Monday, June 22, 2009

Protests Against Iran in America

Unrest abroad touches America. Many foreigners study in American universities, bringing not only technical expertise but familiarity with democratic ideals. In America and Canada, there are Iranians living and studying. Some have taken to the streets. As a New Yorker, I do not question foreigners demonstrating against injustice in their countries of origin. Many communities of immigrants live here side by side. I share a lot of their concerns.

I Post most of my articles on It is an open forum. No one strain of political opinion dominates. I welcome this." Preaching to the choir" does not take any special skill. One of the regular contributors, "Spirit of Ralphie" wrote as follows about Iranians protesting in the US.

"You want to fight the Powers Who Be properly?
Then go home and wage political and military
battles there.
It's not America's responsibility to run your country,
or even ensure you have a legitimate political process.
And instead of tying up traffic and demanding we
use OUR resources to see that Iranian elections are
fair and representative, fly back to the land of
your birth and protest and fight there...IF YOU'RE
If you're not willing to spill your own blood, then
please keep quiet and stay out of it.
Your country...your problem"

I tried very hard to find something objectionable about Iranians demonstrating in New York or Washington. The only thing I could think of was the problem of tying up traffic. This does not resonate with me as a reason to even think of discouraging Iranians assembling in America for peaceful protests.

There is a long history in America and other democratic countries of allowing dissidents from abroad to write, propagandise and organise here in the United States. The guiding principle is that the activities engaged in by foreigners must not interfere in America's internal affairs but should be directed towards their own countries in a way that does not break any American laws.

There are many examples of people who organised in America for systemic and regime change in their own countries. A few such instances are as follows.

1) Jose Marti lived in New York for many years and campaigned for Cuban independence from Spain.

2) Cuban exiles have campaigned against the communist government of Fidel Castro, broadcasting TV and radio from American soil.

3) The family of the late Shah of Iran has maintained a research and media centre in America, educating non Iranians about what is going on in that country.

4) For years, Alexander Solzhenitsyn lived in Vermont, promoting his vision of a Christian Russia from his rural compound.

5) Followers of the Chinese religious group "Falun Gong" promote their religion and lobby for civil rights for their persecuted coreligionists in China.

The United Nations is a magnet for aggrieved natives of countries around the world that suffer from varying levels and forms of repression. This should be expected. It serves as a "reality check" for corrupt and authoritarian regimes.

Americans are understandably reluctant to send troops abroad without pressing and demonstrable cause. America's actions in Iraq and Afghanistan have been bitterly contested by many.

But one thing we can do is to provide safe haven to those from abroad who want to protest what is going on in their respective homelands. It does not involve putting American soldiers in harm's way. It involves a minimum of intestinal fortitude. If any foreign government protests, we can always say "Hey buddy, this is America. They're not breaking any laws." On the other hand, cracking down on foreign protesters would rightly be seen as caving in to foreign pressure.

It should not be assumed that protesters in America have it easy. Iraqi dissidents living in America when Saddam Hussein was in power sometimes received videos in the mail of loved ones in Iraq being brutally tortured. Even with America's protections, secret police operating abroad have sometimes struck at dissidents living in America.

Under current conditions, there is little America can do to help Iranians who are tired of the dictatorship in their country. No one is suggesting sending in troops. We do not have significant trade with Iran, so trade sanctions won't do much. Allowing law abiding foreigners to enjoy our freedom of speech is the least we can do. If we were to fail to extend this courtesy, it would be a national disgrace.

I welcome Iran's dissidents in our country. I wish them success. And I will never tire of hearing them speak out.


I am including with this post a video of Neda Soltani, an Iranian girl whose murder was caught on videotape. In the Shiite tradition, the third, seventh and fortieth days after death are occasions noted with memorials. As Soltani and others are martyred, the streets in Teheran and other cities in Iran will be scenes for their deaths to be commemorated in coming days. This is what brought down the Shah. And this same is going on today, as was reported in a Time Magazine article by Robin Wright.

"Although it is not yet clear who shot "Neda" (a soldier? pro-government militant? an accidental misfiring?), her death may have changed everything. For the cycles of mourning in Shiite Islam actually provide a schedule for political combat -- a way to generate or revive momentum. Shiite Muslims mourn their dead on the third, seventh and 40th days after a death, and these commemorations are a pivotal part of Iran's rich history. During the revolution, the pattern of confrontations between the shah's security forces and the revolutionaries often played out in 40-day cycles. (See pictures of terror in the streets of Tehran.)

The first clashes in January 1978 produced two deaths that were then commemorated on the 40th day in mass gatherings, which in turn produced new confrontations with security forces -- and new deaths. Those deaths then generated another 40-day period of mourning, new clashes, and further deaths. The cycle continued throughout most of the year until the shah's ouster in January 1979.

The same cycle has already become an undercurrent in Iran's current crisis. The largest demonstration, on Thursday of last week, was called by opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi to commemorate the deaths of protesters three days after they were killed.

Shiite mourning is not simply a time to react with sadness. Particularly in times of conflict, it is also an opportunity for renewal. The commemorations for "Neda" and the others killed this weekend are still to come. And the 40th day events are usually the largest and most important."

As can be seen in the Neda Soltani Video, Iranians are paying in blood for the right to be heard. We are not taking up arms for them. No one has asked that. But the least we can do is to welcome those of them who come to us in peace

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