Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good evening.
I would like to thank the World Affairs Council of Delaware for its kind invitation and warm hospitality.
Tonight, I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to express my views and exchange ideas about the current situation in my beloved homeland Iran, focussing in particular on the negative role which the Islamic regime continues to play in both the national life of the Iranian nation as well as in regional politics and international affairs.
Also, as this week marks the 27th anniversary of the occupation of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran – an event which is still celebrated annually by the radical leadership in Iran in order to frustrate and antagonize the people and government of the United States – I should like to discuss some ideas as to what can be done to halt and reverse this adverse situation before it becomes an even greater threat to international peace and security.
Hence, it is my hope that I may be able to stimulate this discussion by putting forward an analysis which is less anodyne and more thought provoking.
To achieve this end, it is my intention to start by saying a few words about the Clerical regime’s ongoing nuclear saga and its various menacing policies in the Middle East, before drawing your attention to a number of important domestic issues that have continued to trouble the Iranian people over the course of the past 27 years. I will then conclude by offering my thoughts about the US policy towards Iran – or lack there of – which as it appears, seems more likely to be the case.
Let me start by reminding this distinguished gathering that the recent announcement by North Korea of its defiance of the international community by its successful detonation of a nuclear device is nothing short of the most serious setback for the cause of international security.
It is no exaggeration to suggest that having a rogue state with a reclusive leadership, detached and oblivious to the priorities of its citizenry, in charge of nuclear devices and the means for delivering them to targets thousands of miles away, is simply a frightening prospect.
Under these circumstances, what would no doubt exacerbate matters well beyond any acceptable boundaries, would be the prospect of waking up one morning to hear that a second such state – the fundamentalist regime in Tehran – has also been able to successfully defy the will of the international community by achieving a similar status – irrespective of its continuous assurances that it has at no time, ever, nourished any such ambitions.
This scenario, were it to come true, would in all probability be the final straw breaking the back of any attempt to halt the course of nuclear proliferation – particularly in the highly volatile region of the Middle East.
Already, there are legitimate concerns following an announcement by the IAEA that a multitude of oil rich Arab states – including Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and the United Arab Emirates – were giving serious consideration to “going nuclear”, albeit for peaceful purposes – much like Iran – which very few really believe!
The need for a nuclear free Middle East is more critical than ever before, and nothing must stand in the way of promoting such an outcome with a hope that, over time, even regional states like Pakistan and Israel may also be swayed to follow a path similar to those taken by countries such as South Africa, Ukraine and Kazakhstan who voluntarily dismantled their nuclear weapons for the sake of greater regional and international peace and security.
Clearly, however, such an outcome will remain a distant dream if the fundamentalist regime in Iran is allowed to continue its making a mockery of international institutions such as the IAEA or the UN Security Council, who have questioned its intentions and sought various diplomatic means to dissuade it from pursuing such a path.
The Islamic regime which has never sought to inform the Iranian people of the national security, foreign policy, and economic or environmental consequences of its nuclear program, is faithfully committed to emulating North Korea, expecting that a nuclear deterrent will enable it to blackmail the international community into inaction, while at the same time prolonging its despotic rule, through its policy of sustained internal repression.
Thus, standing up to Iran’s theocratic dictators, which have long witnessed erosion in their domestic support, including that within the religious establishment, is an absolute imperative which must be addressed now and today, before – like North Korea – it is too late. The difference here being that a nuclear-armed Iran, hostile to budding liberal-democratic values in the Middle East, is a much greater security threat than an already isolated North Korea. It is therefore imperative, that after years of fruitless and time wasting negotiations, the Islamic regime be made to pay a price for its continued intransigence.
For additional perspective, I wish now to say a few words about the objectives of the Islamic regime in the Middle East region, something that is a by-product of its policy of militant anti-Americanism which has served as the hallmark of the Clerical regime’s foreign policy ever since the very inception of the Islamist state in 1979.
By extension, this policy of overt hostility has now come to include the State of Israel, whose extermination has been a repeated cry of the current Islamist president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ironically, neither Ahmadinejad nor any of his cohorts, particularly in the various paramilitary revolutionary organizations, ever make mention of the intimacy and close collaboration which they had had with the government of Israel, who was widely acknowledged as having been one of the main weapons suppliers for the clerics during the bloody Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
Here, I wish to remind this distinguished audience that the advent of Islamist Khomeini in 1979, firmly established Iran as the cradle and bastion of modern day Islamic fundamentalism. Since then, people everywhere when speaking of Iran, have generally associated my homeland with such modern day scourges as the rise of militant Islam and international terrorism.
The terrible hostilities that raged for a month between Hezbollah and Israel, last Summer, underlined a new and undeniable reality concerning the inseparable links that have now come to exist between issues and players in the wider Middle East, and how the Islamic regime in Tehran is actively exploiting regional grievances for promoting its own agenda, using surrogates like Hezbollah and Hamas across the Moslem world.
No matter how you turn the Middle East question, you come back to the all-important question of which is winning – democracy or religious totalitarianism?
Unfortunately, today, it is Hizbullah that can dictate terms to Foad Seniora in Lebanon. It is Hamas that can mobilize people against Abu Mazen in Palestine. It is Dawa, the Mahdi Army, and a host of Sunni groups in Iraq who can mobilize far more support that Nouri Al-Maleki.
Why are the bad guys winning? Why are religious totalitarians full of bravado, while democracy appears to be in retreat? Having expended close to half a trillion dollars and the best military might at the problem, there seems to be no solution in sight!
Some of the West’s best diplomats have been engaged, without making net progress in the Middle East peace process, stopping the rearming of Hizbullah, or thwarting the increased hold of religious militia on Iraqi communities. It is time to recognize that the problem is neither military, nor diplomatic:
First, it has to do with sociology and political psychology in the region. Second, it involves the relationships between religious totalitarians and their regional “Central Banker,” to quote Dr. Rice. No wonder the tools of the State Department and the Pentagon, namely diplomacy and force, have proven mal-adapted to the problem!
The first area explains the problem of democracy and the advantage of these new totalitarians. When a people’s desperate preoccupation is personal security, both physical and economic, the quest for liberty and political participation takes the back seat. They tend to rely on personal relationships within their community, rather than impersonal relations with a distant government. They become fertile soil for the growth of a Hizbullah, Hamas or Dawa that weave themselves into the fibre of the community through personal relationships.
It is someone they know who goes to people’s homes and offers them help with healthcare, education, welfare, security and of course, religious guidance through connections with the Mosque.
It is particularly the displaced and newly urbanized, or those who are barely one or two generations away from their rural or traditional roots and communities, who find relief and membership in a new community – centred around a Mosque – where they can assemble and pray five times a day.It is the second area that shows the vulnerability of the new totalitarian parties which connect chains of Mosques and create a new social fibre to those who have lost the security of traditional societies.These parties are building impressive political assets throughout the region, but their income statement is in chronic deficit. Take Iranian munitions shipments, intelligence, finance and organizational support away and you will see Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad, Mahdi, Badr and Dawa dry on the vine.
It is the “Central Banker,” the eye of the religious-totalitarian octopus that is vulnerable. However, all while, the U.S. has been fighting its resilient tentacles.
Just this summer, Iran’s main contribution to Hizbullah was not the training, munitions or intelligence on Israeli plans and movements that Iranian Revolutionary Guards relayed from Syrian communications to the Hizbullah. It was the twelve thousand dollars for each family that lost its home – offered by Hizbullah and finance by Iran. In Lebanon, this made Hizbullah shine compared to the US backed government of Mr. Seniora. Ironically in Iran, however, twelve thousand dollars is six hundred times the salary of masses of Iranian workers who had not been paid for months! A very telling tale was that for the scared, hungry and desperate wives and children of workers arrested in demonstrations throughout Iran, it wasn’t the Islamist government that shined, but whoever spoke out against it!
Having said this, I wish to now draw your attention to the domestic picture of Iran, by focusing first on its dire economic situation:
It is a fact that Iran has 1% of the world’s population and 7% of the world’s resources. Furthermore, while the country enjoys abundant energy resources, it is also blessed by a young and educated work force. However, since 1979, my homeland has faced steady economic decline as a consequence of its general mismanagement and the inability for coming to grip with certain recurring economic problems – such as a chronic over-dependency on oil income, an antiquated bureaucracy, an untrusting ‘private sector,’ as well as corruption and inefficient monopolies reserved for the select regime loyalists. Added to this cocktail of ills, is the regime’s reliance of massive subsidies which have brought forth the doubling of the national budget deficit during Mr. Ahmadinejad’s first year in office.
Today, with unemployment and inflation both well over 20%, along with further depreciation in the value of the Iranian currency, despite rising oil revenues, there is general consensus amongst experts that the Iranian economy is in full recession with general demand for goods and services seriously down. The situation is further exacerbated by the regime’s increased militancy with respect to its foreign affairs bringing into question the regimes vision and strategy to turning the economy around.
In the social and political sphere, the regime has displayed no compunction whatsoever in using what ever force has been required for savagely containing a population that has been the primary victim of its ineptitude in every conceivable field.
The regime’s failure in various economic, social, cultural and political issues have led to a situation that over the past 27 years, thousands of freedom loving Iranians have been either imprisoned, tortured, executed at home or exiled and assassinated abroad, simply because of their refusal to submit to what is no more than a vicious ‘Islamist Apartheid’ system that makes mockery out of such notions as democracy or popular sovereignty.
These actions have now brought my homeland to the edge of a new precipice that is already showing signs of open resistance and violence amongst Iran’s much neglected ethnic populations. Here it is important to point out that continued unrest in these areas pose a major threat not just to the stability and the territorial integrity of Iran but for Iran’s neighbors and the region as a whole. There is no exaggeration when one speaks of the Islamic regime’s bloodstained record of total disdain and disregard for human rights and individual liberties of all Iranians, and especially the youth and women of my homeland.
Based on this presentation, I am confident of your agreement that any prospect for peace and stability in the Middle East – be it in Iraq, Afghanistan or throughout the Persian Gulf, can hardly be advance so long as the menace posed by the theocratic dictatorship in Iran remains unaddressed in one form or another.
So, how do we begin addressing a serious issue of this nature that has plagued every single US administration – Democrat or Republican – since 1979?
One thing I can assure you without any hesitation is the fact that this problem will never disappear in face of half baked measures or empty rhetoric!
In my view, it is essential that countries such as the United States or others who are trying to counter fanaticism and extremism under the banner of liberal-democratic values, should, first and foremost, attempt to respond to a number of important philosophical or otherwise searching questions:
For instance, why is secularism under such severe strain in the Middle East? Could their actions in the past have possibly aggravated matters indirectly by having failed to understand or show sensitivity to the kind of social, economic and political pressures confronting their secular counterparts in the region – both past and present? To me, this is an important question that needs to be addressed if only to reaffirm the belief that extremists and fanatics who purport to have the “Almighty “on their side, are nothing but frauds who are incapable of resurrecting either national pride or national self-esteem, let alone overseeing a just society that values notions such as freedom, diversity and inclusiveness.
It thus follows, those secular democrats – either in Iran, or across the Middle East – need to be encouraged and supported, so that they can successfully meet the challenges that are posed by extremists and fundamentalist.
Moreover, in the case of my homeland, it is critically important that an image be conveyed that the United States wants to actually stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the ordinary people of Iran by raising their depleted morale and assuring them that they will never be abandoned or compromised in their struggle for freedom and democracy.
Also, extra attention needs to be given to portray secular democratic leaders, as enlightened, uncompromised and patriotic figures who are risking everything for their homeland and their people.In this regard, lessons learned from Iraq can be usefully employed to avert certain avoidable impediments, by enhancing the notion that US allies are honourable people, who are both popular and well capable of gaining the trust and respect of their own people.
Moreover, it must be reiterated that Iran will never become another Iraq and that any positive change towards democracy will not result in chaos. At the same time it is important to emphasize that Iranians who are urged to stand up against the current dictatorship, are also most concerned that they should not be sold out or compromised.
Hence, any diplomatic engagement with current regime, must also demonstrate sensitivity by taking this factor into consideration, if only to ensure that repeated appeals – such as those made by President Bush to the Iranian people – are neither diluted nor made to look disingenuous.
Therefore, communicating in a meaningful way with the Iranian people, while at the same time projecting the image that the United States wants to support the people of Iran in their quest for democracy and human rights, is a key factor that will continue to require nurturing and attention.
But let me be forthright by affirming that words alone cannot be enough! I must remind this distinguished audience that elements like Hezbollah or Hamas are able to do what they do only because of the type of material support that is provided to them on a regular basis by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
I am confident that you will agree that minus, the funds, the arms and the training that has been forwarded to Hezbollah since 1982, the danger posed to the State of Israel would have been minimal at best.
In such a situation, it is hard to imagine how empty handed people are expected to stand up against a determined dictatorship that has total control over the nation’s oil wealth and has never in the past relented from brutally crushing any form of internal dissent?
Let me be clear by pointing out that I am not asking for the US government to respond by either financing or arming the Iranian resistance. However, I am asking that the US should speak with one voice and one voice alone, so that indigenous elements capable of supporting the forces of freedom and human rights may be encouraged to play their role.
In closing, I wish to affirm my belief that one of my homeland’s unique features is the fact that it is the ripest candidate for the promotion of democracy and civil society in the greater Middle East. Hence, what is needed is to continue with the messages of support for our people, while actively looking for practical ways of making those messages actually make a difference on the ground.
Even then, the peaceful path for promoting the change we all seek will no doubt be one for which much sacrifice on the part of ordinary Iranians will still be needed. But, my compatriots and I are ready for this and we will take heart by knowing that we are not alone.
Have no doubt that we are determined to save our country and secure our future by advancing the cause of democracy and progress for our people. Only then, will Iran once again be a solid and reliable partner for the promotion of peace and stability in our region and beyond.