Iranian youth and others in order to encourage their more effective participation in a national resistance movement.
  • A public diplomacy campaign to demonstrate functional democratic models to the Iranian people and the initiation of a public awareness campaign to counter the claim of the Mullahs that democratic societies are godless.
  • Translation and publication of recently written books and articles on the subject of democracy and human rights, with particular emphasis on writings that concern transition from authoritarian states to democracy.
  • Support for the convening of seminars and other gatherings for discussion of such topics as new trends in Islamic thought that have the potential for helping to find new remedies for such modern day scourges as religious extremism and terrorism.
  • Support for freedom of speech and freedom of press and the rights of all Iranian journalists in conjunction with general support for the overall rights of the Iranian people.
  • The projection of the idea that in democratic governments it is the people who are empowered to choose their leaders and their democratically elected representative to legislate laws and that the exercise of these rights in no way contradict people religious beliefs.

These are extremely pertinent and down to earth suggestions and submissions. Needless to say, if taken or committed to, these steps can potentially stop the process of marginalization of the Iranian people.

I read recently that Iran is on the verge of a most dangerous crisis that if not checked, could plunge both Iran and the region into a state of acute crisis and instability. Looking from another standpoint, Iran can potentially plunge the entire Middle East into a grave crisis if the Ahmadinejad stays on.

Chances of peace and reconciliation, persecution of minorities, threat to Israel’s security is linger on if channels of communication are not opened with the appropriate parties. Engagement is the key.

The truth of the matter is that once a detachment is made from pursuing an aggressive policy, it may not be that difficult for Washington to effect a change in Iran. Changing the course is a hard choice to make at this time. However, the dividends and returns are rich if the US is able to create goodwill amongst the right kind of people and groups. Most of all, the people of Iran stand in dire need of a well-deserved change and a break from shackles of the Mullahs. It is time to return the Land of Norooz to people of Iran!

–Ahson Saeed Hasan


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