My intent yesterday was to write today on Senator Tom Coburn's "100 Stimulus Projects: A Second Opinion" which takes to task over $5 billion of the $787 billion rushed through Congress in January as a stimulus package. Calling out a project in his own state (Oklahoma) as Number 1, Coburn lists 100 projects that are, in his opinion, a waste of taxpayer funds. It made news locally as a $600,000 skate park expansion in Long Beach is on the list, near the bottom but on the list.
Rather than address what Coburn has already addressed, and comment on a by-product of our democracy and representative form of government, I woke up this morning and was again incredibly moved by the courage and bravery of Iranian citizens who are standing up to the powerful Mullahs, the Supreme Leader and the President of their country over the results of elections held last week.
Officially the nation is the Islamic Republic of Iran. "Republic" invoking the idea of republican rule, elections, representative government. Iran does hold elections, the candidates selected by the Mullahs (the "Islamic" part of the nation's name) and the people then get to vote on who will represent them. To understand the relative futility of elections in Iran we must look at its government. Iran is an Islamic nation, governed by the "Assembly of Experts" a group of 86 Mujtahids, or Islamic scholars. This group then selects the Supreme Leader, currently Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei then has the power to appoint virtually ever position in the country that holds any power: heads of the police, army, radio, television, mosques, judges, all are beholden to the Ayatollah. He, and with the consent of the Mullahs, also approve all ballots in the country.
This past week Iran went through such an exercise, the world watched as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was being challenged by Hossein Mousavi, who is the last Prime Minister of Iran before the Mullahs changed the constitution in 1989. Due to unrest in a nation facing increasingly dire economic hardship the Mullahs approved the placement of Mousavi on the ballot. As the election neared it became more and more evident that Mousavi was very popular in Iran and could win the election. Maybe he did. After the votes were supposedly counted the Mullahs declared Ahmadinejad as the winner of the election with over 60% of the vote. And then the trouble started.
Iranians have been protesting for many years. Most protests have had little news coverage in the United States, but they have occured often with brutal reprisals and results from the government. Several years ago students in the universities protested and hundreds were killed or are still missing. Having the opportunity to cast their ballots, the Iranian people feel they should have a voice in how they are governed; not an unreasonable feeling. Unfortunately the casting of ballots in Iran is somewhat of a sham and more of a gratuitous experience allowed by the Mullahs. This time the gratuity appears to have bit the Mullahs in their robes.
After the results were announced that Ahmadinejad was the winner of the election supporters of "reform candidate" Mousavi took to the streets and protested the results. And the government has responded with force. Shooting into crowds, sending in the army and state police with clubs, the government response has been brutal as it attempts to shut down the protests and once again control the nation. Unlike 1979 when a revolution overthrew the Shah and led to the current system of government, today's protesters have a weapon not even considered in 1979: the internet and Twitter. In 1979 as the Ayatollah Khomenei was trying to consolidate power among all the various groups that revolted and overthrew the Shah his followers stormed the United States Embassy and took American hostages--diverting the attention of the various factions against each other and on the Americans. As the coalition began to fall apart the Ayatollah provoked Saddam Hussein and Iraq into a war, a bloody and brutal war that lasted seven years, and focussed the people on another enemy outside of the state and led to even more power for the Mullahs and the Supreme Leader.
Today they are having a more difficult task of controlling the people as with cell phones posting pictures and videos on YouTube of police calmly firing their guns into crowds, and using Twitter to organize protests and pass news along. The democratic principals so strongly desired by so many Iranian people are being supported not by the leaders of free Western governments, but by the leaders of technology in Silicon Valley. As the Iranian government shuts down Internet Service Providers and websites in the country word gets out and around the world ordinary people with keyboards are opening new portals for Iranians to get out the word of their desires for their votes to be counted and their words to be heard.
Reading the tweets of persiankiwi I learn that he, and others tweeting throughout Tehran and the country, are being sought by the national police, that the police are posing undercover as doctors in hospitals to arrest people coming in for treatment, that the government is trying to jam Twitter and other sites with false information to lure protesters into certain areas where they can be arrested or worse. Searching #Iran one gets hundreds of tweets per second as people across the world reach out to support the people of Iran who simply want their votes counted--they probably want much more but for now they want honesty in their ballots.
What really touched me as I watch from a monitor a revolution half way around the world are the numbers of people who are changing their computers to be show they are in Tehran and on Tehran's time zone in order to jam the cyberworld and confuse the Iranian government, making it harder for them to trace Iranians posting to the world the abuses being inflicted by the Iranian government. I remember just standing in awe staring at my television during the first Gulf War as Wolf Blitzer and CNN brought a war into our homes, live. Watching video from the cone of a smart bomb as it slammed into an Iraqi military installation, seeing tracers being fired into a snipers' nest, watching Patriot Missiles from Israel shoot down Scud missiles heading to Tel Aviv. Now we sit at our desks and on our laptops watch video shot minutes before in the streets of Tehran as a man calmly stands in a window, points his automatic weapon down into the street below him and shoots, again and again and again.
Whoever is elected as President of Iran matters not much in the big picture of ruling Iran. He holds little real power and is there to speak publicly for the Supreme Leader and the Council of Experts. Many are naive in thinkiing a Mousavi victory over Ahmadinejad would mean a cessation of pursuit of nuclear weapons, forgetting Mousavi started Iran's nuclear projects when he was Prime Minister, and a softer tone against Israel. But in reality a Mousavi victory would mean just another puppet for the Mullahs who hold all the power in Iran. Sure his tone might be softer but the course of the nation supporting terrorists with cash and weapons, sending terrorists into foreign countries to fight and bomb, disrupting peace in the Middle East and the globe, would continue.
In the end the best thing the Mullahs could do for promoting true democracy in Iran was what they did do--rig an election. By stealing their votes the Mullahs have pushed young Iranians, and older ones who have bristled against the government for three decades, into risking their lives to lift their voices. It could be that the oppression of democracy has given the strength to those fighting the oppression to rise up in great numbers to combat that oppression.
As I sit at my laptop admiring the courage and commitment of people thousands of miles away I am inspired by their determination to have even part of what I enjoy: freedom to speak my opinions, freedom to criticize my government, freedom to visit my place of worship, freedom to punch a ballot and know it will be counted. It lifts my spirit to watch as thousands and thousands of other individuals around the world share their support for the persiankiwi and others as they struggle to fight a battle that may become a war.
As they risk their lives to post "Beware false communications from govt trust only mssges this source" our nation watches from afar. Supporters of President Obama feel he is doing the right thing by doing and saying nothing to support the protesters; Obama's detractors (myself included) are upset that the person known as the "Leader of the Free World" sits on his tongue in order not to upset the oppressive government of Iran. At this point the people of Iran appear to have gained enough momentum that they may be able to sustain their protests into a revolution and other throw their government, we won't know for several days or weeks; but what if they do not yet have that momentum. What if words of encouragement and support from the country that has proven the success of democracy and liberty could make the difference in their cause?
I encourage you to call your Congressional Representatives and the White House (202-456-1414) and voice your support for those in Iran who are asking for fairness, who are asking for their government not to kill those who speak against it; ask that our Congressional leaders and President Obama vocally condemn the Iranian government for killing protesters and rigging an election. In the meantime if you are on Twitter, send messages of encouragement to those in Tehran.
This post is a bit more disjointed than my posts are normally--the result of not having an editor but as well the result of my writing this on the fly trying to capture the strong emotions I feels as I watch a people try to take control of their country. Reading tweets of someone I will never know hoping to read just one more knowing he is okay in his struggle to enjoy just some freedom.