We’re now standing here in front of the Lincoln Memorial, a place that symbolizes the ideals of freedom, liberty and civil rights. This place is alive with the spirits of great people who stood up and demanded freedom, justice, and equality for all citizens. Like Abraham Lincoln. Like Martin Luther King Jr. And like each and every one of us standing here today to demand freedom, justice, and equality for people in Iran.
As in the time of Lincoln and King, when African Americans were locked in a struggle with government and society for recognition of their civil and human rights, people in Iran are once again in the midst of a struggle for their own civil and human rights. Those who took to the streets in June demanded real democracy. The response of the Islamic Republic to the peoples’ justified, democratic demand was bloody assault in the streets. Their response consisted of arrest, detention, and torture of people who dared voice their desire for justice. At that time, the Islamic Republic conducted de facto executions in the street, of Neda, of Sohrab. And at this time, the Islamic Republic, through its rhetoric and through its actions, is threatening a return to the large-scale judicially-sanctioned murders of the 1980s.
It is in this context that it becomes imperative to stand up NOW, before increased arrests, detentions, tortures, executions, death sentences and threats of minute courts begin to approach their logical conclusion. So we are here today to tell the Islamic Republic one very explicit message: that we – the citizens of this world, Iranian and non-Iranian, religious or not, whatever color flag we carry or choose not to carry – we WILL NOT tolerate these arbitrary arrests, detentions, tortures, and executions.
I am here to say to the Islamic Republic – and I expect the United Nations to be listening – that you make a farce of international legal frameworks when you sign onto legally binding documents like the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and then proceed to execute people who were children at the time of their alleged offense.
You make a farce of international law when you target for destruction those who seek only some measure of their fundamental human rights: women, workers, and students.
Regarding women, who are standing on the front lines of this movement: You train your destructive gaze on women’s rights activists, whose most radical demand is simply that women be equal to men under the law and in society. Many women’s rights activists demand far less than this and yet they are still rounded up and sent to Evin. You attack the Mourning Mothers, who grieve in Laleh Park for their children whose lives you tore from them, and you send these mothers to Evin – if not straight to the hospital. I want to know: what have you done with Somayeh Rashidi , age 24, someone who, much like myself, works to address the problem of domestic violence in our society? You arrested her on December 19, and she has since disappeared into the bowels of Evin. She is my sister and I want to know: what have you done with her?
Regarding workers: You are ruthless with the workers of Iran, who are among those who keep the wealth flowing into the national coffers that you plunder. You imprison and torture workers, and those who would organize and lead them, for demanding wages that have been earned but unpaid for months, for demanding wages that are fair, for demanding the right to organize, which is a condition required by the International Labour Organization. Iran is among the oldest members of the ILO, and yet the Islamic Republic is among the worst offenders of workers’ rights. You have cut Ossanlou’s tongue because he dared to speak, and he now languishes in ill health among violent offenders where you have essentially left him to die. His fate is representative of many others’.
Regarding students, who have always played a leading role in the fight to bring democracy to Iran: during the Cultural Revolution after the fall of the Shah, students posed such a threat that the regime shut down all universities. Many students have since lost their lives at the hands of the regime. Majid Tavakoli has listed 70 different methods that you used to torture him the last time he was in your prisons because he spares no words in critiquing the despotism of this regime. After the June 2009 elections, where students were among the first to fall during the regime’s bloody repression of peaceful protests, persecution of students has increased. Dozens are detained in Tehran, Shiraz, Mashhad and elsewhere, and the number of students on trial has increased significantly. You do your best to cut short the lives of some of the most shining stars in Iran, and in so doing violate statute after statute not only of international agreements you have bound yourself to, but your own laws as well.
You turn human beings into political prisoners, tortured by time or sadistic methodologies. You execute people who dare to stand up and speak the truth rather than live on their knees, subjected eternally to your politics of fear and practice of abject violence. These are the techniques that you use to both crush resistance to your dictatorship and to instill terror in the hearts of Iranian citizens.
This is intolerable. And we have had enough. In a world that believes in the primacy of universal human rights, your behavior of imprisoning, torturing and executing your own citizens is not only unacceptable, it is criminal by any definition.
So we are here to tell the Islamic Republic that we have had enough. But we do not make any appeals to the Islamic Republic. With their violent repression of ordinary citizens, they have proven to the world that they are not the legitimate government of the Iranian people, and thus have no standing to receive our appeals.
Instead, as the people inside Iran have declared this regime illegitimate, we outside of Iran must support them in that declaration, and direct our appeals for justice instead to the international bodies with the power to delegitimize this regime from the outside: our own national governments, and the United Nations.
Lincoln himself, who is watching us from his chair up there, said that “Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as a heritage of all men –and, I will add, all women– , in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors.”
We must put these words of Lincoln in front of our governments and DEMAND that our governments prioritize not sanctions but the preservation of the very spirit of liberty that floods the streets of Iran at the least opportunity! Imposing sanctions and prioritizing nuclear concerns over the drive for democracy that has electrified Iran and the rest of the world over the past 7 months will only serve to damage this precious spirit of liberty, and in the end encourages further growth of the tyrannical despotism that we know as the Islamic Republic.
We – my organization – would argue that the best and most effective way our governments can show the Iranian people that we agree with their assessment of the Islamic Republic is to demand that our governments also refuse to recognize the Islamic Republic by shuttering their embassies and closing off diplomatic relations with this illegitimate outfit.
We also would argue that the best way that the world can show the Iranian people that it agrees with their assessment of the Islamic Republic is to demand that the UN expels the Islamic Republic from its membership – while creating some mechanism to ensure that the people of Iran are represented at the UN’s table.
A criminal regime that detains, tortures and executes thousands upon thousands of its own citizens while plundering the wealth of the people is not a legitimate government. It is the worst kind of criminal enterprise and must be treated as such, specifically before the International Criminal Court. Any entity that continues to deal with such an enterprise as if it were a legitimate government must be forced to reconsider its position, and it is we, the citizens, who are responsible for demanding this reconsideration.
Today, the Islamic Republic, as a member of the UN, has a legitimized platform to stand on, to speak, address the world, and propagate its madness – and propagate it does – just look at its romance with Venezuela. We take that away, and the Islamic Republic – which does not in any case represent the people of Iran at the United Nations – no longer has that legitimized place from which to speak to the international community. To take that away weakens the regime. To any extent that we can weaken the regime from the outside, we contribute to a shift in the balance of power on the inside; we strengthen and legitimize the voice of democracy in Iran by refusing to grant the voice of repression legitimacy in the eyes of the international community. Any such pressure that we on the outside put on the regime relieves some of the pressure the regime is putting on those fighting for democracy in the streets or in their women’s, student, labor and other organizations.
Right up there on those steps, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood up and spoke about “the fierce urgency of Now” during what is arguably the most famous speech of the Civil Rights movement. He said:
This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
At this moment in history, all of us here feel the fierce urgency of Now – the historical promise of these transient moments in time for the people in Iran. Now is the time for justice to become a reality for people in Iran. We – all of us, all of the millions of people in this world who are watching Iran with worried eyes – we all have a role to play in that. None of us can stay silent. Saeed Soltanpour tells us:
In the fallow ground of this silence
On this shore of fear
Upon this plain of blood roses and iron stalks
I will not stay silent
We will not stay silent, we cannot fail to act, and we cannot succumb to the lure of gradualism that King refers to. So we start with our demands to free political prisoners, to stop the torture, and to bring to a halt all executions in Iran. And then we follow through with the requisite actions to make that happen.
Iran will rise from that dark and desolate valley, and when she walks along that sunlit path of justice, she will light the way for all of the nations in the world who are watching Iran right now, watching for the triumph of freedom and democracy over violence and repression.
And we will not leave the streets until that day.
January 24 2010