Iran's Pro-American Youth

by SLATER BAKHTAVAR September 7, 2017

When one imagines the nation of Iran today, it's hard to resist the picture that is instantly conjured: A country of religious oppression and discrimination, ruled by a single, mandatory faith from which no deviation is permitted; and of course, a state that is a bastion of radical Islamic terrorism worldwide. This image of Iran is ghastly, but it must be admitted that it is not unfair. While Iran pretends at a free, democratic society by seating an elected President, that man - and it is always a man - has little actual authority in government, and what negligible clout he does wield is exercised entirely at the pleasure of his superiors. That would be layers of Islamic religious leaders layers upon layers higher than him, leading all the way up to Iran's real ruler, the Grand Ayatollah - a man (again, always) who is completely unelected and unaccountable to the Iranian people. In theory, he is supposed to be kept in check by a council of wizened experts in Islamic law who advise him and monitor his decisions for compliance with the faith; in practice, these "experts" are his puppets, the same as the rest of the Iranian government.

It is one of the great tragedies of human history - and of this nation in particular - that Iran doesn't have to be this way. In fact, the current burden of absolute religious rule under which it currently suffers is a recent invention and an enormous historical aberration. Iran traces its long and proud history all the way back to 550 BC when it was ruled by Cyrus the Great. Ever since then, despite millennia of advancements and change within Iranian society (including the rise and fall of the great Persian Empire) and seismic shifts in religious belief among the people - before the Islamic faith was founded, most Iranians followed Zoroastrianism - the government was secular and monarchic, rather than theocratic and absolute. This trend, which held good for thousands of years, was only undone in 1979 when instabilities in the Shah's (the King's) regime at the time led to the Islamic Revolution and the installation of the radical religious rule.

But, could it at least be that people ultimately receive a government that is a reflection of themselves, and that if Iranians today live under a strict theocratic authority, it must be because that is ultimately what they want? The question may be interesting to ponder on a broad anthropological level, but in the case of Iran, the answer is a decisive "no". While it is true that a majority of Iranian people are practitioners of the Islamic faith, they are also young - most Iranians are under the age of 35 - and politically progressive. The Iranian population supported the Shah prior to 1979 in his conspicuously pro-American policies, and people remain interested in and generally sympathetic to the West today. They are religious, but they are not religious zealots who desire to live without personal freedom under a despotic theocracy. To state the matter simply, the government of Iran today operates without the consent of, and does not represent, the people it forcibly rules.

Any freedom loving human being should be appalled and saddened by this situation and should desire to help the suffering Iranian population. It is natural to think of using force to achieve this end, but such strategies should be quickly dismissed. The reasons for this are many, not the least of which being that the world already knows what happens when the West intervenes militarily in the Middle East: the disastrous Iraq invasion critically destabilized that nation, brought untold suffering upon millions living there, and indirectly brought about the terrorist group ISIS, all without accomplishing much of benefit. Repeating the process in Iran would not only be cruel and inhumane, it would be pointless.

Similarly, economic sanctions against the country will do little but bring hardship to the people, again harming rather than helping them. The government has absolute control of the Iranian economy and will continue to live comfortably no matter how badly their people are made to suffer under deprivation.

Fortunately, there is a better way to proceed. Technology in Iran has already had to advance prodigiously since 1979, especially in the realm of communications. Access to the Internet and other forms of mass media have brought Iranians together in a way never seen before, and this has caused progressives to realize - much as they government may prefer otherwise - that they are not alone. The ability to network and share ideas has birthed political movements supporting democratic reforms because that is what the people really want - not the theocratic nightmare they currently have.

The role of the West in helping Iran's people is to continue to encourage the development of these technologies and bring the Iranian population further and further into the 21st century. As the trend towards reform gains more and more momentum, it will be increasingly difficult for the theocrats to stop. Eventually, it will be impossible - and that is the day which the West should strive to help bring about.

Slater Bakhtavar is an attorney, foreign policy analyst, author and political commentator. He is author of "Iran: The Green Movement". He has appeared as a guest on numerous network radio shows, including G Gordon Liddy, Crosstalk America, Les in the Morning, NPR,  Jim Bohannon Show and VOA


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