I love my American heritage of freedom and I believe, maybe naively, that liberty is the natural state of humankind, even if most humans still do not enjoy it and we face real world constraints on our actions worldwide.
In the 1980s, the communist empires were cracking. President Reagan needed to negotiate with the regimes withholding freedom from the people of Eastern Europe, but he also never forgot whose side we were on. We negotiated with the rulers, but stood with the people. Many people in the U.S. questioned this stand. They said it was empty rhetoric at best, or maybe even dangerous.
What we say matters. The people of Eastern Europe did not consider it empty rhetoric and it turned out that we achieved greater arms reductions and security than anybody imagined before, so it was neither empty nor dangerous. President Reagan quoted a Russian proverb, “trust but verify.” There could be a corollary, negotiate but don’t forget your values and remember that the ruling regime is not the people.
Today the Iranian people are boldly standing up to the regime that has oppressed them for thirty years. Some are dying at its hands, and yet they persist. The rulers of Iraq are more ruthless than the Polish communists were in the 1980s, but the principle is the same. Our place is with the people of Iran. They are not asking that we intervene or meddle. They just want us to state unequivocally where our own values and ideals stand. If we didn’t do the right thing in 1953, maybe we can do the right thing now.
It was twenty years ago THIS MONTH that Poles elected a non-communist government. Most pundits thought it was a silly dream that would just be crushed, as communist authorities had crushed these sorts of things before. But it endured. The crack in the communist wall that started in Poland spread throughout the whole benighted region. Five months later the Berlin Wall, that horrible symbol of hate and oppression that had stood for almost thirty years, was torn down by the people. Two years after that, the Soviet Union just dissolved and communism, which had ruled so ruthlessly for generations died with a whimper so small that we weren’t even sure it was dead.
I know a lot less about Iran that I do about Poland and I don’t want to overdo the historical parallels. But I do believe that if history does not repeat, it often rhymes. The Iranians are heirs to the ancient Persian traditions of learning and tolerance. In many ways the Mullahs are an alien anomaly that doesn’t fit the illustrious Iranian culture any more than communism fit Poland. Stalin said that imposing communism on Poland as like trying to put a saddle on a cow. He didn’t mean it as a compliment and he did indeed impose it anyway, but culture does matter and old habits have a way of reasserting themselves, especially habits of the heart. Persian states, ancient, medieval and modern were often models of tolerance, learning and good government of their times. It was Cyrus the Persian who ended the Babylonian captivity of the Jews. Let’s hope the Persian habits of tolerance and openness are indeed habits of the heart. And let’s make sure we know – and they know and the world knows – that we stand for their freedom and ours.
BTW – since this is so many a Internet-reported affair, you can support the people of Iran by asking Google to make their daily logo reflect the Iranian struggle.
Also please check out these pictures.