Iran and a Free Press


With the war in neighboring Iraq almost over, Iran’s conservative mullahs would desire nothing more than to see America stuck in the quagmire of establishing a democratic regime in Iraq. Keeping America preoccupied with juggling a number of hot potatoes in Iraq inhibits America from setting its target on them next.

Having no love for Saddam Hussein, who caused the death of more than 1 million Iranians and Iraqis, Tehran’s regime chose “active neutrality” in the course of the war. But neutrality will not be its policy in peace. That policy will change to active manipulation.

The conservative mullahs recognize that a democratic regime in Baghdad will almost certainly ensure their doom in Tehran. As such, they will do everything within their power to embarrass America and undermine her polices to promote democracy in Iraq.

America’s response should be to take the war to the mullahs. But not a hot war; rather, a war of ideas fought through satellite television. The Bush administration should place as much faith in America’s ideals as it has in America’s high tech, precision-guided missiles.

America’s ideals, if focused on a tyranny like a laser beam, can also bring about a regime change — and with significantly less collateral damage and unintended consequences. Even more importantly, such ideals are indispensable in establishing a stable and prosperous peace afterward, a task simply out of the range of destructive weapons, no matter how “smart” they may be.

Iran’s regime is ripe for change. Disillusionment with the conservative mullahs’ tyranny has engulfed the nation and has even created a schism among the previously united clergymen. Iran’s prisons are increasingly being packed with mullahs who have become utterly disillusioned by Iran’s theocracy. The theocracy has a special court specifically for its renegade mullahs. The accused mullahs do not even get the few rights the Iranian public has.

Iran’s highest ranking grand ayatollah, Hossein Montazeri, was only recently released due to health concerns, after years of house incarceration for questioning the regime’s brutality. At one point, he was second in line to succeed Khomeini, but was replaced once his liberal views became apparent.

Mohsen Kadivar, 44, a student of Montazeri, spent 18 months in prison for asserting that terrorism has no justification under Islamic law. He further argued: “Human rights supersede religion. Regardless of one’s religion or beliefs, people should have basic human rights — no one should be forced to migrate, be killed or tortured. There is no such thing as `Islamic human rights.'”

Ayatollah Jalaleddin Taheri recently resigned from his post as the Friday prayer leader in Esfahahn (Iran’s second largest city), a position he had held for more than two decades. His resignation letter was a scathing attack on the regime and its brutality, incompetence and corruption.

Ayatollah Seyed Hossein Mousavi-Tabrizi, a former chief prosecutor of the Revolutionary Court, stated: “The idea that only a select number of clerics have the right to make decisions for the masses is un-Islamic and illegal. God hasn’t given anyone an exclusive right to rule. If religion interferes in every detail of government, it will fail.”

A free press — not tanks and bullets — is the key to overthrowing the conservative mullahs in Iran and spreading democracy, tolerance and peace in the Middle East. A free press can undermine even the most repressive of dictatorships.

America should use its technology and financial means to promote a free press in Iran, including a satellite channel in Persian. Although the administration has taken some baby steps in this direction, they are not enough. A professionally run station with a fair and balanced coverage and mixed with some entertainment could help organize the Iranian people and diaspora living in the United States and Europe.

The disillusionment of even Iran’s once hard core mullahs — not to mention the Iranian people, students and women — with the country’s theocracy indicates that Islam is not incompatible with democracy. The Iranian people and a growing number of mullahs believe in the separation of mosque and state, a parliamentary government, elections, due process, etc.

The ingredients of a democratic society in Iran are almost in place. What is lacking is a free press. With America’s help, a free press will nail the coffin of Iran’s theocracy.

REZA LADJEVARDIAN, an Iranian-American, is a Houston-based writer. He can be reached at: