Thursday, July 20, 2006

Iran's Freedom Movement: A victim of Middle East War?

The most prominent Iranian dissident, Akbar Ganji who, as a result of international pressure and continuous hunger strike, was released from prison after six years of detention, was in London last week, sharing his concerns with the international media. In one of his interviews, Ganji pointed to the special and worrying circumstances of an Iranian libertarian in current situations, a condition that is shared by all intellectuals and democrats in the region.

In his words, at a time when the world is preoccupied with the Iranian nuclear issue, and at a time when "Iran" is mentioned, people in America and Europe are reminded of the horrors of a nuclear war and proliferation, every step by freedom seeking Iranians to reveal any violation of human rights, can expedite the military invasion of Iran by America and its allies. This what the Iranians do not wish for. Ganji is frank in saying "we are looking for a way for Iranian freedom seekers to have a dialogue with the world's peace lovers. We want to open a third front, as because of the confrontation between extremists who are governing both in Iran and America, the cloud of war has overshadowed Iran, the region and the world. Freedom is the first victim of war."

Less than a week after Ganji's speech, the war in Southern Lebanon and the beginning of a new cycle of confrontation between Muslims and Israelis, have given a new meaning to the concerns of Iranian liberals and democrats. Even before the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, named Iran and Syria as the main sources of the escalation of the Middle East confrontation, international media had predicted that the new cycle of violence in the confrontation between Israel and Muslims was rapidly spreading and might open a new road for American warmongers to reach nearer to their aim of creating a new Middle East, a road that passes through Syria and then Iran.

There is no need for new evidence to prove Iran and Hizbollah's closeness and cooperation. It is neither secret nor deniable. The leader of Hizbollah visits Tehran every few months. In his visits with the Iranian leader, he has repeatedly said that he follows the leadership of Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Last week, when Sheikh Hassan Nassrollah said that they are looking for adventure and might destroy Haifa, no one asked how, and with what kind of military and financial resources and logistical abilities, a local armed party with few bases in Southern Lebanon, can have such ambitions. However what instantly came into minds was the list of missiles manufactured by Iran, the doubling oil income in the past year and comments by the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had talked of removing Israel from the map of the world. Even the leading hard-line Tehran newspaper, Kayhan, whose editor is chosen by Ayatollah Khamenei and is the mouthpiece of the extremist Leader of the Islamic Republic wrote: "Iran has destroyed the regions nuclear balance and Israel no longer has the monopoly on nuclear weapons."

That is why another Iranian paper, Kargozaran, that represents Iranian technocrats, voiced concern on Sunday that the new conflict in the Middle east would harm the slow transition to democracy in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. The paper called the current conflict as "war against democracy". Although there was no mention of Iran in that article, Iranian readers knew that the main concern of the writer was the democratic movement inside Iran, the same thing that Ganji mentioned in London last week.

Is it possible that the new rapidly spreading war that has already engulfed Lebanon, will reach Syria and then Iran? Is it possible that what John Bolton could not get in the Security Council, namely the economic sanctions and military action against Iran, is now becoming more accessible through involving the Iranian extremist religious regime in this Middle East conflict? These are the questions that have occupied the minds of Iranian intellectuals in recent times without having any answers. They believe that American neoconservatives, without needing any help from Russia and China, who blocked John Bolton's plan in the UN during Iran's nuclear crisis, can now attack Iran or let Israel attack Iran, with the pretext of defending Israel's security. In this way, they do not even need the cooperation or even the agreement of their European allies.

The reason that the people of Iran have reached a point where they can feel the winds of war near their faces is the Middle East policy of the Islamic Republic. Since the downfall of the monarchy in Iran 27 years ago, the regime has allied itself with the most extremist Palestinian factions and, by rejecting any kind of settlement, has positioned itself in the forefront of war with Israel. This position was gladly presented to Iran's Shiite clerics by Arab leaders who were more concerned with their domestic problems.

Despite what Western commentators and those opposed to the Iranian regime think, political miscalculation, incapability and dogmatism were not behind this decision by Iranian leaders. They wanted to remove the inescapable confrontation point between Iran and America from their boarders into the heart of Israel. After all Napoleon said that you should not fight the enemy inside your bedroom.

This dangerous policy and leaving on the knife's edge for half a century has been successful up to now. The Islamic Republic of Iran has remained in the forefront of the confrontation with America without facing serious threat along its borders, although the people of Iran have been forced to live in poverty and dictatorship without being able to enjoy freedom.

However after 9/11 and a complete change in Western policies and the beginning of the War on Terrorism, Iranian leaders sensed the danger and had to gradually withdraw from stronghold they had made with huge expenses. They just wanted to delay the final confrontation.

The fact that The Islamic Republic helped the International Coalition against Terrorism in Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban, the fact that during the Iraq War, Shiites allied with Iran did their utmost to cooperate wit the Americans and were the eventual winners in that country's election, the fact that Iranian forces left Lebanon years before Syrian forces and the fact that last year the party supported by Iran won the election in the Palestinian territories, shows that the Iranian Middle east policy that was devised in early 80s has been a valuable treasure for the heirs to Ayatollah Khomeini who were able to shake away all dangers from around Iran without losing face as Colonel Qaddafi of Libya did.

In devising such a plan, the main consideration was that the long geographical distance between Iran and Israel would keep Iran safe. This has been an advantage that enabled Iran to keep the "Great Satan" away by using extremist Arab groups. Moreover Iran was able to gain popularity amongst Muslim masses in the region, a popularity that made unpopular regional dictatorships to fear Iran.

Is it possible that the recent events have ended the security that the Islamic Republic of Iran has obtained by keeping away from the war between Muslims and Israelis? Has the living on the knife's edge has ended, not because of nuclear proliferation of the constant violation of human rights in Iranian prisons, but because of Iran's practical opposition to the Middle East peace and its support for Hamas and Hizbollah.

Even if no one in the democratic world shed a tear for the change of regime in Iran, and even if the policy of "regime change" that Washington pursues have found supporters amongst Iranians who fight for their freedom, those Iranian democratic reformists and their allies around the world, will have the same concerns that Akbar Ganji mentioned In London last week.

It is now hundred years that the Iranian people have been fighting for the rule of law and democracy. Every time they get close to it, international politics and mistakes by their rulers have prevented them from embracing democracy. Western policymakers have only been interested in Iran's oil wells. As a results Iranian national movements have never enjoyed support from Western democracies. The reason can be found in what the British Labour Foreign Minister, Ernest Boyne said after the Second World War. In 1946, an Iranian Libertarian, Khalil Maleki, who had travelled to London as a journalist, asked Mr. Boyne: "what do you in the West want from us? Why you do not let us deal with our own governments and solve our own problems?" The British Foreign Minister replied: "oil, oil, oil." Now after sixty years Akbar Ganji and other freedom fighter hear a voice from London saying: "Oil and Islamism."

Is it possible that war in Southern Lebanon expands to a degree that it inflames Iran and destroys the Iranian democratic movement as its first victim? Is it possible that the cry of help by Iranian political prisoners gets lost amongst numerous daily news items from the war in the Middle East? Is there any one to look for freedom and democracy in this crusade?