Lots of chatter on the Internet regarding support for the Iranian people and their struggle for freedom and democracy. And I’ve seen PM Stephen Harper and our Foreign Affairs ministry criticized for inaction over the past few days. Personally, I believe we in the general public should back off and let our experts handle the Iran file.
I admire the courage of the Iranians who took to the streets in mass protests of what they believe was a “stolen” presidential election that saw President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad receive more than 60 per cent of the vote. And I think presidential rival, Mir Hussein Moussavi—a former prime minister with a reputation for honesty and competence—would most probably be an improvement over Ahmadinejad.
However, my general understanding of Iran and the international implications of what is transpiring there is much more limited than that of our prime minister and our diplomats in Foreign Affairs. And, frankly, I do not believe the vast majority of current critics on the Internet are any better informed than I am.
To begin with, I doubt many of the protesters/insurgents want anything like what a typical Canadian would term “freedom and democracy.” If they did, they would be calling for the removal of Iran’s Assembly of Experts and/or their Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who are the primary impediments to both those desirable ends.
So far anyway, I have not heard calls for the resignation, abdication or overthrow of either the Assembly of Experts or the Supreme Leader. And since the Supreme Leader—an unelected office—is responsible for delineation and supervision of the general policies of the Islamic Republic, and is Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, controls the military intelligence and security operations, has sole power to declare war or peace, he pretty well calls the shots and has the final say in all matters.
So long as the Assembly of Experts and the Supreme Leader retain power, Iran will never really be a free and democratic country—regardless of who the president is—at least, not in a western sense.
In 1979, following the ouster of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Ayatollah Khomeini declared an Islamic republic after a landslide victory in a national referendum. Iran has had a quasi theocracy since that time.
A huge proportion of Iranians still support their Islamic Republic, especially in the rural areas. Many of those people really only want a change in the office of president, largely an administrative post, making this an internal Iranian matter that is really none of our business. If we interfere, we may win some thanks from the urban middle class, but we will almost certainly earn even more hatred and resentment from a much broader segment of the Iranian population.
These folks did not ask for our interference when they, by overwhelming majority, set up their Islamic Republic, and, for the most part, are not seeking it now.
With notable exceptions, Iranians are not friends of the West. They are much the same as those who stood by and applauded when, in 1979, a group of Islamist students and militants took over the American embassy in Tehran with the support of the Iranian government. At that time, there were no mass demonstrations in the streets of Tehran in support of the 52 Americans who were held hostage for 444 days.
Typically, Iranians see us as an adversary, not a source of their salvation.
As for criticism of our prime minister and Foreign Affairs: I find it ludicrous that a bunch of amateurs are trying to give advice to career foreign service officers.
On this issue, I’ll defer to the experts and wish the rec-room quarterbacks would lay off. The pressure on our diplomats involved in this file must already be severe enough without the hue and cry from well-meaning but largely uninformed, amateur critics.
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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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