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Jewish World Review Nov. 20, 2002 / 15 Kislev, 5763

Robert W. Tracinski

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The real revolutionaries | For months, courageous protesters have braved riot police to oppose the depredations of a warlike and oppressive regime bent on world domination.

No, I am not talking about the "anti-war" protesters who menace the cities of Europe and America -- the creeps who scale the barricade of a Starbucks storefront for no greater goal than the glee of smashing its windows. These are only brave and idealistic souls in their own warped self-image.

I am talking about real courage and real idealism -- the kind shown by the young men and women manning the very real and very deadly barricades of freedom in Iran -- the students who, armed with nothing but a burning conviction of the rightness of their cause, are facing down a brutal theocratic dictatorship.

Student protests in Iran flared up first in 1999, only to be brutally repressed, with student leaders dragged off to jail, tortured and frequently killed. Since Sept. 11, however, hundreds of thousands of young people have begun to rebel against the restrictions of Iran's Islamic theocracy.

For the last two weeks, these protests have found a focus: the death sentence against dissident scholar Hashem Aghajari. His crime? In a lecture, he dismissed the authority of the regime's clerics and declared that every generation has the right to interpret Islam for themselves. For this, he is sentenced to be hanged. Aghajari, a tough veteran who lost a leg in the Iran-Iraq War, has refused to appeal his sentence, daring the regime to carry out the execution.

Thousands of students have poured into the streets of Iran's cities, clashing with police and demanding that the sentence be lifted. But they are demanding far more than that. One of the student leaders, Abdullah Momeni, declares, "We demand unconditional release of Mr. Aghajari but demand freedom of speech and opinion for everyone and forever." They back this with an explicit call for separation of state and religion.

Given that these young people have lived their whole lives under an Islamic dictatorship where deviation from fundamentalist dogma is punishable by death, the fact that they have even grasped the concepts of secularism and freedom of speech is extraordinary. They are revolutionaries in the truest, deepest sense, rebelling for the prerogatives of the individual mind against the stultifying rule of religious conformity.

These protesters have driven Iran to what could be a crucial breaking point. In the past few days, the regime has sent mixed signals. Over the weekend, the nation's religious dictator, the Ayatollah Khamenei, ordered the religious courts to "reconsider" the verdict against Aghajari -- an apparent cave-in to the protesters' demands. But in the past few days, he also ordered the regime's "militias" -- gangs of fundamentalist thugs -- to attack student protesters. As the last rulers of the Soviet Union learned, both alternatives are dangerous. To give in to the protesters emboldens them -- but cracking down may spark an even greater rebellion.

If ever there was a cause worthy of passionate support by those who claim to love freedom and progress, this is it. So why are the alleged "progressives" in the West ignoring it?

Remember the people who used to clamor outside South Africa's embassies to protest apartheid? Why aren't they now holding vigil outside Iranian embassies? And the professors who so boldly signed petitions and organized boycotts against Israel -- why aren't they organizing petitions to save their colleague in Iran? Why aren't the "peace activists" who so eagerly served as Yasser Arafat's human shields smuggling themselves into Iran to protect the freedom-fighters there? And the unkempt mobs that march in the streets to demand an end to "racist war" -- why aren't they marching to demand an end to religious intolerance and theocracy?

The ugly answer is that "freedom," "justice" and "progress" are just catchphrases used by these protesters to mask their real goal, which is to tear down Western civilization. They are indifferent to the fate of the Iranian protesters because they agree with Iran's theocrats that America is the "Great Satan." These are the heirs of the twisted student protesters of the 1960s, who claimed they were oppressed by the Democratic National Convention -- while they shrugged at the sight of Soviet tanks rumbling through the streets of Prague.

"Freedom," "justice," "progress" -- those are catchphrases the left should never have been allowed to steal. But they are still noble ideals, ready to be taken up by the brave young revolutionaries in Iran -- and by anyone in the West who takes action to support their cause.

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