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Category: Politics, International

Responsible Solidarity: An Appeal to the Public on the Matter of Iran

| June 26, 2009

The author urges us to stand against the violence threatening the masses of protesters in Iran, but to insist that our leaders not infringe on Iranian sovereignty—as has happened in the past. Her commentary is based on a speech she delivered on Tuesday at San Francisco City Hall.

This past week we have seen a mass movement in Iran remarkable in its attempt to protest peacefully against voting results they believe may be fraudulent. It is yet to be determined the extent of election irregularities, but what is clear is that the Iranian people by and large do not trust the results and are demanding justice. This is reasonable and something we should support regardless of our political persuasions and beliefs.

However, this is no longer a simple matter of a disputed election. What we have been witnessing are human rights violations—gross acts of violence that cannot be tolerated.

I appreciate and respect President Obama's gesture of non-intervention; it is not only an indication of his reluctance to repeat a violent history of U.S. involvement in Iranian affairs, it is also a bold move in support of the Iranian people and a statement of confidence in the movement and the ability of the Islamic Republic to respond responsibly. I applaud his even stronger condemnation later in the week. But I am saddened by those politicians who choose to take advantage of these sensitive circumstances to further political agendas that serve to do nothing but muddy the waters. Such disgusting acts of opportunism make me afraid to ask my own government for their assistance.

So now I do not wish to appeal to our governments; I wish to appeal to the people in our governments, the Ross Mir Karimi’s (member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and leader in the Iranian-American community) who are willing to take a stand against violence without strings attached. I wish to appeal to the artists, writers, musicians, students, teachers, mothers, fathers and everyone in between.

To you, I say: I have read and seen that pictures of Prime Minister Mossadegh have been emerging among protestors. The democratically elected Mossadegh, who was deposed in 1953 by a U.S. and British coup, coined “Operation Ajax” by the CIA, represents a message loud and clear from the Iranian people: Democracy, yes. Intervention, no.

Interventions into Iranian domestic affairs over the last few decades have come in the form of ongoing sanctions that have devastated the very people we are publicly supporting today. Continued interventions in the form of covert operations are what led to the mass social unrest and dissatisfaction that brought the Islamic Republic to power in the first place. This is the seed of Iranian distrust for such foreign governments.

And yet despite all of this, the people of Iran do not forget what the United States has stood for, for better or for worse and despite its actions to the contrary. They remind us of what it means to clutch with your life that thing called freedom.

I am trembling because I can picture the faces of mothers and fathers kissing their sons and daughters as they walk out the door, maybe for the last time. I have seen a woman and her father shot down in broad daylight. I have seen old women and young boys on the sidelines beaten with the sticks of spineless men. I have heard the whisper of an old woman who reports the number of young men and women she has seen dragged into a mosque; they go in, she says softly, but no one comes out. I cannot drown out the screams that I hear emerging from those walls.

This violent response to a peaceful movement that simply asks for the right to voice dissent, to organize, to demand justice. This violent response to a movement that has asked only for reform and not overthrow. This violent response to a movement that has embraced the very police and military sent to hunt them down.

And yet, there is so much to be hopeful for. I am heartened by the spontaneous solidarities that have emerged over the last week by the generous, skilled and committed friends who have lent their time and energy to ensuring that Iranian voices can be heard all over the world. I have seen posts on Facebook offering signal scrambling directions to protestors attempting to escape the grip of their attackers.

I have seen a mass movement from below of fellow Americans demanding that corporate media covers this story responsibly. I have witnessed the creative genius of a generation, here and in Iran, fighting back with the technologies we have developed to get the message right when corporate media fails. I have seen a world rising to the occasion and this brings hope to a trembling heart.

I read yesterday that the Basiji, plainclothes volunteer militia for the Islamic Republic, are becoming more timid in their actions. They know the world is watching and their violence increasingly delegitimizes them. So we must continue to do what we have been doing and demand that all nations, international organizations and people vehemently denounce these human rights violations and demand that those imprisoned for protesting be freed. We should demand that media continues to report on this story so that those people working at newspapers, news stations and magazines who want to cover this story, can cover this story. Speak to your Iranian friends to learn about what’s going on, join your local organizations mobilizing around this issue and ask how you can help.

What we have seen this past week is what a powerful role the media plays. So powerful that governments try to control and shut it down. So powerful that the people push back and make it their own in the most creative ways. While it is not everything, it is a very important component of social change.

The world is watching Iran, yes. But we the people are also watching our elected leaders. We expect our leaders to respect the Iranian people, the sovereignty of the nation, and its territorial integrity. We demand that our leaders react responsibly, with honor, and without further harming the Iranian people. Not today and not tomorrow.