Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Make it 1979 all over again



[The worst was yet to come. The late Shah]



What the leaders of the free world can do to support the people of Iran



Looking back from the perspective of more than three decades, the exile of the Shah of Iran and the country's fall to Islamist tyranny in 1979 was arguably the West's worst geo-strategic setback in the second half of the 20th century and doubly disastrous for Israel.

Those who had hankered for change on the grounds that anything would be an improvement over the Shah and his Savak secret police were mistaken. Once in power, the revolution began consuming its own.

A coalition of middle-class reformists, students, intellectuals, leftists and Muslim hard-liners had created an enormous populist movement that forced the cancer-ridden Shah from the throne. But the religious extremists, galvanized by their forbidding leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, were the organizational backbone of the revolution. By intimidating, torturing or killing anyone who stood in their way, they solidified their grip on power.

Today, however, this Khomeinist regime has squandered its popularity and is the target of widespread bitterness, for its suppression of freedoms once tolerated and for stealing outright an anyway rigged presidential election. The core of the opposition comes from disenchanted Islamists and has spread like wildfire to other sectors.

As if to replicate the fall of the Shah, the opposition - though fragmented and lacking a clear plan - has exploited political and religious holidays to send masses of its supporters into the streets. Many now risk being openly photographed.

In response, the Khomeinists have fired at protesters in Teheran, even as the unrest has spread to Tabriz, Shiraz and elsewhere. Despite the regime's best censorship efforts, the world is watching a blood-and-fire uprising in the streets.

On Sunday, an adult nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi was assassinated. He was among some 15 killed by Khomeinist forces as Shi'ite Muslims marked Ashura, which commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein - and is the source of the schism between Shi'ites and Sunnis.

When a Shi'ite government shoots Shi'ites on Ashura, its legitimacy has reached a nadir.

The widespread rioting indicates that regime transformation - if not the outright change many Westerners want - is within reach. The regular police are unable (sometimes unwilling) to stop the protesters.

But Khomeinist shock troops can be expected to do whatever it takes to retain power. Leading opposition figures have been picked up by the secret police. Since the bogus elections in June, at least 400 dissidents have been killed (some sadistically tortured) and over 50 people are missing.

Still, the authorities must be loath to defend "Islamic government" with an uninhibited slaughter of believers by the thousands.

IN SOLIDARITY with ordinary Iranians who are risking so much, the minimum leaders of freedom loving countries ought to do is keep their Teheran-based ambassadors home beyond the Christmas/New Year holidays.

Moreover, why should we not see one Western leader after another interrupt their own vacations to personally speak out in support of the Iranian people's campaign to transform their political system?

As we were going to press, US President Barack Obama was scheduled to interrupt his getaway in Hawaii to speak to reporters. We are hopeful he'll talk about Iran because he said this to the mullahs in his inaugural address: "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

Those fists are more hatefully clenched than ever.

Will Japan's new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama raise his voice for the Iranian protesters? France's Sarkozy? Britain's Brown? Germany's Merkel? Not their foreign ministers or spokesmen, but the leaders themselves.

This is also the time for Western countries to accelerate clandestine backing for separatist forces in Iran. Selig S. Harrison, a renowned regional expert, writing in The New York Times, called the Kurdish, Arab and Azeri desire for autonomy the greatest threat to the Persian elite.

Since this regime cannot be usefully engaged, it needs to be destabilized - from every possible direction.

The more the Iranian people believe the free world is behind them, the more willing they will be to stay in the streets - and the harder it will be for the Khomeinists to muster the nerve to crush their overwhelming sentiment for change.

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