No Shortcuts in Iranian Struggle for Human Rights

The massive demonstrations in Iran have set off a frenzy among the hawks of the world who seem to believe that violence can be the antidote for violence. These hawks are impatient, unschooled people who have refused to learn the lessons of history. Rarely does violence bring good results. True victory is won in the heart not on the battlefield.

People who are physically subjugated often harbor such resentment that subsequent peace is unattainable. The creation of Israel provides an example of this. The seizure of Irish homes by the English is another. As the old saying puts it, “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

Iran’s path to attaining human rights will be long and arduous. The Islamic theocracy has deep and strong roots. Even if one group of mullahs is overthrown, the succeeding ayatollahs are unlikely to allow true reform. Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the leading opposition figure, is no human rights activist. He is a long-time member of the theocracy who is seeking the presidency under the existing political structure. To replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with Mousavi would be – as they say in Jamaica – to “swap black dog fe monkey.” The difference would be skin deep.

President Obama knows this, and while he is “heartbroken” by the suffering of the Iranian protesters, he recognizes how counterproductive it would be for him to incite more demonstrations. He knows the appearance of U.S. intervention in the dispute would be the kiss of death for the protesters’ cause.

gandhiIf a genuine urge for freedom is emerging among Iranians, they will have to win it for themselves. And I think they will have to take the long road. They might be wise to study the life of Mahatma Gandhi (pictured at right) for starters. Gandhi’s crusade of nonviolent resistance to Britain eventually led to India’s independence, but it took more than a quarter of a century. It took even longer for the nonviolent revolution advocated by Martin Luther King to bear fruit in the election of America’s first black president. And in both cases, the leaders of the crusade were prepared to endure personal sacrifice. Gandhi fasted. King died.

Perhaps the face of Neda (photo below) – a beautiful woman murdered by a sniper in the flower of her youth – will provide the symbol that Iranians need to resist and endure. In India, protesters squatted in the middle of the road and refused to budge even when they were clubbed and whipped. When salt was taxed, thousands marched to the shore and dried their own salt.neda

Instead of gathering in the streets where the Basiji can pick them off from the rooftops, Iran’s protesters will need to adopt smarter tactics. They might choose a general strike as one method. But it will take not one but many strikes to bring down the mullahs, and the strikers must be prepared to endure great personal hardship, as times are hard in Iran and few have any savings.

Instead of shaking their fists at the mullahs, hawks like John McCain should be cudgeling their brains for nonviolent ways to help the protesters. Senator McCain is chairman of a covert operation known as the International Republican Institute, and this organization has been accused of fomenting unrest in Iran. Perhaps groups like this can find secret ways of smuggling food and money into Iran to help the strikers survive – instead of egging them on to risk their lives in the street.

But I doubt that McCain would consider this approach. It seems that he would much rather “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” which would give the Iranians a common enemy and end any hope of human rights for Iranians in the foreseeable future.