Politics & Policy

Heads in The Sand

Americans need to wake up and smell the crisis in Iran. Iranians need us to.

The timing of my speech on the democracy movement in Iran couldn’t have been worse: A Republican event packed with ladies who lunch, and at the last minute I was informed I would be speaking at the beginning of the meal. I had a little knot in my stomach as I launched into a presentation, which was laced with tales of torture, rape, hangings, stonings, and oppression. I fully expected attendees to start losing their lunches left and right.

#ad#I couldn’t quite gauge the level of interest from the audience. They were wide-eyed, wincing at parts, but did they hear and digest what I was I saying? That this Islamic republic with an abominable human-rights record and nuclear ambitions was threatening world stability? That we need to wake up and smell the crisis?

I included tales of a 14-year-old boy arrested last November for eating in public during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan; eyewitnesses say that he was killed with a metal cable as his 85-lash sentence was carried out. I told them about 16-year-old Ateqeh Rajabi, a girl who was hanged last year for allegedly violating chastity laws; the unnamed male codefendant got 100 lashes, but lived. I told them about the paramilitary groups that violently attack peaceful protesters, the student activists and dissidents who are tortured, and the journalists who are persecuted for trying to tell the truth.

Then I took questions from the audience.

A hand shot up. “Is Blair going to win the election today?” the woman asked. Another woman’s question was about the border, and yet another asked how I could possibly be a conservative journalist.

It was yet another reminder that as crisis in Iran escalates, Americans are often apathetic.

Stories about Iran–be it the antics of Khomeini protégé Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, uranium conversion, or journalist Akbar Ganji’s hunger strike–get buried in the wire sections of many newspapers. Yet when the public is fed information on the atrocities, nuclear threat, or Islamic radicalism in Iran, how much does anyone care?

An American Girl in Tehrangeles

I became engrossed in the Iranian situation about a year ago. Like most Americans, I’ve never been to Tehran, but I can’t ignore stories from exiles and dissidents, risking life and limb or getting fatwas slapped on their heads for defying the Islamic Republic. It’s not just a political story, but a human-rights saga of epic proportions and a true test of whether Islamofascism will stand.

Living in “Tehrangeles,” I’ve spent time down at KRSI Radio Sedaye Iran, and marveled at how the station gets news in and out of Iran, past the censors. Iranians call in with reports of demonstrations, police crackdowns, and more. And with the Internet, as bloggers are being jailed there, their stories aren’t dying.

Yet I notice something when I post news stories or commentaries about Iran on my blog: They’re among the least-read items.

Why the apathy? Is it that we’re just war weary and don’t even want to think about what’s down the road? Perhaps: Many were spooked by the very notion of a war on terrorism that could go on indefinitely, and now, after all that’s happened, the thought of starting another war is just too much for some to consider–even though exactly how the Iran conflict will play out is still unknown.

Or is it that the turmoil in Iran is just unsexy news? Would we pay more attention if Jennifer Wilbanks had fled from her Georgia nuptials to go buy yellowcake for the Islamic republic? Do we have global-crisis attention-deficit disorder?

Or is our apathy fostered by a narcissistic compassion that has hampered efforts for peace and justice? If it doesn’t affect us, why should we worry about it? Case in point: Afghanistan. The Taliban had ruled the country from 1996, its strict Islamic law hiding the faces of women, barring them from the workplace, treating them as little more than property that could be beaten or stoned for the slightest perceived indiscretion. Yet it wasn’t until the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon that the average American citizen paid any attention to the ultra-oppressive regime. Knowing how bad they were made liberating the country more palatable to many, but the real selling point was the link to 9/11 and the prospect of catching bin Laden running around the countryside.

In fact, you can point out Saddam’s mass graves and brutal regime to war opponents only to hear in return, “But where’s bin Laden?” To be followed or preceded, of course, by the typical “Saddam didn’t do anything to us!” But he gets a pass for murdering, raping, torturing, gassing Iraqis? Even though there were a million and one reasons to invade Iraq–17 reasons were U.N. Security Council resolutions–many needed to know how much it directly affected us before intervening. Perhaps if more knew what it was like to live without freedom, to live with death and totalitarianism every day, public backing for the war would be much higher. Perhaps if there wasn’t so much skepticism surrounding President Bush and his motives we would take more seriously the importance of democracy spreading throughout the Middle East–and how it is the key to the region’s stability and to our security.

Despite all this, those actively backing democracy in Iran are not letting up. Recently Ken Timmerman, author of <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/redirect/amazon.p?j=1400053684"Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran, visited L.A. to speak to a smattering of political and community groups. After seeing Timmerman’s presentation, a politically active friend confided to me over lunch that she had never known or thought about the nuclear threats posed by Iran. And after hearing Timmerman speak about it, she couldn’t go back to sleep. Iran is not going to go away if we squeeze our eyes shut.

Two thirds of Iran’s population is under 30, and they’re more apt to be driven by the promise of democracy than to become tools of the Islamofascists. Every day in Iran citizens are courageously defying their government, be it through blogs or street protests; every day outside Iran dedicated opponents of the mullahs–Iranian and non-Iranian alike–are pressing the cause of democracy and freedom.

We need to face reality, no matter how daunting or ugly it is. We can’t afford to ignore this looming crisis.

Bridget Johnson is a columnist currently based in Los Angeles. Her blog is GOP Vixen; her website is here.

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