The ‘Confederation of Iranian Students’ (CIS) collaborated with the ‘Institute of World Politics’ (IWP) to hold what was heralded as the first conference on democracy in Iran that comprised of personalities from all backgrounds who held opposing and sometimes conflicting views, to gather and engage in an open forum. Supporters of various Iranian political parties from the Mujahedeen, right through to Monarchists were invited to join in. However, not all invitees attended. It was to truly honour democracy, and honour democracy it did.
This conference was titled ‘Iran Democratic Transition Conference’ (IDTC), and was held in George Washington University on the 22nd and 23rd of January, and in Capitol Hill at the United States Congress on the 24th January, 2011. Guest speakers came from the USA, Canada, Europe, and some interacted via Skype from the Far East. Such speakers had different backgrounds, but all shared the same goal – the removal of the Islamic regime in Iran and the establishment of a secular and democratic government. The focus of this post will be on the IDTC's third day at Capitol Hill.
This stage of the conference focused on the United States’ policy on Iran so that the "Iranian people live in freedom", rather than the tyranny and oppression they endure under the present IRI regime. One would hope that such was the true intention of the US, and not ulterior political objectives as has been repeatedly demonstrated through the decades.
A military campaign had not been ruled out in addressing the IRI government’s role in supporting terrorists with funds and arms, which are then used to fight against the US troops in Iraq/Afghanistan. However, the speakers emphasized their common message - the US will first attempt to support the Iranian people in removing the IRI government through peaceful means. That way, the result would be a ‘win-win’ situation, as the Iranian people will enjoy freedom and democracy, whilst the US enjoys peace of mind in knowing that the IRI threat against the US no longer exists. At least, that is what was expressed at Capitol Hill that day.
First to speak was Senator John Cornyn of the US Republican Party. He introduced the ‘Iran Democratic Transition Act 2010’ (IDTA), which he hopes will gain sufficient support to move to “the President’s desk”. The IDTA was devised to ‘support Iranians to establish a fully democratic and accountable government’. Senator Cornyn confirmed that the IDTA does not assert that the ‘US knows best’; it asserts that “it’s time for the Iranian people to stand and take action and the US will stand with them”. In hindsight, this did not seem to materialise, as the 'Arab Spring' took shape and focus on supporting the Iranian people in Iran was lost.
The Senator appealed for the Iranian people’s help in gaining more support in order to “pass this Bill” to assist the struggle for freedom in Iran. His words inspired a feeling of hope that perhaps he really did want to assist the freedom movement in Iran without resorting to a military campaign. One may have been forgiven for being so naive.
Senator Cornyn rightly criticized President Obama for ‘taking very few steps’, adding that Mr. Obama has demonstrated that he is content with the presence of the IRI regime, given he has expressed a willingness to ‘sit and hold talks’ with them. Senator Cornyn illustrated this criticism, which resides in the hearts of many Iranians world-wide, that it took the President “days to condemn” the regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors and dissidents in the wake of the June 12th Presidential elections. Furthermore, Senator Cornyn confirmed that President Obama’s decision to cut funding to the Iranian Human Rights Documentation Centre was a gross demonstration of his failure to support freedom and human rights in Iran; adding “The President will not be the sole voice” for as long as there is the Congress. Of course, one may argue that the weak Obama approach to the problem with Iran served as a convenient arsenal for the Republicans against the Democrats. After all, this is politics.
“You will hear a different view [here in Congress] than you will from the White House”, Senator Cornyn assured. The Senator conveyed Congress’ knowledge of the reprehensible IRI discrimination against the rights of women; juvenile executions; torture of detainees; and the dictatorial office of the Supreme Leader. The fact that Congress has knowledge of this and has devised the IDTA in order to tackle these grave issues in hope that this will be effective, rather than resort to a military campaign, serves as a testament that the Iranian people do have the support of the US, and not what some fear to be its meddling interference.
Senator Jeff Sessions took the podium and reiterated unfettered support for freedom and a secular democracy for the Iranian people. Senator Sessions then opened the floor and encouraged those Iranians in attendance to voice what peaceful action they would like the US to endorse. Many people called for the imposition of ‘oil sanctions’, to which Senator Sessions took a note of. Then the attendees unanimously called for the elimination of the IRI corruption that plagues news and media network ‘Voice of America’. Senator Sessions convincingly instilled a sense of hope in one as he demonstrated his genuine concern in catering for the needs of what peace and freedom in Iran requires. I could see how these men had made it into Congress, for they demonstrated a skill with words.
Republican Congressman Trent Franks, head of the ‘Congressional Free Iran Caucus’ presented a very eloquent speech. From the outset, Congressman Franks made it clear that the US recognized the distinction between the IRI government and the Iranian people, expressing the US’s support is with the Iranian people. He expressed he is ‘deeply convinced’ that the “hope of freedom relies on the love of freedom” in the hearts of the Iranian people. The love of freedom is not enough; freedom is not 'free'.
“Our President really failed when the brutal crack-down [of the IRI forces took place during June 2009]...we should have been there telling the world we are with the Iranian people every step of the way!” to which the Congressman received a round of applause from the auditorium. The Iranian people want to believe Congressman Franks; I wanted to believe him. The good faith and promises of the US Congress shall stand the test of time; so too the will of the Iranian people in taking their freedom back from the treacherous IRI government.
However, the recent news of American, British and French warships in the Persian [not Arabian] Gulf, with certain States vying for an opportunity to launch a military assault on Iran's sacred soil is highly disconcerting, which flies in the face of any hopeful speech presented by the aforementioned Capitol Hill Officers.
Congressman Franks made a point that the IRI are very dangerous at the moment as they have five thousand more centrifuges than is required for peaceful nuclear energy. Given Mr. Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be wiped off the map, it is especially alarming that Mr. Ahmadinejad has also promised to ‘share nuclear expertise’ with other Islamic States. Thus, “the greatest short-term threat to the world” is a nuclear IRI government. And so, the Congressman declared that the IRI regime “must be changed...and [Iranians] are the only hopeful peaceful opportunity” to facilitate this. He encouraged that “the greatest weapon of all against tyrants is the freedom within people”. Congressman Franks also expressed his support for imposing ‘oil sanctions’ against the IRI authorities, something that has now taken effect.
Of course, there is no real unity between the Islamic States as the Wikileaks have conveyed; the Sunni and Shia divide further re-enforces this divide, with mass purchases of arms transacted by Arabian States. It is ambiguous whether such nuclear knowledge would indeed be shared with other 'Islamic' [Arab] States.
During the question and answers session, in addressing a particular issue, Congressman Franks welcomed Iranian students to the US, clarifying “it is good for students to come here [to the US] and learn for themselves that the US is not the same US Mr. Ahmadinejad has told them it is”. In closing, the distinguished Congressman envisioned that Iranians will one day soon taste freedom, and so carry it with them, both in their hearts and attitudes. He used the following expression “when you taste flight, you shall forever walk the earth with your eyes skyward”. Iranians already carry 'freedom' in their hearts, for it is denied to them by the oppressive IRI establishment.
Overall, one should commend the CIS and the IWP for hosting an insightful event – the first in Iranian opposition since at least 1979 – in which people of all political backgrounds (well, almost all political backgrounds) attended and honoured democracy by discussing the path to freedom in Iran. There are cynics who present criticisms, that are seldom constructive, against holding this event; bringing down great tyrannies requires support from great powers – the unity of the human spirit. Simultaneously, one should be cautious when another government is willing to assist, making sure that the best interests of the concerned State in turmoil is preserved. Wishful thinking, perhaps.