The world has come to know only one voice from Iran that of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In his denial of the Holocaust, his threat to wipe Israel off the map and his relentless pursuit of nuclear technology, Ahmadinejad has become to polite international relations what Howard Stern is to broadcast radio.
There are other voices from Iran, however, who don't figure so prominently in the news as the Islamic Republic's firebrand leader.
There is the voice of dissident journalist Akbar Ganji. Ganji, like Ahmadinejad, is a former member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Unlike Ahmadinejad, he recognizes that the 1979 revolution that deposed the Shah has metastasized into a corrupt, malignant cancer on the Iranian nation.
In 2000, Ganji published a series of articles in which he implicated Iran's religious leaders in the murder of political opponents. He is now serving a six-year sentence in Tehran's dreaded Evin prison, where Ahmadinejad reportedly acted as a cruel interrogator and ruthless executioner.
Last summer, Ganji issued a letter to the world from his prison cell, rendered in English by Iranian expatriate writer and poet Roya Hakakian:
"My voice will not be silenced, for it is the voice of peaceful life, of tolerating the other, loving humanity, sacrificing for others, seeking truth and freedom, demanding democracy, welcoming different lifestyles, separating the private sphere and the public sphere, religion and state, promoting equality of all humans, rationality, federalism within a democratic Iran, and above all, a profound distaste for violence."
Could any words stand in starker contrast to those of Iran's president?
You can get some sense of the vitality of Iranian politics and the dislike of Ahmadinejad and the mullahs by reading the commentary of Iranian expatriates such as Hakakian. But you get a better sense by reading the blogs of ordinary Iranians who still in Iran write their critiques pseudonymously for fear of disappearing into the bowels of Evin.
About the deteriorating situation within Iran, the bloggers employ creative metaphors to evade the scrutiny of the secret police. One blogger posted a recent entry in which he used the jargon of personal computers to discuss the political situation:
"A new version of WINDOWS must be installed. The whole hard drive needs to be formatted. We have to install an anti virus too. It's a must you know. Remember! You can't trust the 'foreign' anti virus companies as they might have 'spy wares' in them."
Another turns the sensitive discussion of nuclear weapons, democratic reform and the often-unhelpful influence of foreign powers into a brilliant allegory about public restrooms:
"Suppose I were to say to you: we need cleaner restrooms. Our tools are inadequate to the task. The brooms aren't that great and the mop and bucket combination is rare. Additionally, we need to develop the human resources necessary, and also enhance our organizational capabilities, and import some of the needed material from abroad in order to get the job done."
The United States and the international community cannot afford for Iran's medieval clerics to get their hands on the modern technology that would enable them to realize their theological ambitions. Long before anyone had heard of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida or the Sunni extremist version of global jihad, the ayatollahs in Iran had promulgated the Shiite extremist variant.
In North Korea today or Iraq under Saddam Hussein, there was no chance for internal change. That's not the case in Iran, where an educated and sophisticated populace endures an incompetent and abusive regime sustained by windfall oil profits. Iranian dissidents, who revealed their country's illicit nuclear research program in 2002, understand that nuclear weapons will further strengthen the mullah's grip on power.
In contemplating sanctions or worse for Iran, the United States and the international community must hear the voices of the ayatollahs' opponents and endeavor not to drive the Iranian public into the arms of a despotic government it detests.