Jewish World Review April 17, 2002 / 5 Iyar, 5762

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Logical Muslim allies


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Our best Muslim friends in the Middle East live in the same country as our worst enemies. A challenge for U.S. foreign policy is how to fight the latter without alienating the former.

The country is Iran. Iran is the second largest Muslim country, after Indonesia. More Muslims live in Iran than in Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon combined.

Add the facts that Iran is more technologically advanced than any Arab country, and is second largest producer of oil (after Saudi Arabia) in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and it is reasonable to assume that what happens here largely will determine the outcome of the war on terror.

Since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, Iran has been governed by radical Muslims who are more responsible for terror attacks on Americans than even Saddam Hussein. It was an Iranian-backed terror group, Hezbollah, which was responsible for the suicide bombing that killed 241 Marines in Lebanon in 1983. Last year, an American jury found Iranians to be responsible for the bombing of the U.S. Air Force's Khobar Towers barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996.

Thanks to the impediments United Nations sanctions brielfy provided to Saddam Hussein's pursuit of nuclear weapons, Iran is now thought by most Western intelligence agencies to be closer to procuring the "Islamic bomb."

Though there is no Muslim government which hates us more, there is no Muslim populace (with the possible exception of Turkey) which hates us less. After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, thousands of Iranians held candlelight vigils in support of the victims, though this subjected them to beatings and arrests.

Students have been leading anti-government protests, which now have spread to labor unions. Students are a potent force, because nearly two-thirds of Iranians are age 25 or younger.

The protests are fueled by economic desperation and social and political repression. Iranians are buying 20 percent less meat, rice, bread and tea than they did ten years ago, the government admits, because they haven't got enough money to make ends meet. According to the Iranian central bank, average family expenses last year were 30 million rials ($3,750), but average family income was only 25 million rials.

Economic mismanagement and rampant corruption are the reasons why oil-rich Iran is now so poor, said Patrick Clausen, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Studies. He described the Iranian economy as a "cross between the mob and old-style Soviet enterprises."

Young people also resent constant government intrusions into their private lives.

"People can't wear what they want to wear, they can't go where they want to go," said Banfsheh Pourzand, whose father is a political prisoner. "You are watched all the time. It's an unnatural way to live."

The student protests began in 1999 when disillusionment set in with President Muhammad Khatami, who was elected as a reformer, but has done little to change things. They reached their height in five days of protests that began after a soccer game last November. Though hundreds of thousands took part, and thousands were arrested, the "football revolution" attracted little attention from a Western news media that is convinced the only authentic protests are anti-American protests.

Though the same gullible Western journalists who continue to regard Yasser Arafat as a "partner in peace" continue to describe Khatami as a "reformer," most in the democracy movement have reluctantly concluded he's been a front man for the mullahs all along.

"For a long time, people had put their hope in Khatami for Gorbachev-type reform," said Amir Afkhami, who is studying for a PhD in Iranian history at Yale. "The reality is he is a smiling face for the rest of the world while the repression in Iran increases."

Revolution is coming, and the democrats are going to win, Afkhami predicted. "We've seen a dramatic change since the student movement began in 1999," he said. "People are no longer as scared as they used to be. The government has lost control."



Comment on JWR contributor Jack Kelly's column by clicking here.

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© 2002, Jack Kelly