Amir Abbas Fakhravar is one of the most prominent dissidents in Iran. A former medical student and journalist, he was arrested and imprisoned after the publication of his anti-regime book This Place Is Not a Ditch. While on a leave from prison he fled the authorities, and has been on the run ever since. From the Iranian underground, he coordinates the activities of various dissident groups, and for this reason the regime has (according to his knowledge) issued a standing order for the police to shoot him on sight.
Through the help of an Iranian émigré living in California–who wishes to be identified only by her first name, Manda–Fakhravar recently phoned NR deputy managing editor Jason Lee Steorts to discuss Iran’s nuclear program, the hopes of the Iranian people, and his life as a fugitive.
National Review Online: What do the Iranians you know think of Iran’s nuclear program?
Amir Abbas Fakhravar: The regime is trying hard to tell to everybody that the nuclear activities are like the nationalization of oil 50 years ago. They are telling the world that this is somehow a national interest and that it’s something the people want. But it’s not like that at all. I’m very much speaking on behalf of the students and the youth that I’m in contact with, and nobody thinks about it like that. We are lacking elementary necessities, schools, hospitals. These are the things we think of as our national interests, not the nuclear program. If this nuclear technology were something coming out of the minds of our own people, and promoted by our own people, we would say O.K., this is by all means our national interest. But it was a technology smuggled in from the borders of Pakistan by people working through A. Q. Khan’s network. What I hear from the students, the youngsters who are 70 percent of Iran’s population, is that if this were such a national thing, why did the regime spend 18 years hiding it from us? Only two or three years ago we found out that [the regime] was spending billions and billions of dollars in oil revenue on this technology instead of on our basic needs.
NRO: One argument we hear in the West against confronting Iran, whether through sanctions or through military action, is that doing so will make the regime more popular with the Iranian people–that it will actually strengthen the regime.
Fakhravar: Please don’t ever say that the people of Iran are going to have resentment or anger in their hearts toward America or Western countries for doing this. That is 100 percent false. To see this, all you need to do is contact some Iranians inside the major cities. Just send your journalists to interview the people in the streets and ask them. It was Saturday [February 4] that the people here found out that Iran was going before the [U.N.] Security Council, and there was celebration all over Tehran. I heard from my own family, the families of my friends, that it was one of the busiest days of the year for the pastry shops–that people were buying pastries and cookies and candies in the streets of Tehran and going to each other to celebrate. They think we have nothing to lose and everything to gain with action that, no matter how long the time period, leads to the downfall of this regime. If you overthrow the regime, we will welcome you with open arms and open hearts. People are counting the minutes for this regime to be over and gone.
NRO: What makes you think you speak for the majority?
Fakhravar: When I go to underground meetings of fellow students and friends of mine, I see that my statements, my books, all the things I and other dissidents have been saying are on the walls of their bedrooms. I hear what they say. They very much give their views. And I meet with other people who are on top of other networks. I meet with representatives of many, many networks, and I know what all of these people are thinking.
NRO: The Iranian regime does a great deal to support groups like Hezbollah and Hamas that commit terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. What do the Iranians you know think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and about Iran’s role in it?
Fakhravar: We see that the interests of the Palestinians are more important to this regime than the interests of Iranians. When we see a government like that, that has Shehab missiles and parades them through the streets and covers them with cloth threatening “Death to Israel,” “Death to America,” we don’t think this is in the interests of Iran or of anybody. This is purely for [the regime’s] own interests. We, all the youngsters, think of other nations–Americans, Israelis, Europeans–as our brothers. We see that two generations have already been lost [since Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979]. In kindergarten, in primary schools, one of the biggest elements they’re teaching is that other people’s religions are not right, that other people are our enemies. They preach death to America and death to Israel. They praise suicide bombers. This is what they are doing with our culture and our civilization that go back 2,500 years. Nobody trusts the schools or wants to send their children to them. Apart from all the everyday problems people are confronting, besides economic problems, unemployment, inflation, this is the education we see–the education of death.
NRO: What do Iranians think of George W. Bush?
Fakhravar: The people of Iran, especially the youth, are so admiring of Bush and his administration for siding with the people of Iran rather than the government of Iran. No other leader of any government, even the Europeans, took this stand. All the youngsters support him and love him, and we want to express our deepest gratitude for him and his administration and what they are doing to liberate us.
NRO: Are you receiving any support from the U.S. government?
Fakhravar: I cannot mention who, but I’m definitely communicating with some people in the U.S. government and have established contacts with people in the Bush administration.
NRO: Can you say anything about your personal safety and the conditions you live in?
Fakhravar: As I said before, I’m a fugitive on the run and am living in hiding. For years I’ve been struggling and fighting this regime. I was in the most notorious prison. They broke my knee, they tore my ligament, they broke my nose, so many tortures, and my family has been through so much because of me. My only aid and objective is to see this regime be gone totally–not only a part of it, but the whole regime. I want for my sister and mother and all the women I know to live in freedom. I want my children, when I get married and have a child and he goes to school, to be taught love rather than death. We want to live among all the nations of the world in peace, and we want all the basic freedoms that other countries have right now. We don’t want our name to be–whenever people hear “Iranians,” a country that had such a civilization and was so respected–now they say Iranians equal terrorists. We don’t want our name to be mentioned like that.