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Opinion: Start Worldwide Campaign for Green Movement Leaders' Release

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

25 Feb 2011 00:58Comments

Time to take a stand to free Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

610x-2.jpg[ opinion ] The demonstrations in Iran on February 14 and 20 ended a myth -- more precisely, a lie -- that had been spread by Iran's hardliners. The lie was that the Green Movement had died and been buried, and that the hardliners were going to rule for another decade or two. They got a rude wakeup call.

The recent demonstrations were vastly different from those that took place in the aftermath of the presidential election a year and a half ago, powerful evidence that the movement is alive and well. When on June 25, 2009, three days after the election, huge peaceful demonstrations broke out in Tehran -- 3.5 million people took part, according to the estimate by Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf -- the violent crackdown on the demonstrators, political activists, human rights defenders, university students, journalists, and others had not started. The terrible crimes at the Kahrizak detention center had not yet occurred. The more than 110 people that were murdered in the wake of the election, including such now iconic figures as Neda Agha Soltan and Sohrab Arabi, were still alive. Hundreds of people had yet to be jailed, and no political prisoners had been executed. People were therefore both relatively fearless and still hopeful that the ruling elite would recognize their aspirations and demands and take concrete steps to address them. After all, 85 percent of the people had just voted to make peaceful, orderly changes in the country.

Events since then have demonstrated that the ruling group has no intention of backing down. Instead of trying to address people's needs, the hardliners began creating an environment of fear, viewing even the most minor problems as security issues that had to be addressed through force, detention, show trials, jail, torture, house arrest, and threats. University students were expelled, arrested, or even murdered. Social and political science departments in all major universities stopped taking new students, as they were blamed for the "secular" thinking of the protestors. Progressive professors were either dismissed or forced to retire. Journalists, human rights defenders, and leading reformist political figures were either arrested, or silenced, or forced into exile. Even attorneys defending the prisoners could not escape the wrath of the hardliners.

The atmosphere of fear and the extreme, systematic repression aimed at one and only one goal: to convey the message to the supporters of the Green Movement -- who in my opinion constitute a large majority of the population -- that their movement is dead, and that it is futile to try to reform and change the system peacefully. The hardliners went deaf, not listening to the advice and warnings of many leading figures among the clerics, reformists, and even in the conservative camp that the present state of affairs could not continue indefinitely.

At the same time, the population was bombarded by an intense propaganda campaign that would have made Joseph Goebbels proud. Every day people were told that the "sedition" (the name given to the Green Movement by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) is dead, that people have rejected the leaders of the movement -- Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi -- that they are isolated and do not dare to appear in public, and that the hardliners are in complete control.

The last major demonstrations by the movement took place on the Day of Ashura, December 26, 2009. Two days later, counterdemonstrations by the Basij militia and forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps took place in Tehran -- the occasion entered the parlance of the hardliners as the official "burial day" of the Green Movement. The Green Movement did disappear from streets. Its raging fires were covered by a heap of ash; however, it did not die. The fires under the ash kept burning.

Those who wanted immediate results lost hope. Some who were looking for an excuse -- any excuse -- to attack the movement's leaders began to do so. Some began talking about going "beyond" the Green Movement. Some began calling on foreign powers to help them "liberate" Iran, as if foreign governments have the interests of the Iranian people in their hearts, rather than their own. Absurd statements were made by some. Absurd groups, such as "secular Greens," and absurd notions, such as "new secularism," were opportunistically announced, as if the movement was religious or about religion. They all forgot the impressive achievements of the Green Movement.

And such Iranians were not the only ones who declared the death of the Green Movement. A small, misguided segment of the American left from the old communist school of thought also supported Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his supposedly "anti-imperialist" stance. Strangely enough, at the same time, some old-timers in the American foreign policy establishment, such as Flynt Leverett and his wife, Hillary Mann Leverett, also began talking about the death of the Green Movement. Amazingly, certain supporters of Ahmadinejad -- the purported "anti-imperialist" -- were endowed with the title of "scholar," generously bestowed upon them by the Leveretts, forged an alliance with the couple -- long-serving bureaucrats for the same imperial power that Ahmadinejad supposedly opposes -- similarly propagated the fictional notion that the Green Movement is dead, and attacked anyone who disagreed with them (including the author).

At the start of the current Iranian year, which began on March 21, 2010, Mousavi declared it year one of "resistance." During the entire time, the movement's leaders, particularly Mousavi, asked people to be patient, resist pressure and, through social networks, inform others. He kept saying that the Green Movement needs to spread its wings. Working people should understand that their desires for a decent living, housing, employment, and education for their children are also the movement's concerns. Ethnic minorities should recognize that their calls for respect for their languages and cultures are also the concerns of the movement. Women should understand that their struggle against gender discrimination is also the movement's concern. The true nationalists -- not the bogus ones that support Ahmadinejad -- who are concerned about Iran's national security and territorial integrity should understand those are also the movement's concerns.

When Mousavi called on the people to cancel demonstrations planned for the first anniversary of the presidential election, on June 12, 2010, he was attacked again. He and Karroubi had recognized that the hardliners were prepared to shed blood to thwart the protests. They recognized that the movement's most effective weapon is its peaceful nature and that, if the fate of the democratic movement were to be decided by violence, the hardliners would surely win and set back the movement by at least a decade. Their call to cancel the demonstrations became another excuse for the naysayers to attack them and triumphantly reaffirm the death of the Green Movement. "Mousavi and Karroubi want to protect the regime," the naysayers said, forgetting that the same men had put everything that they have on the line and had announced time and again that they are prepared to pay any price for achieving their goal, namely, the creation of a democratic Iran.

Time proved all of those naysayers wrong. At the opportune moment, Mousavi and Karroubi called on the movement to go back to the streets to demonstrate, and people heeded their call. It simply does not matter whether tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated. What matters is that the extreme repression and oppression imposed on the nation by the hardliners proved ineffective. People from all walks of life took part in the demonstrations, even though Tehran and many other cities had been turned into virtual military bases by the hardliners.

But the best evidence of the success of the demonstrations is the reaction of the hardliners themselves. The next day, the Majles -- the supposed house of the people's representatives, the branch of the political system empowered to make laws and monitor that they are followed -- was transformed into a venue for such thugs as Ruhollah Hosseinian, Mehdi Kouchak Zadeh, and Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel. They attacked the Green Movement's leaders and demanded their execution.

Hosseinian -- the man who defended Saeed Emami, leader of the gang behind the Chain Murders who infamously said, "We were murderers ourselves" -- declared Mousavi and Karroubi "corrupt on Earth," an offense punishable by death. Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, the reactionary cleric, demanded that Karroubi be defrocked. Haddad Adel, whose daughter is married to Khamenei and who has enriched himself through this association, attacked Mousavi and Karroubi. The wave of arrests that began in the week leading up to February 14 continued unabated.

Worst of all, the hardliners were forced to steal two new martyrs -- Saneh Jaleh and Mohammad Mokhtari -- declaring the former a member of the Basij and a spy and holding a mock funeral for the latter with an empty casket. The hardliners claiming that foreign agents and the opposition murdered them, without bothering to answer a simple question: If foreign agents or the opposition were behind the murders, why did they not try the same thing on the anniversary of the Revolution on February 11, when there was ample opportunity to murder a large number of Basij members?

Now Mousavi and Karroubi and their wives are under house arrest. It is not, of course, the first time that dissidents and opposition leaders have been placed under house arrest in Iran. Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh experienced the same sort of detention. Many ayatollahs who opposed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini or the hardlners were and still are under house arrest, including Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Kazem Shariatmadari (1905-1986); Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Hassan Tabatabai Qomi (1911-), who has been under house arrest since 1984; Grand Ayatollah Sadegh Rouhani (1926-), who has been under house arrest since 1995; and Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri (1922-2009). Others include Noureddin Kianouri (1915-1999), the leader of the Tudeh (Communist) Party of Iran, and most recently Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi, leader of the Liberation Movement of Iran.

The spirit of the leadership of Mousavi and Karroubi remains intact. They have set the path for the Green Movement. They have been exemplary by risking everything they have, including their own lives. Virtually all of their aides have been arrested or forced into exile. Their families and wives have been attacked. Mousavi's nephew was assassinated and his wife's nephew, Saleh Noqrehkar, has been arrested. Their own homes have been turned into their jails.

Those who support the Green Movement -- indeed anyone who supports peaceful democratic changes -- must take a stand. Those who witnessed the executions of the 1980s but remained silent failed their moral responsibility. Likewise, those who remain silent and are not willing to protest the virtual imprisonment of Mousavi and Karroubi will have failed their moral responsibility toward Iran and Iranians. The minimum that those of us who live outside Iran can do is write articles, inform people, sign petitions, write to the United Nations and other international organizations, and do whatever we can to raise our voices and help free the courageous leaders of the Green Movement.

Let Ahmadinejad's official and unofficial lobbyists in the United States declare the Green Movement dead. Let them use their connections, websites, and access to the mainstream media to promote Ahmadinejad as the man. The world now knows who the true and popular leaders are. And no one, absolutely no one, comes even remotely close to the popular support that the two men enjoy among the supporters of the Green Movement.

Help start a worldwide campaign for the release of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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