Once again, there is big news out of Iran, and once again the Western media refuse to see what is in front of their noses. Iran held municipal elections over the weekend. All the regime’s big guns had implored the people to turn out in record numbers, to demonstrate that the people were committed to participation in the Islamic Republic. Supreme Leader Khamenei, Eminence Grise Rafsanjani, and President Khatami — the vapid matinee idol of the New York and Los Angeles Times apologists — made clear their desperate desire for a record turnout.
Be careful what you ask for. There was a record turnout, but it was a negative record. The official reports speak of a ten-percent turnout in Tehran and other major cities, with higher participation elsewhere. If those numbers were accurate, it would represent a massive abstention, and hence an enormous vote of no confidence in the system. But the real numbers are worse still: Of the roughly seven million people entitled to vote in Tehran, less than 70,000 actually voted. I make that about one percent. These data come directly from a high-ranking official involved in the elections office, who was shocked by the results.
The Iranian people rejected the regime in the most unmistakable way, yet the “story” you read in our newspapers is that the hard liners routed the reformers in something resembling a real election. As if the Iranian people, after years of mass demonstrations against the mullahcracy, after thousands of freedom fighters had sacrificed their lives in protest against Islamic oppression, had suddenly seen the darkness and decided they preferred tyranny to freedom. Or perhaps they had heard the shameful nonsense emanating from the mouth of Deputy Secretary of State Armitage (“Iran is a democracy”) and decided that since the Supreme Leader was a confirmed democrat, the best path to liberty was to give the regime a huge vote of confidence.
No way. The elections were a protest non-vote, pure and simple. The pathetic Khatami and his apologists at the BBC and elsewhere in the Western media are now crying that “the system” is being undermined and chances for reform have been weakened, but they have totally missed the point. Chances for reform are nil so long as Khamenei and Rafsanjani are in command, and the Iranian people are disgusted with Khatami’s failed promises and empty gestures. He’s not only ineffectual, but a coward to boot. He’s threatened to resign with monotonous regularity, but never does it. He promised reforms but has produced none at all, and there is manifestly less freedom today than when he came to office.
If we had had any honest reporters in Tehran for the past two weeks, they would have put the elections in their proper context. The vote came hard on the heels of a weeklong demonstration for the benefit of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, which visited Iran on a fact-finding mission. Headed by the usual Frenchman, the commission managed to complain about the protracted use of solitary confinement in Iranian prisons. But they did not denounce the more terrible practices such as torture and arbitrary executions. Indeed, while they were in Iran, the regime rounded up five more newspaper editors and locked them up, with no protest from the commissioners. And apparently the commissioners did not insist on interviewing the country’s most celebrated prisoners, like student leader Tabarzadeh or the recently arrested jurist Sholeh Sadi, who had bravely denounced the regime in uncompromising language. And unbeknownst to the commissioners, the regime had staged a “dry run” for the prisoners. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed agents of the regime, pretending to be commissioners, were sent into the prisons to interview prisoners. Those who complained about maltreatment were isolated, and maltreated some more. Those who spoke well about their conditions were permitted to be interviewed by the real commissioners.
God willing, Judgment Day is coming to the Middle East, and the long-suffering people of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia will get their chance to be free. I have no doubt that they will have suitably harsh words for the Western governments and journalists who failed to help them, or even tell the real story.
— Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. Ledeen, Resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, can be reached through Benador Associates.