Dissenting Voices in Iran

Last week, Iranian women across a number of cities in their country burned their veils and head scarves. They demanded equality under the law and greater social liberties. Their brave cry for a more civil society followed Iranian students’ earlier demonstrations for democracy. Sadly, the Bush administration’s response on both counts was silence.

As a Muslim Iranian-American who fled the intolerance of Iran’s Islamic fundamentalists in 1979 and who was fortunate enough to migrate to America, I feel frustrated. Why doesn’t America, the greatest champion of freedom, publicly support the Iranian people in their quest for democracy?

As a Muslim Iranian, I sympathize with the Iranian people. No people have suffered as much or as long at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. As an American, I am perplexed as to why the Bush administration is squandering an excellent opportunity to discredit the ideological root of Islamic terrorism: Islamic fundamentalism.

Although there are some secular terrorists in the Islamic world, the vast majority of terrorists adhere to Islamic fundamentalism. Their objective is the establishment of Islamic fundamentalist dictatorships.

It is imperative that this country’s war on terrorism should also have an ideological dimension. The Iranian women and students can be America’s most effective weapons and allies in revealing the fallacy of Islamic fundamentalism.

Islamic fundamentalism has nothing to do with Islam, just as burnings at the stake during the Middle Ages had nothing to do with true Christianity. Even today, isolated and bigoted groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nation continue to distort and warp Christianity as part of their hate-filled and intolerant ideology.

Western Europe has learned from past mistakes committed in the name of religion and, for the most part, has evolved into a peaceful and tolerant society. So can the Muslim world.

The Iranian people are an excellent example of this learning and healing process. Having blamed America for supporting the shah, in 1979 the Iranian people were quite anti-American. After Sept. 11, 2001, however, they were the only people in the Middle East to hold candlelight vigils.

The Iranian people now realize their future rests not in blaming America, but in establishing democracy and free markets. More than two decades of Islamic fundamentalism have produced nothing for the Iranian people but misery and tragedy. Their hope of an Islamic utopia has become a reality of broken promises wrapped in oppression, unemployment, inflation and lack of opportunity.

President Bush ought to encourage and actively assist the Iranians in their path toward democracy. The most effective way to do this is to publicize the Iranian people’s grievances and their yearning for freedom. Such an initiative could pay huge dividends for America.

For starters, it would showcase the utter failure of Islamic fundamentalism as a political and economic ideology to the larger Islamic world. By watching interviews with Iranian students, Arab, Pakistani and Turkish students would not be deceived as easily by the false promises of Islamic fundamentalism, with its intolerant ideology that encourages terrorism.

The airing of such an ad campaign, if you will, would be critical, especially considering the ineffectiveness of the pro-America advertisements currently being run by the State Department throughout the Islamic world.

Spotlighting the Iranian people’s struggles would provide an opportunity for Americans to see that there is no inherent conflict between Muslims and Christians or Jews. There is no clash of civilizations.

Muslims cherish the same ideals as Americans: liberty, tolerance, justice, equality, meritocracy and opportunity. Highlighting the risks that the Iranian people are undertaking to establish a society based on these ideals would refute any claims that Muslims do not share America’s values.

As a Muslim Iranian, I know the Iranian people are yearning for these ideals. As an American, I believe helping the Iranian people triumph in their endeavor would ensure America’s security more so than any precision-guided missile ever could.

REZA LADJEVARDIAN is a Houston writer. He can be reached at: rezalad@yahoo.com