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Courage in Iran

By Times of London, Times of London - September 19, 2009

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The thousands of Iranians who took to the streets yesterday to protest against the fraudulent re-election of President Ahmadinejad and the growing repression throughout Iran showed extraordinary courage. The police, the Basij militias and the Revolutionary Guards have been given a free hand by the Government and by Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, the Supreme Leader, to crack down on anyone daring to stand up to the new dictatorship. The result has been appalling.

Hundreds of people have been seized on the streets, thrown into prison and subjected to brutal and arbitrary torture. Students, women, even random passers-by have been beaten, had their limbs broken and their nails pulled out. Most disgustingly, protesters, especially the young men, have been repeatedly raped — a cynical and deliberate humiliation that undercuts Iran’s claims to champion public morality and Muslim values.

It was especially brave of the demonstrators to take to the streets yesterday, a major political occasion for the Government when it flaunts its anti-Israeli credentials by commemorating Quds (Jerusalem) Day. Mr Ahmadinejad set the tone with a gratuitously provocative and mendacious denial of the Holocaust, calling it a pretext for the occupation of Arab land and asserting that Israel was created on “false and mythical claims”. His ravings are hardly surprising and are wholly in keeping with previous attempts to provoke the West and curry support among Islamist extremists. The protesters were all the more courageous therefore in undercutting this chicanery by publicly mocking the regime’s support for militants in Gaza and Lebanon and insisting that “our life is for Iran”. They must have known the likely terrible cost of their courage.

At least 200 people have been killed in Iran’s prisons, many of them tortured to death. The toll makes a mockery of the regime’s vaunted claims that the 1979 revolution put an end to the human rights abuses that Iranians suffered under the Shah; what has happened since has been a hundred times worse. It is also depressing evidence that, despite the courage of individual human rights champions and the vigorous debate among young people on democracy and human rights, the old habits of repression, censorship and intolerance are again being embraced by the embattled hardliners around Mr Ahmadinejad.

Beyond giving vigorous moral support and publicity to those determined to resist the new dictatorship, the West has found it hard to influence politics within Iran. The hardliners would like nothing better than to portray America, the “Great Satan”, and Britain, the “Little Satan”, as aggressors intent on interfering in Iran’s affairs and threatening its security. This is why President Obama’s initiatives in offering a new dialogue so disconcerted Tehran. This is why, despite Iran’s repeated attempts to sabotage any fresh talks on its nuclear programme, Washington has deliberately kept open the door even as it contemplates tougher sanctions, a new missile defence system and united international condemnation of Iran’s behaviour.

There is one place, however, where the West can protest and where its voice will be heard in Iran. Mr Ahmadinejad is to address the United Nations General Assembly. His visit cannot be stopped: a visa is automatic for any head of state visiting the UN. But his visit can certainly be disrupted by protest. Anyone who cares about democracy, who is appalled by the repression, the cruelty and the human rights violations of the present regime, can make their disgust plain on the streets of New York. The cameras will be rolling. The word will get back to Iran. Those brave protesters will know that they are not alone. Fellow Muslims around the world can see what is being done in their name. It is a sacrilegious obscenity.

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