Tag Archives: Iran

A Theocracy’s Bete Noir: The Young

Through countless generations and among all societies, the young have been bringers of change who have upended the status-quo and dramatically altered social and political mores. In today’s time this truth still holds, and it is evidenced by events currently unfolding in Iran, where youths have kept alive the sputtering Green Movement. Last year, after the Islamic Republic’s stolen election, hundreds of thousands of university students and others filled the country’s streets and demanded that their voices be heard. The government, in characteristic theocratic-authoritarian fashion, effected a brutal crackdown on dissent; arresting, raping, and maiming dissidents and then prosecuting them in Stalinist show-trials where death sentences were handed down.

The government’s reign of terror has driven much of the revolution off the streets and has dissuaded many from further resistance. However, the young and learned are tenacious in their struggle for freedom. On university campuses and in their social circles, they challenge the Iranian regime’s legitimacy, while they remain one of the last sectors of society willing to openly defy the theocracy. They are brave men and women who take their lives in their hands and possess more courage and strength than the dispirited and hesitant politicians who claim to lead them. When these politicians called off protests last month, the students massed on the streets and campuses anyway, braving beatings with no bravado and telling their stories to the world via social media.

Neda Agha-Soltan is the symbol of the Green Movement: a young, vivacious 26-year-old, who was gunned down by government thugs.

It is this bravery and determination that sustains the Green Movement, and the Iranian regime is taking steps to destroy it. The first crackdown didn’t silence the young, so now the theocracy is going after them with a vengeance. The universities, which have been the breeding grounds of dissent, are now being flooded with government clerics, who will spy on students and stifle free speech. In an even more blatant move, the regime has sought to wrest outright control of educational institutions away from the non-profits that run them.

While fighting on that front, the theocracy is also taking aim at the young’s more relaxed social attitudes. The government’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance recently published a list of approved hairstyles for men that barbers must stick to when cutting their clients’ locks: a response to stylings that are quiet protests against the Islamic Republic’s distaste for personal freedom. If men have it bad, women certainly have it worse. The morality police have stepped up their arrests of females who don’t adequately cover up and those who don’t conform to the nation’s ridiculous dress code. This primarily affects the young, who are resistant to gender inequality and who give little heed to the Islamic Republic’s mandated separation of the sexes.

Iranian men with "un-Islamic" hairstyles.

The Iranian regime might be for some time kept afloat by guns and thugs, but a government that lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the people and keeps control through brute force, will face a day of reckoning. Time is on the side of the young, who make up 70 percent of the population, and who will soon enough wield political power that matches their numbers. Eventually, the tree of liberty will grow in Persia, given life by the blood of tyrants.*

*This sentence is paraphrased from Thomas Jefferson’s famous phrase: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

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The Jewish State and Its Detractors

Israel has increasingly come under fire from Europe, the United States, and the Arab world for its behavior in its conflict with the Palestinians.  It has been called an apartheid state, compared to Nazi Germany, and been the target of innumerable boycotts and divestment campaigns. Liberals across the Western World have pilloried it, it has been demonized at gay-pride parades, lambasted by feminists, and criticized by human-rights organizations. However, this anger is misplaced and progressives, rather than attack the Jewish State, should embrace it.

There is no moral equivalence between Israel and its enemies. Israel is a democracy, where each citizen, Arab and Jew alike, chooses their leaders in free and fair elections. The Jewish State has a vibrant free press, which regularly takes on the country’s leaders, and a judiciary that often overrules the government on the most substantive matters. Everyone is entitled to worship as they choose and the holy sites of Jerusalem are open to the adherents of all three Abrahamic faiths. Women are treated as equals and in Tel Aviv there is a sizzling gay night-life. It is blessed with economic prosperity and a dynamic free market, and all of its people enjoy higher living standards than those living in other parts of the Middle East.

Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv.

Now let’s compare Israel to its Muslim neighbors. The only other democracy in the area is Turkey, where everyone is afraid to speak out against the government. Iran is ruled by the oxymoron, known as the Islamic Republic, Saudi Arabia is under the thumb of absolutism, and Syria is governed by a military dictatorship. In Pakistan, freedom of expression is restricted by Internet censors, who recently blocked Facebook for un-Islamic content. Jordan, supposedly ruled by an enlightened monarch, bans Jews from owning property or holding citizenship. In Saudi Arabia, women endure a truly untenable existence; banned from driving, allowed out only under the supervision of a male relative, and forced to hide their faces in a sweaty, black abaya. It is even worse in the Islamic Republic. In Iran, where President Ahmadinejad claimed no gays live,  homosexuals face the death penalty. Most Arab economies are government-controlled and resistant to innovation, and even in Dubai, the financial capital of the Muslim world, abject poverty persists.

A lighthouse shining through the darkness

More succinctly, Israel is a lighthouse of freedom, shining over a dark sea of despair and depredation. Because of this fact, it is hypocritical for progressives to sully the Jewish State’s good name while condoning Arab oppression. Real liberals, which I consider myself to be, should support Israel for the sake of shared values, from an accurate reading of history, and with a good sense of the challenges that it today faces. The struggle of the Palestinians is not one of national liberation, it is one that seeks to destroy an established nation and people, replace light with dark, and supplant hope with hate. The Palestinians are not an oppressed people, they could have had a state long ago. They are rather the most recent manifestation of an enemy that has plagued the Jewish people from time immemorial; the heirs of the Amalekites, Nebuchadnezzar, and Hitler. Indeed, Hamas is not a big leap from Haman. They are the barbarians at the gate and the Visigoths of our time, the arch-foes of civilization and civility. It is in this historical sweep that the conflict must be viewed to be properly understood.

American liberals must seize on the positions of the giants of their past, like Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, both dear friends of the Jewish State. But why should they support Israel over the multitudes of Arabs? Simply “because it is right,” as President Johnson once declared.

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Wild Turkey

Turkey — the Muslim anchor of NATO with a long history of secularism — is straying from its roots. The Turkish government, controlled by the Islamic Justice and Development Party and led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has slowly gravitated away from the West and towards the Islamic world.  As its bid to join the EU has been stalled, Turkey has begun to abandon the dream of its founder, Ataturk, who envisioned his nation as a secular, Western democracy and has instead focused on becoming the core state of Islamic civilization. In the process, it has alienated the United States on many issues and ruptured its strategic alliance with Israel.

The father of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk.

Erdogan has treated the Jewish State — with which Turkey did $2.5 billion of trade in 2008 — with atrocious disrespect. Last year, he ambushed Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Davos Economic Summit, telling him “that you are killing people,” in response to Israel’s 2009 defensive war in Gaza. This year Turkey allowed a flotilla of so-called peace activists seeking to provoke a confrontation with Israel over its blockade of the terrorist-run Gaza Strip to sail under its flag. When nine of said activists were killed after trying to lynch IDF personnel in a scuffle on the Turkish flagship, the Mavi  Marmara, it was Turkey that reacted with indignation. Erdogan labeled the Jewish State ” a state sponsor of terrorism,” his government downgraded diplomatic relationships with it, and it is now pressing the UN Security Council to open an international investigation — a euphemism for a lynching of Israel — into the flotilla crisis.

From Erdogan’s previous behavior one might not guess that a state sponsor of terrorism was not welcome in Ankara. After all, didn’t Turkey and Brazil (to the chagrin of the US) vote against sanctioning Iran — the state sponsor of terrorism — for its nuclear program. And doesn’t the prime minister have a warm relationship with the genocidal leader of Sudan, Omar Bashir, who is wanted by the Hague for crimes against humanity.  This willingness to overlook the wrongdoings of Muslim leaders and governments reflects a disturbing double standard on Turkey’s part.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan shaking hands with Sudan’s genocidal maniac leader, Omar Bashir.

Indeed, Turkey doesn’t exactly have its house in order when it comes to human rights violations. It still will not come to terms with its bloody past, which is shown by its refusal to acknowledge the Armenian genocide that took two million lives, and its horrendous treatment of ethnic minorities. And while Erdogan tears up for the people of Gaza, there is no end in sight to the Turkish occupation of the northern half of Cyprus.

Its friendship with the US is also fraying. As aforementioned, it refused to support sanctions against Iran, for which America has tirelessly campaigned. It has been hesitant to allow the US to build military bases on Turkish soil. Lastly, as described in The New York Times, it has gone off message and undermined American foreign policy objectives in the region.

The Turkish flag with the Islamic crescent and star.

Turkey’s slide into Islamism and its drift away from the West and the United States is cause for alarm. America should respond by reaching out to secular elements within the government, like the military, and putting pressure on the civilian leadership in Ankara to correct its behavior. Europe should be more forbearing when it comes to Turkey’s EU bid and use that desire as a way to keep that country from going down a more fundamentalist path. Israel must stand its ground and not give into ridiculous Turkish demands. Finally, the people of Turkey, with their long history of tolerance, must decide whether this is the future they want. If not, it is their responsibility to bring their discontent to the ballot box and oust this government from power.

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Chavez and “The Wrecking of Venezuela”

Venezuela's dictator Hugo Chavez

Venezuela’s leader, Hugo Chavez, is destroying his country’s economy with his failed socialist policies and the statist mentality that drives them. Chavez set out to remake Venezuela by more equitably distributing its wealth, but he has instead destroyed it and driven away the foreign capital that fuels emerging economies.

The Economist has documented extensively what it has called “the wrecking of Venezuela.” That country, which is blessed with abundant natural resources, has seen its mineral wealth swallowed up by social engineering programs. It has experienced economic stagnation as the rest of Latin America has prospered. It has suffered immensely from Chavez’s war on the private sector, which has targeted everything from supermarkets to golf courses, and damaged the country’s main engine of economic growth. By interfering with the market economy with price controls, Chavez has disrupted the flow of commerce and has created an artificial economy predicated on graft and waste. As described by Mary Anastasia  O’Grady of the  Wall Street Journal, resourceful Venezuelans have found their way around the Chavez economic model, trading with their free Colombian neighbors at the border.

Traders, with their wares, on the Venezuelan-Colombian border.

Nevertheless, the lack of economic freedom has expectedly been accompanied by a crackdown on political freedom. In 2007, term limits on Chavez were removed by a narrow majority in a referendum, and since then the de-facto dictator has embarked on a war against dissenters; throwing opposition channels off the airwaves, prosecuting citizens for speaking their minds out, and targeting what is left of an independent judiciary. With elections coming up soon, it is feared that Chavez may attempt to rig the vote.

While blackouts roll the country and judges rot in jail, Venezuela’s authoritarian government has embarked on a foreign policy that is as belligerent as its domestic policy is stupid. The Chavez regime is funding FARC rebels in Colombia, helping ETA terrorists in Spain, and supplying support to its Iranian and Syrian compadres. The dictator has called the United States the “Great Satan,” attempted to install like-minded leaders in other Latin American countries, and has undermined attempts at regional economic integration under an American aegis.

All these actions are counter-productive for both the people of Venezuela and the citizens of the Americas. If Chavez continues down this path he will lose the next election or run his country into the ground. If not, his behavior will earn him a deadly comeuppance from the US,  which he narrowly avoided in 2002.

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The New Iran Sanctions

A vote at the UN Security Council imposing sanctions on Iran.

Yesterday the United Nations’s Security Council levied new sanctions on Iran for its quickly-progressing nuclear program. The sanctions — which were agreed to with Turkey and Brazil voting no and Lebanon abstaining — black-listed some companies that do business with the theocratic regime and are aiding its attempts to make atomic bombs. However, the Security Council’s actions do not go far enough because they do not target all the corporations that help Iran get around international isolation and the resolution fails to take aim at the heart of the Iranian economy; oil and gas exports. This failure is mostly the responsibility of China and, to a lesser extent, Russia, who capitalized on every opportunity to weaken the draft and assented to sanctions that were much less strong than the ones the United States had originally sought.

The Iranian regime also has Brazil and Turkey to thank, which to thumb their nose at the United States and in Turkey’s case, to ingratiate itself with the Muslim world, have not only voted against the sanctions but have tried to strike a horrible deal with the so-called Islamic Republic. This bargain struck last month and sealed by hugs — in a scene resembling the Munich Conference of 1938 — would leave Iran with enough uranium to manufacture one nuclear bomb, with which it could wreak grievous harm on the world. This is unacceptable and was appropriately rejected by yesterday’s Council vote.

Lula of Brazil, Erdogan of Turkey, and Ahmadinejad of Iran hugging each other in May.

That being said, the United States and Europe need to lead by example and go beyond the sanctions approved in the UN. The EU and the US should crack down on American and European companies that engage in behind-the-scenes dealing with the Iranian government and its lackeys and affiliates, America should divest itself of the theocracy’s oil, and European governments should freeze the assets of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, which is classified as a terrorist organization and is responsible for much of the regime’s nuclear program. Iran must not be allowed to acquire weapons with which it will menace mankind, theocrats with bombs are never safe.

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