Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979 was a religious coup that occurred without the will or consent of the people. While a majority of the country’s population is Muslim by faith, Iranians have always been progressive and leaning towards liberty, and their religion in no way incites them towards a theocratic society. This fact of the people of Iran as demonstrated itself over and over, many times, as frequent and relentless unrest in the nation gives evidence to the unhappiness of Iranians with their own government. At great personal risk, they have opposed their leaders by protesting fraudulent presidential elections – as was seen by the Green Movement after the sham of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection to office – and they have fearlessly stood against various political and cultural oppression before and since.
This defiant attitude continues to this very day, when Iranians are once again demonstrating against the repressive policies of the government. This time, women are literally dancing in the streets, in flagrant violation of religious prohibitions against this practice by females. Doing this shows the courage and tenacity of these women, who face great danger of arrest, imprisonment, and far worse for standing up for themselves.
They are also brazenly opposing official policy concerning the wearing of the hijab, something with which Iran has a long and tumultuous history. At one time, when the nation was still ruled by the shah, the hijab was actually banned because of all the trouble and class strife it was causing. Today, the theocratic government demands that women over themselves with hijab, but females in Iran are increasingly not having this imposition. In addition to dancing, they have taken to stripping off the customary hijab, again at tremendous personal risk, to show their repressive government that what they wear is their choice and that they will not be controlled in this way.
Most recently, Iranians of all stripes (hardly just women) have taken to the streets as conditions in Iran deteriorate. This is because, in the wake of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the US nuclear deal with Iran, the Iranian rial has plummeted and that nation’s economy has sustained serious damage that is only likely to worsen. This has imposed tremendous suffering on the Iranian people while ultimately doing little to punish their repressive government, which was unfortunately a predictable outcome. To be sure, the nuclear deal was always a disaster, and an ill-conceived move by the United States under Barack Obama. But the economic consequences for Iran of canceling it are unjust, as they hit the wrong target: innocent Iranians, who are not represented by their theocratic leaders.
Now the wrongly abused Iranians are fighting back. Tens of thousands of people, one of the largest public demonstrations ever seen in a country that tends to suppress dissent, marched to the gates of parliament. Many businesses in the area closed for the day, either in solidarity or simply to avoid the chaos. Iranian state media, of course, reported that angry protesters threatened and forced them to shut up shop. But the demonstrators’ quarrel was not with merchants; it was with the government. The massive group eventually came into contact with riot police, who had to use tear gas to get them to disperse.
It is worth noting that some in the American press, most explicitly CNN, have fundamentally misunderstood these protests, mischaracterizing them as internal struggles between political hardliners and “reformists”. This is an almost comical error, and causes one to wonder whether anyone making it has actually seen the demonstrations. The people in the streets are shouting phrases like “marg bar dictator” (meaning ‘down with the dictator’, a reference to Iranian Grand Ayatollah and Supreme Leader Khamenei) and “marg bar Rouhani” (“down with Rouhani”, the current Iranian president). Their opposition to the brutal regime under which they suffer could not be clearer. They are not pushing for fine changes in Iran’s political process; they want the theocracy overthrown.
This kind of misrepresentation is dangerous because people in the United States should and must know the reality of what is going on in Iran. It’s imperative that popular support exists among the American people to back the protesters in Iran.
There is much that the United States can do to help the people standing up for a better Iran. To be sure, we are already seeing the counterproductive nature of economic sanctions, and military actions should in principle be unthinkable. But the US government should clearly and openly state its support for the Iranian demonstrators, and crucially, it should encourage the continued development of new technologies in Iran. Technological innovation is one of the most important reasons these protests are happening now, as advances in communications have made it possible for political dissidents to find, encourage, and network with each other. Open speech and thought which the Iranian regime cannot control will be its downfall, and this is what the United States should support.
Slater Bakhtavar is an attorney, foreign policy analyst, political commentator and author of “Iran: The Green Movement.”
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.