Saturday, December 26, 2009

There is more than one way to stop Iran

I doubt that the NYT will publish our letter to the editor about the recent op-ed piece by Alan Kuperman, so I am publishing it here.

Dear Editors:

Alan J. Kuperman writes that military action is the last hope for preventing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. His comment that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reneged his offer of a nuclear deal because of pressure from political opponents is a misinterpretation of the complex politics within the regime itself.

The opposition in Iran, as well as much of its population, does not want the West to negotiate with the Ahmadinejad government because they believe that it is illegitimate and that a nuclear deal would strengthen its position both domestically and internationally. The fact that for years the regime has sent inconsistent messages to nuclear negotiators is more a symptom of a deep rift within its own power structure than the result of opposition criticism.

We believe that a military strike would strengthen this regime, not weaken it. We also believe that it has been baiting the West for years now, knowing full well that it is losing the support of its population. It seeks a repeat of Iraq’s invasion of Iran, which unintentionally united the population behind the revolutionary regime.

If a democratic Iranian government were to come to power, the first things it is likely to do would be to 1) seek legitimacy in the international community and 2) look for ways to improve its flailing economy. A nuclear agreement offers both. The nuclear program is a huge financial drain and noncompliance with UN resolutions is preventing Iran from engaging with the world.

Sitting tight and allowing the population of Iran to express their own views is the best deterrent to a nuclear armed Iran. Bombing Iran now, when its population has taken to the streets in such great numbers to express their distrust of the current regime, would be a gift to Ahmadinejad and his ilk.

Tori Egherman and Kamran Ashtary

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Funeral of Montazeri and the Strength of Resistence

Masses turn out for the funeral of Montazeri in Qom, December 21, 2009

For the four years I spent in Iran, a dominant question from the “Western Street” was a variation of “Why don’t the world’s Muslims go to the streets to protest bombings?” The question presumes, of course, that the non-Muslim West knows all there is to know about the conversations, debates, and opinions of those in the mainly closed societies dominated by a Muslim population.

Meanwhile, I heard consistent condemnations of violence (of all types) from middle class and poor Iranians. Perhaps when you have seen the effects of war and terror on your own family and friends, you are much less likely to wish for its renewal.

On June 15, 3 million Iranians in Tehran went onto the streets because their hopes for peaceful and gradual reform of their government were so cruelly dashed by the blatantly fraudulent election results. Their individual courage was buoyed by the courage shown by others.

Yesterday in Qom, hundreds of thousands attended the funeral of Ali Montazeri, a grand ayatollah who had consistently spoken up for civil rights, the separation of state and religion, and against state-sponsored violence. They did this despite the risk of arrest and reprisals. Mourners went with knowledge of the brutal rapes of prisoners in Kharizak Prison, the torture and beatings and psychological anguish inflicted upon those in custody, and the random violence visited on demonstrators and passersby alike. They went with their eyes open and with hopes for freedom.

The only thing that can stop them in their quest for freedom now would be an attack on Iran from outside forces. The Iranian regime is doing everything it can to bait Israel and the West. It’s the schoolyard bully sticking out its tongue and begging for a punch in the gut. Wouldn't it just be glorious to defend oneself rather than to be the aggressor? There is nothing the regime wants more than an outside attack. Restraint would do more to end their reign then anything else. Let’s finally allow the Iranian people decide their own future and allow them to play out their long struggle for real freedom and real civil rights.

MORE:'s translation of Montazeri's declaration of citizenship for Baha'is

Enduring American's optimistic analysis of the turnout for the funeral of Montazeri in Qom

Great photos and summary at the NY Times

My article at ex Ponto about the Iranian summer of opposition

One of the last interviews with Montazeri from Radio Zamaneh

About Iran's constitutional revolution

Finally, a quote from an interview Montazeri did with Radio Zamaneh in 2008:

Reporter: But in religious teachings it is often said that oppression will not last. Do you think that this oppression will last?

Montazeri: After all, no government is everlasting. “The state may endure heresy but it will not endure oppression.” [Quote from Mohammad]

Reporter: Apparently not, but it has endured so far.

Montazeri: No, it shall not endure. We are too impatient; it will not endure. It is in my writings that the Mandate of the Jurist, as these gentlemen are representing it, began with Mr. Khomeini and ended with this gentleman. After him [Khamenei], the Mandate of the Jurist will not have any credibility...

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Iranian Protester: an Inspired Choice?

Rosa ParksIf you could go back in time to 1955, the year that Rosa Parks became a symbol for the Civil Rights movement by refusing to give up her seat in the front of a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white person, and present the civil rights protesters of Montgomery as Time’s Person of the Year, wouldn’t you? Not Rosa Parks, mind you, but the groups that backed her, and that she was part of: the Women's Political Council, the NAACP, and the African-American churches where Martin Luther King was a minister. That protest, while not the first or the last in a long struggle for civil rights in the United States, galvanized not only the city of Montgomery, but an entire nation. That year Time put forth Harlow Curtice, 1955an auto executive. Obviously the auto has undeniably shaped American but he was hardly an inspiring choice. In a year when American auto companies went bust, and Americans inaugurated an African-American president it’s interesting to look back at 1955.

This year, one of Time's nominees for person of the year is the Iranian Protester. With more than half a million votes, s/he is a crowd pleaser. I think this is an inspired choice for Time. Those of us who have friends and family in Iran know how much courage it takes to go out on to the streets of Iran to protest the government, and we also know how many different types of people marched against the election results and how much danger they faced. The actions of the protesters changed the way the entire world views Iran and how Iranians view each other.

Change and reform is not always so exciting and sexy. For both the protesters in Iran and Barack Obama, who is the second most popular choice for person of the year, the inspiring moments are waning and the hard work is beginning.

Thanks to Mana for inspiring this line of thought in a late night Skype chat.
Cross-posted at

The train to the future in Iran

A friend who just returned from Iran and a visit to family and friends, “Everywhere I went, the message was clear. ‘We are happy with the support of Iranians all over the world, but we do not want their political advice. It is their support we want, it gives us strength.’”

One of her friends, who is a teacher, had this to say about young people in Iran:

“It’s as though the young people are on a train that has already left for the future. They don’t care about the past. Only the future. They like Mousavi because he is not charismatic and because he knows that he is on their train. He said, ‘I follow you,’ not the other way around. They do not want leaders right now. They are not idealistic. They say, ‘Rafsanjani, if you are on our train, fine. If not, stay on the platform.’ For them, Iran is already moving towards a new future.”

Cross-posted at United4iran.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Letters to the President: thoughts on the documentary

Sunday, I saw the movie, Letters to the President, which is one of the movies we are going to be showing at the 12-12 Studio /K event in Amsterdam. It was heartbreaking and entertaining and not at all what I expected. The blurb made me feel like I was going to see something vaguely supportive of Ahmadinejad’s policies, but that’s not the story I saw in the movie at all. It was a much more powerful critique of Ahmadinejad's economic policies because it allowed the story to unfold without taking sides.

After the movie Kamran spoke, I got into a bit of a tiff with someone who wanted to lecture me about the October Surprise and America’s responsibility for the Iran-Iraq war, and we met up with a friend who had just returned from Iran. She grew up in a village not so different from the villages Ahmadinejad traveled through during the course of the film. She told us what one of her cousins said, “This regime has turned us into beggars.” Our friend went on to explain, it makes them beg for a yearly subsidy of about $50 a year that no longer even covers the cost of two kilos of meat: that’s how much prices have increased in the past couple of years.

One of the other speakers, Nikita Shabazi, claimed that Ahmadinejad’s regime brought more people out of poverty than any other, which is why she would have voted for him had she been dragged kicking and screaming to the polling booth. She quoted The Brookings Institute as her source for this data. Here is what I find when I go the Brookings Institute for information:

Significantly, during the first two years of the Ahmadinejad Administration (2005-06) inequality worsened in both rural and urban areas, possibly because higher inflation hurt those below the median income level more than those above it. This is not so much an indication that Ahmadinejad was insincere in promising redistribution but how difficult it is to redistribute income without fundamental changes in the country’s distribution of earning power (wealth and human capital) and political power, which determines access to government transfers from oil rent.

The author goes on to show a steady decline in poverty, since its high in 1988. This is an achievement that can hardly be attributed to the Ahmadinejad presidency.

If you are in Amsterdam, please join us for the 12-12 event. Petr Lom will be there to discuss his movie, along with many others.