In recent days, the world has been riveted by images from Iran. Fallout from a “disputed” — that is, fraudulent — presidential election has spurred massive street protests, which the Iranian regime is attempting to suppress by force. How will the violence end? Could Iran be on the cusp of a democratic revolution? For answers to these questions and others, National Review’s Kathryn Lopez turned to Iranian-born journalist Amir Taheri, author of the new book, The Persian Night: Iran Under the Khomeinist Revolution.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Why did anyone pretend that Iran had a shot at a democratic election last week? The American media and President Obama seemed to.
AMIR TAHERI: Yes, many journalists and certainly President Obama have been desperate for some good news from Tehran. A segment of the Western Left has always regarded the Islamic Republic with sympathy because of its supposed “anti-imperialist” stance. As for Obama, he is trying to reverse Bush’s Middle East policy, which sought to distance the U.S. from its traditional support for despotic regimes in the name of realism. By pushing for democratization, Bush changed the political landscape in our region. Afghanistan and Iraq got a chance to build a different future. Lebanon has just held a genuinely free election, without Syrian troops on its soil. Kuwait has enfranchised women, and has even allowed four women to be elected to the parliament for the first time. Egypt has accepted multi-candidate presidential elections, and even Saudi Arabia has held elections for some of the seats on municipal councils.
Opponents of the Bush Doctrine, including Obama, first claimed that Arabs, and Muslims in general, are not ready for democracy. Once this was proved not to be the case in so many countries, the same people claimed that democracy would only bring the Islamists to power. However, that, too, was proved wrong. In Pakistan’s latest general election, the Islamist share of the vote shrunk from 11 percent to 3 percent. In Iraq, the Islamist parties were defeated across the board in municipal elections. In Kuwait, the Islamist bloc in the parliament was cut by half. In Lebanon, Hezbollah won 11 of the 128 seats in the parliament, and the coalition under its leadership failed to win a majority.
The statement, “Democracy cannot be imposed by force,” is often made by Obama as if it were the cleverest of philosophical observations. However, we know that democracy can be imposed by force, as happened in West Germany, Japan, and Italy, among other places, after the Second World War. In any case, what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq was not the imposition of democracy by force, but the use of force to remove impediments to democracy. Imagine using force to topple the despots in Burma or Zimbabwe. Would that not remove impediments to democracy?
In the case of Iran, the phrase was used to reduce the debate to a choice between preemptive war, regarded as the original sin, and preemptive surrender. Because we don’t want war with Iran, let us surrender to the mullahs! Opponents of the Bush Doctrine had hoped for “a shot at a democratic election” to prove that there was no need for regime change in Tehran. Something that looked like a free election would have made it easier for Obama to sell his appeasement policy. We now know that the theory of “evolution within the Islamic regime,” so dear to Joe Biden, is pure nonsense. Totalitarian regimes cannot reform themselves.
LOPEZ: Your new book is titled The Persian Night. When did the “Persian Night” begin and when will it end — and how?
TAHERI: The night that has fallen on my country started in February 1979, when armed groups attacked army barracks and police stations in Tehran and seized control of major government buildings. The Shah’s army and government evaporated, leaving a vacuum that was filled quickly by the Khomeinists, who at that time led a coalition of leftist, nationalist, and Islamist groups and parties. The “night” continued with the imposition of theocracy, the massacre of tens of thousands of political prisoners from all points on the ideological spectrum, the forcing into exile of some 5 million Iranians, an eight-year war with Iraq that claimed a million lives, genocidal operations and ethnic cleansing in areas inhabited by Iranian Kurds and Turkmens, and so on.
During this long night, more than 10 million Iranians have spent some time in the regime’s prisons on a wide range of charges, from violation of the Islamic dress code to practicing religions other than Khomeinist Islam. This has been a night of censorship and terror, of attempts at destroying Iran’s multi-millennial culture and civilization. This long night will end when the regime is overthrown. The Khomeinist system cannot be reformed, just as the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany could not. The only realistic option in Iran is regime change. This is what Iranians want. Listen to the shouts of “Marg bar diktator!” (“Death to the dictator”) in streets, and from rooftops, throughout Iran.