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Archive >> July 2009
file under: IranFreedomDemonstrations 19 Jul 2009 11:28 AM
What Should Obama Say To Iran? Posted by Nissim Dahan
President Obama finds himself in a bit of a bind when it comes to Iran. And the dilemma he faces is not unlike that faced by many policy makers when it comes to the Middle East. Who do you support, the government, or the people?


When he ran for the Presidency, Obama vowed to negotiate with Iran's leaders with respect to such contentious issues as their nuclear weapons program, and their support for terrorist groups. And at the time, the prospect of using diplomacy as an olive branch, seemed to be a reasonable approach, as contrasted with President Bush's inclination to wield big sticks, with no carrots in sight.


However, in the wake of Iran's most recent election, and in light of the protests and violent clashes which are taking place there, even as we speak, would negotiations with the newly elected government confer legitimacy to a regime whose legitimacy is being contested by a great many people on the street? And yet, if you ignore the current opportunities to negotiate, even with an unsavory regime, do you lose the chance to find a diplomatic solution to what could otherwise result in war?


But then again, if you fail to give moral support to the protesters, do you run the risk of betraying your ideals, and alienating the people, for that matter, by espousing the cause of freedom here at home, while failing to do so abroad. Do you dare to play politics as usual when freedom is at stake? Is it hypocritical to cherish freedom, on the one hand, but to withhold support from those fighting for it, on the other? And is there a price to pay for such hypocrisy?


In a way, President Obama's hesitation about supporting the protesters in Iran is symbolic of a much larger picture, whereby Western leaders find themselves torn between maintaining quiet deals and understandings that have been struck with non-democratic governments in the Middle East, and their supposed commitment in the West to the ideals of democratic reform and the right of all people to be free. The gap that often exists between pragmatic arrangements, especially those securing the free-flow of oil, and the moral obligation to empower people in their quest for human rights, is not an easy gap to bridge, and the decision is often made to sacrifice human rights on the alter of what is "real," and what is "necessary."


And yet, as is becoming quite obvious in Iran, the voice of the people resonates loudly around the world, and is not easily silenced, even by the most repressive of regimes, using the harshest means of intimidation. Especially now, in the time of the internet, and you-tube, and twitter, and all the other varied tools of instant and ubiquitous communication, the natural inclination to speak out cannot be stifled easily. And as people around the world begin to speak to one another, the collective wisdom of the common man will begin to coalesce, and to make itself heard, and known, and believed, and a new ideology will be born, based on such ancient common sense principles as: the right to be free, the right to speak out and to be heard, the right to pursue happiness, and the right to search for justice whenever justice is denied.


So what advice can we give President Obama as he navigates through these treacherous waters? Perhaps we could tell him, as he takes everything into consideration, that freedom may not always be easy to support, nor practical in the short-run, but it is a moral imperative for many around the world, just as it is for Americans here at home. And therefore, we owe it to those struggling on the street, and to our long-term strategic interests, to find a way to lend our support to the cause of freedom, and to make it clear to all the dictators out there, that sooner or later, they will have no choice but to accommodate the will of the people, and their yearning to be free. It doesn't have to mean chaos. It doesn't necessarily have to mean war. It just means that society will only find its peace when the fundamental aspirations of the people are taken into consideration, and become a permanent fixture in the political landscape.



file under: IranFreedomDemonstrations 6 Jul 2009 2:20 PM
Freedom in Iran Posted by Nissim Dahan
People around the world are not all the same. They don't all want the same exact things. But at the end of the day, my guess would be that most people the world over do want some similar things, and that freedom would probably top the list of what most people need and want. Iranians are no exception.


What is freedom? Not an easy question to answer considering all the hype that goes into that one simple word. Freedom means different things to different people, and its meaning changes as circumstances dictate. One approach is to say that freedom is our say in how our lives are playing themselves out. We want to believe that our small voice is being heard even in the midst of the noisy confusion that fills our daily lives; that we matter in the overall scheme of things. And the belief that everyone should count, may explain some of what is going on in Iran.


Freedom means that if we're already being given the right to vote, that our vote should count, and not be swept under the rug of authoritative ambition. People want a say in who governs them, in who holds the reigns of power, and in what policies he or she decides to pursue. It is not simply my right to vote that is important, but the knowledge that my voice, as contained in my vote, will be heard, even if only as a whisper.


Freedom touches on the personal as well. Women, for example, may choose to dress traditionally, but they want to make that choice, not have it thrust upon them by angry men wielding big sticks. My right to choose is at the heart of what it means to be free.


And people want a say as to which direction their country is heading. Dictators no doubt have their ideological agendas. But what is deemed necessary by the dictators is not necessarily in the best interest of the people. The man on the street often knows best what is in his best interest better than anyone else. People have a right, for example, to demand that their government's economic policies will create good paying jobs, and not sky-high unemployment. People want to be proud of their nation, and not have to justify why certain ill-conceived policies are further isolating them from the world community. People want to believe that their personal security is being regarded as sacred, and not undermined by the looming threat of war.


The yearning for freedom is a hard thing to quash. There are people in Iran putting everything on the line; even their own lives. The fight for freedom often brings out the best in us, by which we are willing to sacrifice our own safety for the sake of something we believe in, something greater than ourselves. The willingness to rise to the occasion, and to put a noble cause, like freedom, above everything else, is unique to us as human beings, and is what allows us to aspire to our greatest potential.


I don't envy the leadership in Iran. They must be frustrated beyond belief. They have convinced themselves that they know what's best for their people, and somehow, the people just don't get it. How dare they rise up in this fashion?


I don't know what will happen in Iran. But I do know that something has happened there already. Their votes were silenced, so the people rose up and made sure that their voices wouldn't be. Would this make a difference in the long run? No one knows for sure, but one thing is certain; Iran will never quite be the same. The people have spoken, and their voices will reverberate in our collective consciousness forever, along with all those countless others who cast their lots in the search for freedom and justice. Those voices can never be silenced. They will continue to make themselves heard until the day comes when the dream of freedom will be made real, and when true justice will be meted out to all.