Thursday, March 3, 2011

Words that only Provoke

In an interview with Reuters, Ahmed Maleki, a former Iranian diplomat who recently defected to France, made several strong statements yesterday, including "that Iran's leaders would rather 'slaughter' their own people than surrender power to any popular revolt inspired by uprisings across the Arab world." He also claimed that Iranian protesters "faced a regime far more brutal than those of Egypt, Tunisia or even Libya." Of course a violent response to peaceful protestors under any circumstances is reprehensible. And all deaths are significant. However examining the figures, it appears that thousands have now died in Libya and over 300 died during the 18 day revolution in Egypt, whereas only tens died in Libya and during the two months of protests after the contested presidential election in Iran. In relation to each country's overall population, by far the lowest percentage of protesters were killed in Iran.

Maleki further added that "in the course of the past 32 years the sole objective of the [Iranian] regime has been to retain power." And yet again, this statement does not hold up to scrutiny. While after the 2009 election the Islamic Republic appeared unwilling to respond to people's voices as they peacefully marched in the following days to demand a recount of the votes, in 1997 and again in 2001 Seyyed Mohammad Khatami—a reformist cleric and strong supporter of the Green Movement—was elected by an overwhelming majority as President of Iran. So not only have there been many regimes in Iran, not just one, but also the current Supreme Leader has previously left it to the Iranian people to elect their government, and allowed an opposition leader to be president for eight years.

By making such sham statements, Maleki appears to be a war monger and not a diplomat. It is unlikely that anybody is looking for a slaughter in Iran. Indeed, senior members of the Revolutionary Guards recently sent a letter to the Supreme Leader stating that they will not fire their weapons on fellow Iranians. Unfortunately Maleki's statements are as damaging as those I have heard first-hand from supporters of the Islamic Republic who dismiss the protests in Iran as the dissatisfaction of a few thousands, and not several millions. This perspective not only steals votes, but also erases human lives. So what Maleki should be focusing on is the current government's refusal to acknowledge the discord expressed by a sizable group of Iranians, and its ultimate manipulation of the nation's psyche. Many supporters of the Green Movement have been harassed and threatened or even arrested and subject to systematic interrogations. Such repression has not only affected their politics, but also broken their spirits. If he were a true diplomat Maleki would not be provoking further violent protests but instead be focusing on finding a way to achieve reconciliation in order to save those Iranians who today comprise the living dead.

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