Iran’s Islamic regime may be in denial about sanctions and anti-nuclear proliferation proposals, but after a long weekend of renewed and intense demonstrations, it cannot deny the thousands of disenchanted and daring Iranians who took to protest despite government threats, beatings and cold-blooded murder.
Up to 9 are reported dead and hundreds wounded as tens of thousands of Iranian protestors clashed with government security forces in what was the bloodiest and most violent demonstrations since the aftermath of President Ahmadinejad’s allegedly fraudulent re-election six months ago. The number of deaths is reported through sites that cannot be verified, though eyewitnesses confirmed the murder of at least four protestors when guards opened fire in Tehran’s central neighborhood College Square mid-morning Sunday.
Websites report that clashes were not limited to the capital city of Tehran. Demonstrations were also held in Isfahan, Mashad, Shiraz and surprisingly, the Shiite clerical headquarter, Qom.
The demonstrations began two days prior and led up to Sunday’s commemoration of Ashura, the Islamic day of mourning the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the third Imam and grandson of Prophet Mohammad. Hossein was overcome by his nemesis and heretic to Islam, Yazid, at the Battle of Karbala in the seventh century. On this day, Shiite Muslims traditionally congregate at mosques and hold public processions of flagellation and reenactments of his death.
Hossein’s death is commonly referred to as the battle between good and evil, as he is said to have spoken out against oppressive rulers. Though protesters have chanted anti-Islamic and anti-regime slogans since the initial hours after the presidential election, they used this religious day to voice grievances against their own modern-day oppressive rulers.
Anticipating large-scale protests this weekend, the regime made threats about participating in these events, instituted a 7pm curfew and forbid the assembling of groups larger than three.
In some areas reports say early shots were fired in the air Saturday morning to deter rioters. In other areas, witnesses say tear gas was used to disperse crowds.
Similar to the violence we have seen in previous Iran protests, Basiji militiamen freely used batons and in some cases, reports indicate that daggers and knives were used. The only difference is that this time around there were also reports of protestors fighting back, and in some cases, successfully restraining security forces.
Losing presidential candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi made no official statements encouraging people to participate in protest. However, over the past two weeks, non-affiliated political activists called on Iranians of all backgrounds via websites, Facebook, Twitter and text messages, to come out in this new round of demonstrations.
The protests also coincided with the seventh day of mourning the death of 87-year-old reformist cleric Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, Iran’s most senior dissident religious figure and architect of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Montazeri’s death last week played a significant role in igniting demonstrations which have sporadically taken place since the elections, but gave the opposition a significant running start for this weekend’s upheaval.
When funeral attendees clashed with security forces in the religious city of Qom last week, the regime lost its religious constituency and the opposition gained bragging rights to an emerging opposition that is colorful and diverse and not just comprised of secular Tehranis but of conservative Muslims as well. Supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s order to attack funeral attendees made a serious and significant escalation in the plot of this boiling Iranian Revolution.
The rift was further intensified this past weekend when the government ordered violent and unwarranted attacks during the holy day of Ashura. Traditionally, this day is a peaceful, reflective one. During the eight year Iran-Iraq war, there was no fighting in honor of this holiday, and even during the 1979 Revolution, political activists took advantage of Ashura, coming out in protest knowing that the Shah would not order attacks out of respect for the holiday. Violating this sacred holiday by not just any government, but an Islamic one, reaffirmed that the regime’s hunger for power and tyrannical rule run deeper than the ‘absolute’ religious doctrines they have purported at the heart of their leadership and have utilized in gaining legitimacy.
As a matter of fact, the timely death of a revered clergy member coupled with violent escalations breaching one of the holiest Shiite days succeeded in giving the opposition what it has been lacking surely for the past six months, if not 30 years; homogenization.
Within one week, the regime helped bring the conservative and religious factions of Iran’s population to the streets. Dejected and disillusioned, members of the clergy and other conservative Iranians seamlessly joined the secular opposition.
It was apparent in the demonstration footage. Some demonstrators wore green, and others wore black. Many did not color coordinate, believing that their cause was obvious absent visual manifestation.
Developments in Iran’s opposition movement seem promising. At the very least, these demonstrations have and continue to weaken and divide the clerical regime, and at best, they can be integral in eradicating this regime altogether. For the last six months, the opposition movement has endured bloodshed and brutality, proving to the international community and their own government that they will stop at nothing to get their country back. They have and will continue to sacrifice their lives, jobs, families and more to overcome this tyrannical regime, and more importantly, they have showed that they will continue to resist with or without the help of the United States or any other world power.
Ironically, anti-American propaganda has long helped in legitimizing this regime’s absolute reign over its people. From its inception, the government made its people believe that the United States and Israel, the two Satans, large and small, will dutifully stand in the way of Iranian advancement. Synonymous with Iranian patriotism was hatred for the United States. The people of Iran may have believed this at first, possibly while still under the spell of this regime, but now they are awake and cynical of religion and the clerics’ regime.
So commonplace is the role of anti-Americanism in the backdrop of this regime’s reign that if the United States had sided with the people of Iran, it would have naturally been a huge blow to their rule.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration made another attempt at curbing Iran’s nuclear proliferation agenda this week with a year-end deadline, to which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad simply scoffed, and said he is not afraid.
How many attempts will it take for our ivy-league educated leaders to recognize that diplomacy will not work with Iran?
As a result, America has isolated the Iranians to have to take on their government on their own. There are sound arguments as to why this is actually to their benefit. This may be the case, however, that would hold true only if America was completely absent from the Iranian political scene; not involved in a sideshow attempting to fruitlessly engage this regime or to daunt them with meaningless deadlines.
Even if the United States did not prioritize human rights in Iran, the single way to eliminate it as a nuclear threat is to weaken its government; a task only within the capabilities of its people. Diplomacy is not seasonal, and it is not a temporary way to achieve a goal. It is establishing a lasting relationship between powerful and sovereign countries, similar to the relationship Iran and the United States had under the late Shah. If our administration were after true diplomacy in the region, then they would sooner side with the 70 million Iranians who have looked our way for an approving nod.
After 30 years, the people of Iran have come to the conclusion—the same conclusion that should now be the obvious one to President Obama after failing to successfully engage the Islamic Republic; We cannot change the actions or philosophy of this terrorist government; The only thing we can change is the government. We can only hope that the pivotal moment will come soon, when those outside Iran can join those inside in unanimously acknowledging that the only solution in the case of Iran is regime change.