America Can Teach Iran a Thing or Two About Hoping for “Change”

Iranians are taking it the streets to protest controversial President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory over challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Iranians are taking it the streets to protest controversial President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory over challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi.

In 2008, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain all promised America that they would bring change to America if they are elected President of the United States. Obama, as many of his young and enthusiastic followers know, sort of trademarked “change” as the main focus of his campaign.

He won the election fair and square that November, which got plenty of Americans excited for this “change” that was promised. And now we are in 2009. Whether he has delivered on that campaign promise or not, Americans will be debating that for years to come. But if there is another group of young people eager for a new political leader to bring about change in a struggling country, you can find them in the unlikeliest of places: Iran.

Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Persian nation of Iran has been a hotspot for political repression and violence in the historically tumultuous Middle East. The overthrow of the U.S.-backed Shah in favor of a fundamentalist Islamic government forever strained Iran’s relationship with the West. The holding of 52 American hostages for 444 days from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981 at the U.S. Embassy did not help matters.

Since the so-called “revolution,” Iran has seen itself decline into political isolation and international ridicule. United Nations sanctions has significantly hurt the Iranian economy in recent years. A devastating war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq lasted from 1980 to 1988. Controversies over its nuclear enrichment program has made Iran a grave enemy to Israel and many Western countries. The economy is suffering despite rich amounts of oil and other natural resources. Things are not looking good right now.

But the recently disputed election between hard line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his main challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, demonstrates that people are finally bold enough to show their frustration toward the theocratic regime. Protests following Ahmadinejad’s landslide victory have extensively ensued. People have been protesting on the streets and on rooftops, shouting revolution-era slogans and cries of “Allahu Akbar,” meaning “God is Great.”

These protests are significant enough that Iran’s state-run media are trying to censor any international coverage of them. The government is doing all that they can to make sure people don’t see fellow Iranians protesting the regime or the election results. After all, in a nation run by the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, who is a truly great man of God, how can things go wrong?

The regime obviously doesn’t think anything can go wrong. If God wills Ahmadinejad to win re-election, then so be it. He may be a controversial figure who has denied the Holocaust and has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, but he is right for Iran’s future. Their future, of course, consisting of going to war with the West once their nuclear program becomes serious. That is a future that the regime wants. But not the people.

The fact that people are courageous enough to protest means something. Iran is a nation where a “moral police” roams the streets to enforce Islamic law (commonly referred to as “Sharia”) on the people. They are not afraid to beat, torture, or kill anyone who breaks these strict rules. That includes any man, woman, or child. Ahmadinejad’s government is accused of secretly supporting these Gestapo-like police forces. He denies it. Of course he would.

Women in Iran who speak out for women’s rights are put in jail and tortured. Women who show too much skin in public, like their face or legs, are beaten on the spot. The regime is not afraid to use violence to suppress peaceful protests. They censor voices that disagree with them. They provoke the West in hopes to weaken Israel. They support terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, who recruit poor young men to kill people for a living. They send agents into Iraq to cause chaos and kill coalition forces. The list is endless.

Iranians feel connected to each other because of the revolutionary spirit that has lasted since the late 70s. Like Cuba, Iran feels proud of their history of defying the West and creating a better society than anywhere else on earth. At least, this is what they would like to think. The brave Iranians who are protesting right now prove that not everyone is happy about the way things are going. They are willing to endure beatings by police officers and attacks by tear gas if that means making their voices heard.

Student protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989 resulted in the Chinese military killing an unknown number of people in order to silence the crowds. Best known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, this is an example of a repressive regime using horrendous acts of violence to silence their critics. Who is to say that Iran wouldn’t do the same thing? Somehow many experts doubt it, but one can never underestimate what a violent regime will do to maintain its grip on power.

Under these dangerous circumstances are these people protesting. They face the possibilities of violent repression, incarceration, and many other unspeakable punishments. A significant number of protesters are young people. Mousavi is known as a more liberal politician who wants to open dialogue with the West instead of shun them. He wants to make amends with the United States, not taunt them with nuclear proliferation. This sounds like the kind of guy who needs to lead this troubled nation.

Ahmadinejad is a fundamentalist hard liner who only wants to defy the West and spite the U.S. and its allies. Though the Ayatollah holds the real power in that country, the Iranian president is the face of the nation on the international stage. Whoever holds this office is in a position to change Iran’s reputation in global politics. Maintaining Ahmadinejad’s regime will only sour matters further. A new voice is necessary for Iran to make peace with the world. Does any of this sound vaguely familiar?

Of course! The 2008 U.S. presidential election. Then-Senator Obama was seen as America’s savior to get us out of the funk the unpopular George W. Bush got us into. Bush invaded two Middle Eastern countries, neglected Hurricane Katrina victims, increased the national debt, authorized for controversial interrogation techniques of terror suspects, allowed for unwarranted domestic wiretapping, failed to stop the subprime mortgage fiasco before the housing bubble burst, and many other things that people have ranted about over the years. Of course America was ready for a “change.” And voters got really excited.

A good portion of those who did vote for Obama, the alleged radical Muslim Arab, may not have been completely aware of his political beliefs or how much of the anti-Bush he really is. Obama, as it turns out, has not overturned as many Bush-era policies as we might have hoped for. Military tribunals of terror suspects are still going on. We are still in Iraq. North Korea is still testing nuclear weapons. What about healthcare reform? The TARP bailout plan, or the Troubled Assets Relief Program, was signed by Bush in his last month in office. It promised banks $700 billion in federal money to help liquidate the banks’ toxic assets. Obama has continued this program. So much for Obama being the anti-Bush.

But that is neither here nor there. Mousavi may not be the anti-Ahmadinejad either. He may be just another puppet for the Ayatollah and his council of yes-men. As many skeptical Americans are wondering if Obama can follow through on all his grand campaign promises, Iranians should wonder if Mousavi will end Iran’s counterproductive domestic and foreign policies. Even if Mousavi doesn’t become president, these series of protests should at least signal to the regime that people want change.

It is conceivable that the enthusiasm America felt for electing its first African American president may be spilling over across the world. Just as we were excited for the new era of hope and change under Jesus, excuse me, rather “Barack,” Iranians are feeling excited for getting rid of Ahmadinejad and his cowboy politics and replacing him with someone cooler and hipper. One can only hope.

I will admit that I voted for Obama. I felt McCain could not get enough people excited for the future. I respect McCain, but I feel he was not the right man at the right time. I would much rather have seen McCain win the 2000 election, as he would have made a better president than either Bush or former Vice President Al Gore. America needed someone that they can like. Barack seemed like that man.

I have no delusions about politics. I am just as cynical about the political system than anyone else. As a journalist, I am supposed to be suspicious of our elected leaders. I should never give anyone a free pass, regardless of their status, popularity, or past history. Everyone should be held accountable. That is why I did not jump on the Obama bandwagon like many of my fellow young people did. I did not look forward to “Hope and Change” like many of my friends. I realize that one man cannot do that by himself. Instead, I figured that if he can follow through on 25% of his promises, then I will consider that a good accomplishment.

This same cynicism should be going through the minds of Iranians as they continue to protest for civil liberties and political transparency. Mousavi may not bring about the change that he promises. Though he should be better than Ahmadinejad, one cannot hope for too much. One must keep their expectations realistic at all times. Being too optimistic allows you to miss important developments that you may not have had you kept a level head.

So please, Iranians everywhere, keep on sticking it to the Man. Keep on putting pressure on the government to reverse its controversial policies. Make the regime sweat. It may actually bring about desirable results. Or it may not. Either way, if you believe in change, it will come. Real change comes from the bottom up, not from the top to the bottom. The people change the course of history, not just the leaders. The leaders will eventually follow the will of the masses once the masses become strong enough. When the masses are making the right decisions, everyone benefits.

I hope those of us in America are learning that, too.

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One Comment on “America Can Teach Iran a Thing or Two About Hoping for “Change””

  1. James Raider Says:

    The mullahs may have long feared that change would eventually come in reaction to their abuse of the population. Many have moved the proceeds of their pilfering offshore, “just in case.” Some have built themselves Los Angeles and West Vancouver mansions, in anticipation that the gun might eventually not suppress the crowds in Tehran.

    The potential for change is directly conditional on the persistence and endurance of the youth filling the streets of Iran. It will be unstoppable if the demonstrations move to the poorer rural regions of the country.

    This genie is out of the bottle. Change may be slow in coming, nevertheless, it will come.

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