Jan. 4, 2018
The West Should Stop Dithering and Show Its Support for the Protesters in Iran – Natan Sharansky (Washington Post)
An opinion piece in the New York Times recently argued that the best way for the U.S. government to help the Iranian protesters is to “Keep quiet and do nothing.” It is vital to understand why failing to support the protesters at this critical juncture would constitute a moral and strategic mistake.
In 2009, when Iranians came out in large numbers to denounce their country’s rigged presidential election, the response they received from the American government was decidedly tepid. This policy of non-interference discouraged protesters and reinforced the regime.
My experiences as a political prisoner and my decades of involvement with democratic dissidents around the world have shown me that all democratic revolutions have some elements in common. It is the drive of ordinary citizens to free themselves from government control over their thought, speech and livelihoods that has propelled dissidents and revolutionary movements around the world.
Any regime that refuses to respect its citizens’ most basic rights, and especially the right to think and speak freely, can maintain its power only by intimidation and force. Revolutions take place when enough people simultaneously cross that fateful line between silent questioning and open dissent. Once they do so, the regime can no longer contain the upsurge of opposition and must either begin to liberalize or collapse.
World powers should warn Tehran – and thereby reassure protesters – that it must respect its citizens’ rights if it wishes to continue receiving benefits from their countries. Articulating a clear policy of linkage would put pressure on the regime to make genuine changes and give hope to protesters that their sacrifices will not be in vain.
It is time for all those who value freedom to state clearly that the Iranian people – like all people – deserve to be free, and that when they fight for this right, those of us who already enjoy it will stand unequivocally by their side.
The writer was a prisoner in the Soviet Gulag for nine years for his human rights activities. He is Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel.