Like many, I’ve been obsessively following the news out of Iran since the elections last Friday. What I haven’t done is cheer on the protesters in Iran.
First, let me say that I wish for Iranians what I wish for everyone — a government that is accountable to the people and that protects the rights of all its citizens. And I hope that they can put a decent, democratic government in place with as little bloodshed as possible. Regardless of whether or not the election was rigged, the actions of the Iranian government since the election have been those of the authoritarian dictatorship. The Iranian government lacks the legitimacy in the eyes of its people to conduct a fair election, and that’s true regardless of the real vote totals, which are unlikely to ever be known.
But here’s the thing. Nobody who’s not in Iran can ask a single thing of the protesters in Iran. I have difficulty even offering them encouragement. In 1953, the Shah of Iran was kept in power by a military coup openly backed by the United States and United Kingdom. In 1979, Iran became an Islamic Republic by way of a popular revolution. The chaos that followed led to the Iraq to invade Iran — leading to a war that lasted most of the eighties and resulted in the deaths of over 1 million Iranians. The United States openly backed the Iraqis in that war. And now, thirty years after the revolution that led to the Islamic Republic, Iran is in the same place as it was in 1978, with an authoritarian leader attempting to put down a popular uprising through the use of violence and brutality.
Every Iranian has to make a personal choice about whether or not they’re going to take to the streets to demand a better government. They must know the real risk being beaten, arrested, disappeared, or killed. If these protests fail, the people who are identified as having participated are likely to be discriminated against in every way possible until some other effort to change the regime succeeds. What right do I, or any non-Iranian, have to encourage people to take such risks? The Iranians who did so in 1978 must surely look back now and see that that the revolution was a failure in terms of improving the lives of their fellow countrymen. Today’s government is as bad as the government they deposed back then. There’s no guarantee that the next government will be any better.
The only question left is which side will blink. Either the government will lose so much support that it can’t sustain itself, or it will commit enough barbaric acts to stop the protests. The only thing we can do is promise to watch what happens and to remember.
The twentieth anniversary of the brutal crackdown on the Tienanmen Square protests passed just two weeks ago. The Communist Party is still in charge in China, and last year they played hosts to the world in the Summer Olympics. That’s what the support of Americans amounted to then.
So I hope for the best for the Iranian people, and I deeply respect the risks that everyday Iranians are taking in an effort to change their country for the better. But I also understand that it’s all about them, not about us.