Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Iranian Revolution Will Come from the People

Bridget Johnson, The Daily News:
John F. Kennedy once said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." The former president could have been talking about Iran, circa now. READ MORE

After more than two decades of repressive mullahs and Shariah, today's young Iranians -- more than two-thirds of the population is under 30 -- have had their appetites for freedom whetted by a technological age in which the West can't be shut out. Even the regime's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is now a blogger -- as other bloggers in the country are being thrown in jail.

One of the opposition voices speaking to Iranians -- who, according to reports phoned and e-mailed from inside the country, have increasingly been taking to the streets in protest against the Islamic regime -- is a radio station nestled in Beverly Hills. Broadcasting from "Tehrangeles" across the United States, to Tehran and beyond, KRSI-Radio Sedaye Iran uses satellites and -- for two hours a day -- shortwave radios to send out the stories untouched by Iranian censors.

In addition to getting Farsi news broadcasts from Israel, millions of listeners tune in 24 hours a day for shows, such as "Good Morning Iran," on which hosts field calls from within the country about regime atrocities, civil disobedience and government crackdowns that may or may not make the news wires.

Like this month's Festival of Fire, where thousands celebrated the Iranian new year in the streets -- and endured beatings and tear gas -- despite the government decrying the holiday as pagan. Or the protests accompanying last week's World Cup qualifying soccer match between Iran and Japan, where elation from victory on the field turned into fresh demonstrations in the streets lambasting the mullahs. Protesters have vowed to come out in force again tonight after the Iran-North Korea soccer match.

And, as Hashemi Rafsanjani once again eyes the presidency, Iranians are vowing to stay away from the June polls, says Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, a New York-based writer and Iranian activist. Her father, film historian Siamak Pourzand, is a political prisoner in Iran.

As I chatted last week with KRSI President Alireza Morovati in his office, while a Farsi broadcast played in the background, he made the aims of the uprising clear: a referendum, a new constitution, democratically elected leaders (without candidate slates edited by clerics) and a secular state free of Islamic law.

While driving toward democracy, Zand-Bonazzi told me, the Iranian people must be clear on their goal to get rid of the mullahs and not push one ideology over another. "It has to be ... a much more pointed attack on the Islamic republic," she said. And the referendum must be internationally monitored.

Morovati also noted that, unlike many Europeans nowadays, Iranians tend to love Americans and Western culture, despite clerics' branding of the U.S. as the Great Satan. He said the biggest thing for Iranians to know right now is that Bush is behind them. It would be nice if the Europeans got on board as well, noted Zand-Bonazzi.

Far from being the slums of Baghdad or Kabul, Tehran is a cosmopolitan city with an educated work force, which will make the difference after the mullahs fall, Morovati said.

"Iranians have every potential to match the productivity of the Japanese and the Indians," Zand-Bonazzi said.

Both said they expect Iranians who have done so well here to invest in the liberated country, helping the economy take off.

But who's going to unite scores of demonstrators and dissenters in revolution against the mullahs? Poland had Lech Walesa; the Czechs had Vaclav Havel. But not in Iran, opines Zand-Bonazzi, noting that a figurehead would be too hegemonic in that culture, and that any leader would be arrested and executed by the regime. There are already many opposition leaders in prison, she said.

"The leaders of this revolution have to be the populace," and come from within Iran, she said.

It may not be a velvet revolution, but it won't have the same result as the 1979 revolution. Instead of ushering in decades of oppression, the next turn -- though most likely bloody -- will be for the better.

And Iranians who are now Americans hope America -- and the world -- will stand behind their compatriots.

Bridget Johnson writes for the Daily News. Write to her by e-mail at