TEHRAN, IRAN — July 9, 2003, proved to be another important date in the contemporary history of my nation. In Engelab Square in the heart of Tehran, right outside the University of Tehran, the Iranian people once again demonstrated their desire for freedom — and willingness to fight for it.
I know, I was standing there.
The scene of the battle was a familiar one. Unarmed citizens vs. the troops of oppression: heavily armed riot police, right-wing radical bloodthirsty thugs and vigilantes working for the mullahs. People of my great nation poured into the streets to prove to the world that we are determined to fight for freedom.
For about a month now, the regime has focused their power on silencing our voice: They captured our peers, cancelled exams, forced students to leave the dormitories, and shut down the university. They went from door-to-door, searching houses in Tehran, confiscating satellite receivers and dishes. Owners were left with a court date and the promise of fines. In recent weeks, the regime has managed to arrest more than 4,000 people throughout the country — many of them university students, journalists, and writers. The government here has done its best to kill the information flow in and out of the country.
Have no doubt: This is the face of President Mohammad Khatami’s “religious democracy.” We are living under a reign of terror and tyrannical censorship.
To make matters worse, so many of us believe that the regime used the surgery performed on the late Iranian conjoined twins earlier this week to distract the world’s attention from the July 9th anniversary. I don’t want to speak for them, but I did meet the sisters at the university a few times. They were true Iranians: lovers of freedom, as most young Iranians are these days.
So many of us are willing to sacrifice whatever we have to — even our lives — to free our nation. It’s the basics we yearn for: freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom of expression — we want to be free to decide how to dress ourselves in the morning!
The question foremost in our hearts and on our tongues here, though, is one you, especially, need to hear: Is the world seeing this? Does the world understand? Does the world support us? Does the United States? How many times do we have to pour onto the streets and chant slogans, get beaten and imprisoned or kidnapped — or even killed — before the world will “wake up” and start to listen?
In the wake of the U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the mullahs are more nervous than ever. The smart ones are realizing that the war on terror will make its way to them: The United States and its allies will not tolerate oppressive terror-funding dictatorships anymore. The smart ones (who have not already fallen from power) know that their fate will not be different from that of Saddam’s, Mullah Mohammed Omar’s, or Osama bin Laden’s. Terrorism is a sinking ship.
These are evil people who remain running Iran, in the meantime. As I said in an earlier piece for NRO, “Westerners may have difficulty imagining what these people are like. In fact, it’s quite easy: Simply remember the Taliban. The only difference is that they don’t wear Afghani clothes.” Right now, as the regime cracks down on Iranian freedom seekers, former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, still a powerhouse, and his kids, hope the world takes its time coming to our aid. Ex-President Rafsanjani’s son Yasser spends Iranian money recklessly — he’s known for expensive Arabian nights in Dubai and elsewhere. The Rafsanjanis are doing their best to strip Iran of its remaining wealth: I believe they will sell the soil and water if they can manage it.
This is nothing too new, of course. As investigative journalist Akbar Ganji, who now sits in Iranian jail cell, has already told the world, Rafsanjani has been behind the elimination of dissent both in and out of the country — uncovering death squads and other horrors.
Despite the terror, though, we’re not afraid anymore. Some of my peers have even been seen smiling as they’ve been taken off the streets by officers of the regime. They know the goal and are proud of their work fighting the fight for freedom.
One of the newspapers here on July 9 included the front-page headline: “Iran cried for her daughters….And the world for Laleh and Ladan….”
I hope, with all my heart, that that is true. I, of course, hope they remember the too-short lives of the late twin sisters, Laleh and Ladan. And I hope they remember the nation of Lalehs and Ladans. In Farsi, Ladeh and Ladan are two types of flowers. There are a lot of flowers that need watering here. They — we — need the world’s support. Please listen to their message, lest they wither.
— Koorosh Afshar is a pseudonym for a student in Tehran. His name has been changed for his protection.