Iran's vibrant, freedom-loving protesters have shown their resolve in the face of roving gangs of toughs scourging the crowds for their faith in democracy. In so doing, they echo a long line of persecuted Iranians before them. Four years ago, a group of Islamic vigilantes armed with knives and clubs attacked student dormitories around Tehran University, killing one student and injuring many others. The anniversary of this day, July 9th, was marked all over the world. I went to one of these rallies myself in front of the European Parliament in Brussels. Several thousand Iranians had converged from all over Europe, chanting and waving a pre-Revolutionary flag that has come to symbolize a rejection of all the underpinnings of Iran's brutal Islamic Republic. Above all else, young Iranians demand an end to the policy of sponsoring terrorism inside the country and abroad. They are calling for the removal of religious dictatorship and the holding of a free referendum to decide the political future of their country.
Inside Iran, the anti-government protests were nothing short of heroic. Thousands of people showed up to display their opposition to the clerical regime at the peril of their lives. By turning up for this demonstration they risked attack, imprisonment, torture and death. They made it clear that they can no longer wait for their rightful demands. These determined people managed to make their voices heard in spite of the government's massive preparations designed to head off the anniversary it has come to dread. Last month, close to 4,000 people were arrested during ten nights of violent protests across the country. To drain the crowd available for any such gathering, the Tehran University campus was shut down and examinations were cancelled. Satellite stations broadcasting from the United States in support of the pro-democracy movement in Iran were jammed, in order to cut off all lines of communication between the students and the outside world. The authorities even went as far as taking measures to disable the operation of mobile telephones around the usual sites of demonstrations.
The marking of this fourth anniversary has demonstrated an evolution in the form and content of the pro-democracy movement in post-revolutionary Iran. In previous years, the students refrained from fighting back the Islamic vigilantes. The political transformation they are seeking is firmly embedded in a peaceful and non-violent philosophy. From the painful experience of the past few years, however, they have learned to distinguish between initiating an act of violence and defending their own lives from a radical, theocratic government. During the recent protests, pro-democracy students have changed their method by fighting back and engaging in street battles with trained thugs at the beck and call of the supreme leader. They know they cannot count on the "compassion" and understanding of their opponents. They have to struggle tooth-and-nail for their lives as well as their inalienable rights as free human beings.
Another difference with the past has emerged in the increasing clarity of the political battle lines. Intelligent Iranians no longer waste any hope in figures like Mohammad Khatami and the illusory reform movement associated with his presidency. The taboo of keeping the supreme leader above criticism has also been broken. The shouts of “Death to Khamenei” and “Death to Khatami” are an indication that the chickens have come home to roost for the political hypocrisy of the Islamic Republic, and no color and style of turban can hide the moral bankruptcy of the ruling establishment.
One of the important points the Iranian exiles turning up in front of international agencies were trying to get across was to draw world attention to the real emergency of the situation in Iran. Their actions underlined the plight of a nation under siege. What the European community - and also some forces within the government of the United States - fail to realize is that Iran is a ticking time bomb. The grave political problems in Iran are not going to go away and they cannot be solved within the present system. Today's strong freedom movement in Iran idolizes, and seeks a natural alliance with, Western democracies. If the free world fails to give its wholehearted support to this movement now, their enthusiasm for the West may wane.
What is certain is that there can be no better way to earn the trust of the Iranian people than by showing upholding the universality of democratic rights. The Iranian nation should be able to count on the sympathy of its fellow human beings worldwide, especially freedom's friends within the United States. When the Jews were being slaughtered in Germany, many objected to getting involved in Germany's "family fight." Nazis were no kin to the Jews, and the Iranian people are no kin to the club-waving vigilantes beating them to maintain an Islamic dictatorship's illegitimate power. The question is, How long will it take for the world to realize that there is no family resemblance? And at what price its hesitation?