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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Open Letter to Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Photo by – / KHAMENEI.IR / AFP)

"Allah has revealed to me, that you must be humble. No one should boast over one another, and no one should oppress another."
Prophet Mohammad

To His Excellency Ayatollah Khamenei,

Your demise seems inevitable; the only thing that remains to be seen is how you will respond to the clear and unyielding will of your people. I realise that you are a product of the Islamic revolution, one that was designed to overthrow the corrupt and tyrannical Shah, liberate your people from the West, giving them back their country. Yet your liberation gave them everything but liberty. In the end it bestowed a tyranny of a different order, one in the name not of the Shah but of Allah.

On Friday, when you spoke at the weekly prayers, we could see the fear in your eyes, hear it in your voice and words. Now we have all seen it even more clearly in your actions. If your only means of holding onto power is through the thuggery of the Basij and Revolutionary Guard, then you have already lost everything.

Every journalist you silence will only make the voices of peaceful dissent grow louder. You can jail and torture every liberal leader but new ones will emerge faster than you can jail them, many more than your prisons will have room to hold. You are sorely mistaken if you believe that you will succeed in crushing the will of the people through brute force and the threat of death; you will only serve to make their will grow stronger.

For every man, woman or child you kill, twenty more will rise up to fight your tyranny and injustice. Every drop of blood that is spilled will blot your conscience for an eternity. And every last breath you take away from another innocent soul will remind you that your end also draws near. No longer will the people of Iran silently tolerate atrocity and oppression in the name of Allah or any other.

The baton cannot crush anymore than a bullet can impede the path of freedom.

You still have a choice. You can forge a new revolution; one that upholds democratic ideals and not theocratic ones and you can truly return Iran to her people. The time has come to free a new generation, one that does not know of the Shah’s tyranny or of the injustices of your revolution. It is time to give them their birthright – a free and open society. This is the time to choose your place in history – as the father of a great nation or as the deposed despot of a revolution whose time came and has long gone.

Do not forget that the entire world is watching. We can see all you do and see through all that you claim you do not. You cannot hide, nor pass this off as some evil Zionist or Anglo-American plot to destroy Iran. The truth continues to flow through the cell cams of your people, and through every Internet gateway to the watching eyes of the world. Choose wisely.

In the end even Allah will not be able to save you.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iran and Obama

“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.”
Rabindranath Tagore

As recently as 2007, George Bush announced that the US was going to set aside $40 million to help support democracy in Iran, a noble cause but one that should have been done silently. It was immediately used as an excuse by Ahmadinejad to crack down on students and “dissidents” labeled agents of America and to vilify the US as an evil empire that interferes with the domestic affairs of countries to suit its own regional, economic and security needs. Of course, this was also preceded by years of the Bush administration naming Iran a part of the so called ‘axis of evil’ and a terrorist state; all of which served only to add fire and lend support to the madman Ahmadinejad’s argument while stifling the moderate voices within Iran.

Now, contrast all of the above with Obama’s outstretched hand and lack of pre-judgment, where he is willing to initiate dialogue with whoever is chosen by Iran to represent its people on the world stage. If you look beneath the surface of the rhetoric of Ahmanidejad and the Khamemei there has been a rapidly growing moderate and pro democratic movement within Iran for some years now. Largely among the youth, who number 30% of the total population, and have no memories of the Shah, America’s interference or the revolution and thus no baggage other than what is espoused by their leaders and American Presidents. Additionally, they have been hugely dissatisfied with Ahmadinejad’s handling of the economy, and most upset with his repeated assertions of denial of the Holocaust, which has served only to further isolate Iran. So from their perspective Obama’s outstretched hand further invigorates their cause by re-enforcing their belief that it is their own government which is the impediment to meaningful dialogue that could lead to peace in the region and prosperity for all Iranians.

At the same time the establishment in Iran, made up of the Supreme Leader, Supreme Council and Revolutionary Guard, realized that a friendly America would very quickly pull the rug out from under the feet of their revolution, because it has quite frankly been the only glue holding this passĂ© ideology together in the 21st century. And the reality is that these ideologues no longer have any relevance or meaning to a new generation of Iranians. Granted, I do not have the benefit of NIE’s or CIA briefings each morning but in my estimation this fraudulent election result is a panicked miscalculation by the establishment to consolidate power and protect them from a friendly America. They believed that the only way to ensure their success was to make sure that their loyal horse Ahmadinejad (who was handpicked from obscurity by the Supreme Leader Khamenei a few years ago) won the election, and by a large majority so it would also seem to represent the will of the people. While this was a defensive reaction, to Obama’s overtures, they totally underestimated the spirit and resolve of their own people, not just the youth but also the majority of women - who clearly yearn for a more open, moderate and friendly Iran and are no longer willing to tolerate having the hijab pulled over their eyes.

So by publicly not taking a side, Obama has spoken volumes and helped the Iranian people in the greatest way that America can or ever has before. I can hear the voices on the right saying that his seemingly laissez faire attitude is a sign of weakness and one journalist even likened it to Obama voting “present.” But here’s the thing, if you have been listening, Obama has made it clear that US foreign policy is changing course. Unlike in 1953 when the United States and Great Britain orchestrated a coup, to overthrow the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mosaddeq and install the Shah of Iran; a tyrant who was more amenable to signing long term oil contracts with US and UK, instead of Russia. America under Obama has no interest in determining or charting the course of Iran. By making this clear, in both his speech to the Arab world in Egypt, and again re-iterating it this week, along with the promise of dialogue with whomever is chosen to represent Iran, by its people, he has taken away the most powerful tool that the Mullahs and Ahmadinejad have used to hold on to their repressive regime – evil America.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Greatest Democracy on Earth

"Democracy is a device that ensures that we will be governed no better than we deserve.”
George Bernard Shaw

At over 10,000 years old, she is one of the oldest civilizations in the history of the world and yet today is considered one of its youngest nations. She gave the world Chess, Algebra, Trigonometry, Calculus, the number system and developed the decimal system in 100 BC. She established the world’s first university in 700 BC, had a physician performing complicated surgeries like cataract, artificial limbs, cesareans, fractures, urinary stones and also plastic surgery and brain surgeries about 2,600 years ago. She also gave us the art of navigation and navigating, the value of “pi” and the time taken for the earth to orbit the sun, hundreds of years before anyone in Europe did. She is also the birthplace of two of the world’s major religions, Hinduism (the world’s oldest religion) and Buddhism and a place where Christianity has existed for over 2,000 years and where the oldest Jewish synagogues and Jewish communities have resided since the Romans burnt their 2nd temple.

Today, India has no official language or religion but has 30 official languages (and 2,000+ dialects) and has people of every religion in the world, including the second largest Muslim population. It is only in India that you will find the Dalai Lama (and the Tibetan government in exile); a Sikh Prime Minister, a female President who was preceded by three Muslim Presidents and where the head of the ruling party is a Catholic Italian woman. Perhaps, India also faces the greatest geopolitical challenges of any nation with Pakistan bordering her on the West and Bangladesh, China and Myanmar to the East; it is a wonder that she is not just surviving but thriving and a testament not only to the grit and tenacity of her diverse peoples but also an ode to the success of Democratic ideals.

Last month Indians went to the polls to elect a new government. With 675,000,000 registered voters, 220 political parties and 5,398 candidates all vying for 545 parliament seats. The entire process took one month and required almost 1 million polling stations across the country. In the end 450,000,000 people had casts their votes and made their voices heard making this the greatest exercise in democracy the world has ever witnessed!

However, what I find most fascinating about this great show was how the people chose to vote:
India has long been divided by communalism, and parties intent on creating greater segregation through caste politics. As a result she has seen governments formed out of multiple and factious coalitions, with no one party really being given a clear mandate, by the voters, to lead. The main opposition party also went to town about the last coalition governments weak response to the Mumbai terror attacks because they showed a great deal of restraint in not taking the terrorist bait and attacking Pakistan; which would have destabilised an already sensitive region and quite possibly led to a nuclear armed conflict. This restraint was not a sign of weakness but of great strength, in my eyes, but one doubted if the vast majority of the voting population would be able to see through the opposition's smoke. And given that India has one of world’s poorest and least educated electorates it seemed that she was destined to stay divided and a slave to crappy coalitions that led from the status quo of the most compromised center. The fact that the electorate chose to look beyond what was presented to them and vote intelligently with their minds and rise above the communal divides, created by individual political parties, shows that the democracy and this great, young nation have begun to come of age.

Jain Hind!