In the past week, millions of Iranian citizens have taken to the streets protesting the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying it was a sham. Iranian leaders blame foreign influence for this unrest. But what is really happening is that Iranians are looking to beacons of freedom around the world for solidarity and support as they appeal for the basic liberties that, today, we take for granted in America. The people of Iran know their call for freedom is resonating around the globe. In photos sent from blackberries and cell phones we see Iranians of every generation holding signs, many of them in English, demanding, “Where is my vote?”
Some of the most disturbing images to come out of Iran show the last moments of the life of a young woman who was shot in the streets of Tehran. The world has come to know her as “Neda,” Farsi for “the voice” or “the call.” The picture that will endure and define this chapter in history is of Neda lying on the ground, desperately clinging to life while her teacher tries to staunch the flow of blood drawn from a cowardly sniper’s bullet.
The Iranian regime has resorted to violence, media blackouts, and murder to retain power and to extinguish the people’s desire for freedom. Today, the world stands at a critical juncture. What happens in the streets of Tehran has major implications for the future of democracy in the Middle East, as well as the ability of the Free World to prevail against all the forces of tyranny in the 21st Century.
The Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime, founded in 1979, could be described as the first modern terrorist state. It has been the key financial and weapons supplier of Hezbollah, which, in 1983, bombed U.S. military barracks in Beirut, killing over 200 U.S. Marines. For 30 years, the regime has sponsored countless attacks on American troops, allies, and assets in the Middle East, causing death and destruction.
But the greatest victim of this nefarious regime has been the Iranian people. Because of the leading Islamic clerics’ extreme interpretation of “sharia law,” Iran is one of the world’s worst violators of human rights – especially the rights of women and religious minorities.
While President Ahmadinejad and his cronies, empowered by the Ayatollah, repress the Iranian people, they are also accelerating Iran’s nuclear weapons program. We must not allow Iran’s theocracy to bear nuclear arms. It would pose a greater threat than ever to American interests and allies, including Israel, which Ahmadinejad has publically said should be “wiped off the face of the Earth.”
That is precisely why America must support the brave men and women in the streets of Iran who are confronting the Iranian regime head-on with a battle cry of freedom. The success of the Iranian people is indispensable to U.S. leadership of the Global War on Terror.
Since 9/11, the U.S. has worked to advance democracy in the Muslim World so that its people might enjoy free elections, equal rights for women, religious tolerance, and other basic civil liberties. Our efforts have been costly and paid with the lives of Americans. But we are beginning to see progress. Last year, radical Islamists were dealt a grave blow in the Pakistani election. Earlier this year, secular forces in Iraq won a huge election victory. Even more recently, Hezbollah was routed in Lebanon’s election.
In his inaugural speech, President Obama proclaimed, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
The Iranian mullahs are clenching their fists against the people and the President must say so forcefully; proclaiming to the world that the United States stands firmly with the Iranian people and on the right side of history. America has the perspective – and the responsibility – to espouse democracy for all who desire it both in words and deeds.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior U.S. Senator from Texas.