As I sit here, compelled to write on the subject of the ongoing Iranian Protests, my twitter feed is spilling over with news that the heroic young woman protesting the Iranian hijab subjugation (who has become an unofficial icon of these protests), has been taken into custody. Such custody, in a torturous dictatorship as Iran, does not bode well for this young woman. Our thoughts and prayers must attend her, and the 21+ victims who have died—with hundreds more arrested-- since the protests began five days ago. Unfortunately, this is all too common under despotic regimes, and likely was expected by the “Heroine of Iran” when she bravely took a stand in the face of the oncoming storm. Indeed, after our own revolution, Thomas Jefferson once wrote that “the Tree of Liberty must be refreshed, from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
It has long been debated to whether Democracy can be imposed by outward forces, or if the freedom found within can only be established by the very people who long for it and are willing to sacrifice all for it. A relatively elementary study of the “nation building” that took place, after the American “shock and awe” that deposed Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, is proof enough of the failure of the former mindset, and the necessity of the latter. Even after billions of US dollars have been spent to stabilize Iraq, the roots of Democracy have all but withered. As people who cannot work out their own freedom seem doomed to capitulate to the corrupt, the ambitious and the greedy. Add this to a culture with strong patriarchal foundations, and you find only two real solutions—Monarchy or Tyrannical Dictatorship. It is interesting to note that, within the very beginning of the US war in Iraq, President Bush requested subject matter experts from Iraq to help engage on forming a government after the inevitable deposition of dictator Saddam Hussein. There were many voices, at that time, who advocated a reestablishment of the exiled Royal Family, but the US leaned more towards “implementing democracy”. A deep-dive into the ancient culture of the Persians is a matter too rich for a humble article as this, but it would be well to consider the recent failures and successes in the Middle East when considering how or if the US is to take part in supporting a future free-Iran.
Indeed, we are witnessing yet another struggle of a people seeking freedom. As Ambassador Nikki Haley put it, in her press briefing today, “By the thousands, Iranian citizens are taking to the streets to protest the oppression of their own government. It takes great bravery for the Iranian people to use the power of their voice against their government, especially when their government has a long history of murdering its own people who dare to speak the truth…this is the precise picture of a long-oppressed people rising up against their dictators. We must not be silent—the people of Iran are crying out for freedom. All freedom-loving people must stand with their cause.”
It was only five days ago that spontaneous protests, coordinated through social media and sparked by a growing socioeconomic gap between the ruling class and its people, began erupting throughout Iran—and yet leaked documents from top Iranian Officials bespeak a fear that has gripped their ever-shrinking circle of elites. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is reported to have said, while circling the wagons days ago, “God help us, this is a very complex situation and different from previous occasions.” Following these leaks, the usual line of propaganda from the Iranian Dictator has pointed to Iranian enemies, including the US, as the instigators for the outbreak of protests. Whether true or false, there is no argument that the kindling was well ready for a match.
“It takes great bravery for the Iranian people to use the power of their voice…we applaud the tremendous courage of the Iranian People—we want to help amplify the voices of the Iranian People…” Speaking on behalf of the Trump Administration, Ambassador Haley certainly followed after the example of former President Ronald Reagan when bringing to the international stage, the strife of those seeking to overthrow dictatorship. Not unlike Reagan’s Christmas Speech of 1981, where he recognized the Polish movement “Solidarity” (which would later bloodlessly overthrow the USSR’s grip in the country—and spark the downward spiral of Communism)—President Donald Trump’s intentions seem quite clear: Where the US and the International Community has failed them, in previous years, the President will use his powerful social media engine in addition to the normal diplomatic powers he is granted, to bring support and recognition to the Iranian protesters. On his official Twitter account, only a day after protests began to surface, he would write, “Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime’s corruption & its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad. Iranian goverment should respect their people’s rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching! #IranProtests”. He didn’t hold back, as well, to highlight the failures of former President, Obama, “The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their “pockets”. The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The U.S. is watching!”
The “previous years” mentioned by Ambassador Haley in her speech, today, should have every American also recalling the “Green Student Movement” that occurred during and after the 2009 Iranian elections—subsequently, also during the first term former President Barack Hussein Obama. Then, a similar undercurrent of social uprising took place, and the world held its breath—only for the US to remain silent in the face of the Iranian regime’s human rights violations, and quick suppression of its educated, dissenting students. Historians tend to agree that the collective silence of the International community, led by the US, dealt a death blow to the morale of those who led the Green Movement. Articles, similarly, in the past few days alight on the historical accounts of those under the Iron Curtain of the USSR, who heard the radio pronouncements of support within their various efforts to reject the Communism thrust upon them. Those like Russian political dissident Natan Sharansky would remark, after hearing Ronald Reagan’s radio address naming the USSR “an evil empire”, that “For us, that was the moment that really marked the end for them, and the beginning for us. The lie had been exposed and could never, ever be untold now”. (Credit, Christian Whiton, Fox News) For all the mockery of President Trump’s use of social media, there is no doubt that it has been a powerful medium of free and direct communication to the world. Reminding dictators that the world is watching, over and over, also reminds those oppressed that the world is engaged.
Finally, an interesting void in this ordeal has been the response of the major media networks in the West. So much of the Iranian protests have been led, or largely supported, by young Iranian women. Yet, even today, those with a platform of feminism and women’s rights have stayed silent. The deafening silence that only hypocrisy emits—this, too, has been noticed, and now reported even in the MSM. On social media, activists have offered so-called “feminist advocates” such as notorious hijab-donned Linda Sarsour (one of the leaders of the so-called “Woman’s March”) a free ticket to Iran to support her fellow women activists, there—only to be rebuffed by the deafening silence. Where a woman is forbidden to walk outdoors without a male escort, and up until recently, jailed if she failed to properly wear a hijab, Iranian women are fighting to be seen as more than just property. Where is UN Backed #HeForShe, now? They cry out for education; healthcare and financial support for military widows who are forbidden to work. Many of their mothers can remember a time when they could attend the University, drive cars, wear fashions outdoors…and when they could choose to wear a hijab. Now, alone and unafraid against a political tidal wave billowing towards her, a lone young woman waves her scarf, head bare, in defiance of tyranny. She is joined by others, and has become the symbol of the Iranian movement towards freedom. What that freedom will look like is up to the Iranians to decide, and they may call upon the world to help them implement it—but it would be wise for the United States to learn from our misguided attempts at nation-building hegemony. Engage the Iranians—indeed all freedom seeking people-- through historical “lessons learned”, of our truly extraordinary national birth through revolution and independence, resulting in a Democratic Republic.
Yes, Iran. The world watches and holds a collective breath in hopes to see a free nation born, and born from the strong women who are leading the way, like your “Heroine of Iran”.
Bree A. Dail
Bree A. Dail holds a Masters of Diplomacy, focusing on Conflict Management from Norwich University and a Bachelor of Arts from Christendom College. She is a veteran Naval Surface Warfare Officer, and has published various academic and AP articles on Military Affairs and Policy. She currently works as Consultant for a major DOD Contractor