Iran: Theocracy and Its Discontents
In 1979, Iranians took to the streets chanting: “Independence, Freedom and Islamic Republic!” Now, over three decades later, the country has achieved some level of independence. Nevertheless, any voice of dissent is suppressed and most Iranians don’t feel represented by their government. In fact, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s governance resembles a theocratic byzantine caliphate than a democratic republic in which the God-king has the final say in all affairs in the country. While human rights abuses, rampant corruption and mismanagement of the economy are gnawing at Iran from within, the regime’s nuclear program and its adventurist foreign policy have brought about international condemnation, and the specter of a military attack by Israel and/or the United States, and their allies, is not a nightmare but a real possibility.
A military attack would destabilize the region further and would make nationalist Iranians, even those who oppose the regime, rally behind the government against the foreign enemy. An attack would effectively bring the Iranians’ struggle for democracy to a halt.
Iran should be not doomed to destruction. The West, especially the United States, insist that Iran is their number one foreign policy priority, but so far have failed to dedicate enough resources and intelligence to devise effective, creative policies. A tougher regime of sanctions and other covert and open measures should be planned against the government’s nuclear program, and more open and covert support should be given to pro-democracy activists in Iran. The West’s most important allies in Iran are the Iranian youth. As the post-presidential election demonstrations in the summer of 2009 and recent protests in 2011 have shown, the spirit of the 1979 revolution is still alive. A great number of Iranians, especially the youth, are fighting for a democratic Iran, in which they are not subjects
of a tyrant but citizens of a democratic country in charge of their own destinies. With the support, and patience, of the international community young Iranians are capable of changing their future for the better. A future in which Iran is not ruled by an autocrat but a democratic government accountable to its own people.
Then They Came for Me: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival
On June 21, 2009, just nine days after Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected in a highly contentious election, the Revolutionary Guards arrested award-winning Canadian-Iranian journalist and filmmaker, Maziar Bahari, in his mother’s home in Tehran.
For the next 118 days, he remained imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin prison, where he was severely beaten, and accused, among other things, of espionage and plotting a velvet revolution. Then They Came For Me
is a riveting, on-the-streets account of the contentious elections, and the tale of a reporter willing to risk everything to tell a story. But it is also a deeply moving personal story about a family profoundly — and brutally — impacted by Iran’s changing regimes. In 1954, Maziar’s father, a Communist, was imprisoned by the Shah’s secret police and spent two years in prison for the crime of belonging to a treasonous organization. Nearly 30 years later, not long after the Shah’s government was overthrown and the Islamic Republic of Iran was created, Maziar’s sister, Maryam, spent six years in prison for her involvement with the Communist party.
Bahari’s personal and family story presents a unique overview of the tortured modern history of Iran and his reporting and analysis of the inner workings of the Islamic government give the audiences an unprecedented insight into the zeitgeist of modern Iran and the men who run it.
The U.S. and Iran: Challenges & Opportunities
The history of relations between Iran and the United States since 1979 is a long list of grave errors, radical rhetoric and missed opportunities. The hostilities between the two countries have damaged the interests of both nations in the Middle East and hundreds of Iranians and Americans have perished in the process. The myopic policies of American administrations have contributed to the current state of affairs, yet without a doubt it is the Islamic government can be credited with a large part of the blame for the hostilities. The regime has made anti-Americanism the main part of its raison d’etre. While Iranians have grievances about past American interference in its internal affairs in the past and the unconditional support given to the Shah’s dictatorship from 1953 to 1979, these genuine complaints have been cynically manipulated by the Iranian regime to rally popular support for its wrong policies.
There is no way for the American government to repair its relations with the current group at the helm of the government in Iran. Changing the behavior of the regime, or ultimately changing the regime itself, has to be an American foreign policy priority. Yet the change cannot, and should not, happen in a short period. The United States should continue negotiate with Iran about its nuclear program. Iran has to clearly understand that it has to pay a high price for its investment in the nuclear program, and that the program in the long run will consume many of its resources and will makes it less secure. More targeted sanctions against human rights abusers and the nuclear program should be imposed and bad sanctions, which hurt ordinary Iranians, should be lifted. But most important of all, the United States should make a stronger effort to communicate with the Iranian people, especially the youth.
Iran has the most pro-American population in the Middle East outside of Israel. The most important weapons in the American arsenal are democratic values, which are shared by millions of young Iranians. The United States and other western countries should invest in developing democratic culture in Iran and develop different methods of communications that will allow young Iranians to communicate with each other and the rest of the world. Artists, novelists, filmmakers and intellectuals have to be provided with forums to express themselves, and at the same time the United States should invest in satellite television, satellite internet and other means that help Iranians communicate. Trying to understand Iranian youth and helping them to achieve their democratic objectives is the best hope for the American government to safeguard its interests in Iran and the Middle East.
Peaceful Resistance & the Role of Social Media in the Middle East: The Transformation of a Region in a Digital World
The democratic nature of the Internet and its popularity in the Middle East has made an antidote to autocracy and dogma in the region. The increasingly educated young Middle Eastern cyber activists are at the vanguard of revolutionary changes. They organize their efforts on the Internet and challenge traditional ideas and ideologies on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. These sites allow the youth to mobilize their struggle for democracy in constantly changing and imaginative ways that take authoritarian regimes by surprise and force knee-jerk reactions by the regimes, such as the blocking of websites and the arrest of Internet activists.
The advent of Internet activism threatens despotism and ideological zealotry by providing a new path for revolutionary (or evolutionary) change. The 21st century revolutionary media liberate revolutions from the monopoly of a few leaders. Whereas pamphlets and short wave radio in the 19th and the 20th centuries dictated messages of the leaders to the masses before revolutions and then were used to indoctrinate and suppress them, the Internet deprives would be despots of the power to control the message. The Internet allows every citizen to be a leader and shape the message in her or his own way. Liberating revolutions from the tyranny of revolutionary leaders is a crucial step in creating a democratic Middle East in the future: a region in which nations will be able to poke and dislike each other rather than bomb and attack other countries.
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