by ALI CHENAR in Washington, D.C.
29 Nov 2009 22:01
But what seemed like a minor event to get rid of a trouble-maker in a Third World country, transformed the politics of the Middle East, and indeed much of the world. That footnote became a page in history, the page a chapter, and the chapter is now a book, or a volume in an expanding series. Britain and the United States certainly secured their interest in Iranian oil in the short run. However, in just two short decades, those interests were challenged in a most unexpected way. A Revolution in Iran changed the game, and the rules of the game. And even 30 years after that political earthquake and a half a century after that little coup, everyone keeps circling back to it. In a nutshell, things probably would have looked a lot different today had the West not been so myopic, an unfortunate state it continues to suffer from.
Even though we saw how significant an insignificant event can become in the course of history, no one here seems to heed its lesson today. World powers are making the same mistake. In Washington, many are fixated on the nuclear talks and once again blinded by their short-term interests. They tout their "national interest" over their real "national interest" in the long run: a democratic and peace-seeking Iran. They seem to be prepared to compromise any principle of human rights to reach an agreement.
Washington's obsession with negotiating with Iran on the nuclear issue has also created a hazardous atmosphere. First, it's still a barrier to reaching an understanding with the Iranian government in any other matter. It has been used as an excuse to deny any openings to the Iranian private sector, to limit academic exchange and to discourage any other meaningful relationship with Iran or Iranians. Second, the hope to reach an agreement has muddled the facts and encouraged others to turn a blind eye to a monumental shift in Iranian society.
The Western power's chief mistake is downplaying the significance of the Green Movement. Rather than recognizing its achievements, everyone here seems all too eager to write its obituary. Sadly, many Westerner observers prefer to see it as another failed chapter in the long story of social discontent in Iran. The recent protests are being used to remind Tehran of their domestic vulnerabilities and the benefits of reaching a compromise (all safe options that do not obligate anyone to do anything else).
Many Iranians find this approach despicable and deceitful. They do not consider the events of the last summer and the ongoing stream of demonstrations as another closed chapter. In Iran, many genuinely believe that they have succeeded in turning over a new page and see it as the start of a new era. As an eyewitness of Tehran's protests told me, "Looking at those thousands of people marching in silence with their hands in the air showing the sign of peace, I felt another Iran was being born. I felt a respect and a pride that I never ever felt in my life before."
This is something we all felt there.
In this new era, Iranians are demanding real change. And they are determined to have it peacefully and gradually because a majority of them wish to avoid violence and bloodshed. They do not wish to replace a religious dictatorship with another form of it, secular as it may be. Such a process requires time, great tact and patience. An Iranian student who recently arrived in Los Angeles found the attitude of many bystanders mind-boggling and far removed from the reality in Iran. "My classmates and Iranian American friends talk of Gandhi and in the same breath complain about how things stopped in Tehran!" he told me. "Are they crazy? It took Gandhi 30 years to dislodge the British from India. Ghandi had to find new strategies and tactics. He had to come back at them again and again. He had to go back to prison again and again." It seems that many on the sidelines expected events in Iran to unfold like a 90-minute Hollywood movie, where bullets always miss the good guys and the bad guys are easily beaten.
The current situation resembles 1953 in another way. Back then, the communist threat in Iran was exaggerated to the extent that many willingly sacrificed Iran's fledgling democracy to prevent a threat that had not existed in the first place. The nuclear issue is being played in the same way. Its exaggerated significance has come to dominate the discourse in many Western capitals. This time around, it's Iran's young innocent Green Movement that is to be sacrificed for an accomplishment that in the course of history may not even amount to a footnote. A nuclear deal must be reached; negotiations have their place, but not at any price and certainly not at the expense of the Iranian people.
Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau