Politics & Policy

What Can I Do?

It's the West's soft power we need.

Reacting to my article, “Feeling the Heat,” a young congressional staff member on the Hill wrote to me asking the simple question: “What can I do to help Iran?”

#ad#”I firmly believe that my generation can unite to form a global coalition for government transparency and open markets to produce a culture of tolerance and freedom,” wrote Reggie (I’ve changed names in this piece), before adding: “A young, grassroots movement not in line with the traditional model of adolescent rejection of politics and economics, but a globalized yearning…for freedom and equality. A generation so young and so powerful in Iran can produce a new order; shift the tides of repression across the world and in the Middle East.” And once again she asked the simple question that, if it finds resonance and answer, could change history: “Simply put, what can I do to help the youth of Iran?”

On the eve of Memorial Day, in a separate e-mail from his midwestern campus, another young American asked me the same question. “About your proposal for a broad-based…democracy movement that would demand freedoms for all peoples…. I’d like to get going on this project as soon as possible,” said Charlie. “However, I am not sure exactly where to start.”

In my article, I related the story of Tannaz, an Iranian student, and asked the question the West is facing: Between Jannati, Secretary of the Guardian Council of the Iranian theocracy, and Tannaz, which one will you choose? A few years ago in Serbia, between Milosevic on one hand and the Serbian students and Zoran Djindjic on the other, a united West chose the students and their leaders. Today, the entire Balkan region has been stabilized and democratic nations are being built. Tomorrow, in Iran, which way will the West go? Will we all harvest the seeds of democracy or the grapes of wrath and resentment of a disillusioned youth? That is the question.

For Reggie, Charlie, and Tannaz to celebrate Democracy Day in a freedom parade in Tehran, we do not need bullets. Rather, to witness the Iranian D-Day we need the West’s immense information-projection power. We need the West’s vastly influential think tanks to advocate a policy of freedom for the people, not détente with a regime whose Majlis (Parliament) inaugurates with chants of “Death to America” and whose Friday “prayers” serve as recruiting speeches for suicide bombers.

We need congressional hearings and testimonies given by young Iranians describing the hopelessness of existence under theocracy; the complete lack of normalcy and dignity; the day-by-day attrition of life. We need a tiny fraction of the West’s financial support channeled to the families of Iranian political prisoners and jailed journalists with international monitoring. We need your soft power, and all of it. We need it in a barrage of heavy-media artillery, think-tank platforms, and the solidarity of Western NGOs. We need U.S. and EU campus events with young Iranians “yearning for freedom” standing hand in hand with Western students. We need Western artists lending their music and their voices to the Joyless Generation.

In 1979, Time magazine named Khomeini Man of the Year, in effect promoting his thoughts and his generation. That gloomy cover page was followed by the darkness of 25 years of yet-to-be-fully-unfolded “content.” Ahmad Batebi, a student leader thrown in jail for holding a bloodied T-shirt in front of reporters, is our Man of the Decade. We are yearning for something better, and we need Ahmad on your cover page.

We are the generation of Reggie and Charlie, Tannaz and Ahmad. We need you!

Ramin Parham, editor of iraninstitutefordemocracy.org, is an independent commentator based in Paris.

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