Iran: Neither US aggression nor theocratic repression

A statement from the New York-based Campaign for Peace and Democracy:

Just as it did before its invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration is manufacturing a climate of fear in order to prepare public opinion for another act of aggression — this time against Iran. Three years ago it was the specter of Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction; today it’s the threat of a possible Iranian nuclear bomb. Washington’s immediate goal is to get the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Iran and, in all probability, to justify a military attack on Tehran’s nuclear facilities — a job that may be outsourced to Israel. The White House even insists on keeping the catastrophic “nuclear option” on the table — that is, using tactical nuclear weapons to strike Iranian nuclear facilities, many of which are located in or near civilian population centers. Although a full-scale invasion of Iran is highly unlikely at the moment, there can be little doubt that the neoconservatives in the Bush administration have a grand strategy that includes, eventually, “regime change” in Tehran as a way of further enlarging U.S. imperial power.

We strongly oppose the U.S. occupation of Iraq: it has brought appalling suffering to the Iraqi people with fatalities in the tens of thousands, descent into civil war and the strengthening of the most authoritarian elements in Iraqi society — as well as more than 2,400 U.S. soldiers dead and thousands more wounded. Likewise, the U.S. government’s attempts to bully Iran are succeeding mainly in terrorizing the Iranian people and weakening internal opposition to the mullahs. The Bush administration’s claim that it is promoting democracy in these two countries is the grossest hypocrisy; its only interest is power and control of oil resources. We, on the other hand, care very much about the ability of the Iraqi and Iranian people to control their own societies, about civil liberties and the rights of women, gays, workers, and ethnic minorities there. That is why we raise our voices against the current threats to Iran and call for immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq.

We too would like to see a regime change in Tehran, but one brought about by the Iranian people themselves, not by Washington. For 26 years Iran has been ruled by a repressive theocracy. Behind the formal trappings of democracy, real power is held by an un-elected oligarchy of clerics; all electoral candidates must receive their approval, and their authority is enforced by gangs of religious thugs. President Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier who has called for the elimination of Israel.

Iranian women lack some of the most basic human rights. They cannot dress, work, travel or choose spouses freely. “Honor killing” is legal, and by law women can be hanged or stoned to death for “unchaste behavior.” Millions of Iranian women find ways to at least partly circumvent these restrictions, and relatively few suffer the most extreme penalties. Women vote and sit in parliament, and there are significant numbers of women both in university and at the workplace. But the fact remains that there are few countries in the world where women face legal handicaps as severe as those in Iran.

Workers who try to strike or form independent trade unions are often violently put down. Large numbers of workers have not been paid for months and in some cases for years. Attempts to organize are frequently attacked by club- and knife-wielding mercenaries, security forces and the military. Despite this repression, workers are continuing to organize, however, and independent unions are gaining a foothold.

As in many countries, homosexuality is outlawed, but Tehran has gone further than most by making homosexual conduct by men or women punishable by death and unleashing a vicious pogrom against Iranian gays, many of whom have been tortured, beaten, and publicly executed. The government is carrying on a massive campaign of entrapment through the Internet; victims are subjected to constant surveillance, loss of employment, arrest, and violent blackmail that forces them to reveal the names of other homosexuals. Torture is used to make gay people confess to crimes they never committed. The basiji and other religious parapolice forces kidnap gay people, who are sequestered and tortured until they name names. Gays on the government’s lists are forbidden to leave the country. And now Iran has exported its violent anti-gay crusade to Iraq.

In recent years there has been growing resistance within Iranian society, particularly from workers fighting privatization and unemployment and young people chafing against social and political repression. This resistance holds the promise of bringing grassroots democratic change to Iran. The threat of military action or broader and harsher sanctions from outside — and especially the horrifying menace of nuclear strikes — only serve to rally people around the regime and to give it another excuse to clamp down on dissent, inhibiting a potentially revolutionary process and strengthening the right-wing clerics. U.S. threats have already served to legitimize nuclear weapons to the Iranian people.

Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to develop civilian nuclear power, though the Bush administration has tried to obscure this fact. Many of us oppose the use of nuclear power by any country, both for environmental reasons and because of its link to nuclear weapons — but that is not the issue in the present U.S.-Iran confrontation. While there is reason to doubt Tehran’s assurances that it only wants to develop civilian nuclear energy, Iran is probably still several years away from being able to produce nuclear weapons. And if Tehran acquires the bomb, it is unlikely that the ayatollahs, who hold decisive power, would use it since it would be suicidal to do so. Israel alone has between 200 and 300 nuclear warheads capable of striking Iran, and this is not counting the thousands of warheads the U.S. can launch at Iran. Nevertheless, there is no guarantee that Iran, or any other state armed with nuclear weapons, won’t use them or make them available to others. As long as these barbaric weapons exist, they can be used, and the more countries that possess them the more likely it is over time that they will be used.

We therefore strongly oppose any effort by Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons. But as long as a handful of nations arrogate to themselves the exclusive right to possess nuclear weapons, the have-nots will always be able to point to the threat posed by the nuclear powers and will constantly seek to acquire such weapons for themselves — as North Korea has already done, withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty regime. Likewise, Iran, which has been menaced by the U.S. for more than two decades and was a charter member of Bush’s “axis of evil,” may opt out of the NPT.

An end to Washington’s belligerence is a crucial step in preventing Tehran from joining the nuclear “club.” Beyond that, the only way to stop proliferation is for those countries that have nuclear weapons to begin disarming — something the Bush administration and previous administrations of both parties have refused to do, despite the fact that the U.S. is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty which commits it to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” At the same time the nuclear powers must work toward nuclear-free zones around the world, but especially in the Middle East, a particularly volatile and dangerous region.

We call for a new democratic U.S. foreign policy that would deal with the threat posed to all of us by terrorist networks, and by weapons of mass destruction, and promote real democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere, by:

* Renouncing the use of military intervention to extend and consolidate U.S. imperial power, and withdrawing U.S. troops and bases from the Middle East.

* Ending U.S. support for authoritarian and corrupt regimes, e.g. Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Egypt.

* Opposing all forms of terrorism worldwide — by Al Qaeda, Iraqi death squads, and Palestinian suicide bombers, and by U.S.-backed forces like the Colombian paramilitaries and the Israeli military in the Occupied Territories — as well as the brutality and humiliation inflicted on Iraqis every day by U.S. occupation forces and Washington’s ominous threats against Iran.

* Supporting the right of national self-determination for all peoples in the Middle East, including the Kurds, Palestinians and Israeli Jews. Ending support for Israeli occupation of the West Bank and oppression of the Palestinian people.

* Taking unilateral steps toward renouncing weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, and vigorously promoting international disarmament treaties, instead of obstructing even minimal efforts to end the arms race.

* Abandoning the effort to impose, through the IMF/World Bank or unilaterally, neoliberal economic policies of privatization and austerity that bring mass misery to people in large parts of the world. Initiating a major foreign aid program directed at popular rather than corporate needs.

The majority of people in this country now believe that the invasion of Iraq was disastrously wrong and that they were systematically lied to by the Bush Administration about the reasons for going to war, and they are wary of new U.S. military intervention in the Middle East. At the same time, the administration’s scare tactics may succeed in generating popular support for aerial attacks on Iran. It is therefore imperative to speak out now against Washington’s threats, to educate public opinion, and to build organized opposition to aggression against Iran, as well as support for immediate, complete withdrawal from Iraq. It is time to demand a new democratic U.S. foreign policy that genuinely expresses solidarity with the aspirations of people for liberty everywhere, renounces once and for all imperial intervention, and is committed to real disarmament.

Signatories (so far):

Michael Albert, Tom Ammiano, Stanley Aronowitz, Rosalyn Baxandall, Eileen Boris, Jeremy Brecher, Noam Chomsky, Ariel Dorfman, Martin Duberman, Rusti Eisenberg, Carlos R. Espinosa, Samuel Farber, Mansour Farhang, Barbara Garson, Larry Gross. Mina Hamilton, Thomas Harrison, Howie Hawkins, Adam Hochschild, Nancy Holmstrom, Doug Ireland, Joy Kallio, Larry Kramer, Joanne Landy, Jesse Lemisch, John Leonard, Sue Leonard, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Nelson Lichtenstein, Norman MacAfee, Marvin & Betty Mandell, David McReynolds, David Oakford, Barbara Watson Pillsbury, Henry Pillsbury, Frances Fox Piven, Nancy Romer, Ruth Rosen, Peter Rothberg, Matthew Rothschild, Jennifer Scarlott, Jay Schaffner, Sydney Schanberg, Stephen R. Shalom, Wallace Shawn, Meredith Tax, Cornel West, Cora Weiss, Peter Weiss, Edmund White, Reginald Wilson, and Howard Zinn

See our last post on Iran.