Human Rights, Top Stories, World Affairs

The West’s Betrayal of Iranian Dissidents

Next month, Ayatollah Khamenei’s theocracy will stage celebrations commemorating 40 years of revolutionary power. It will do so amidst widespread acts of civil disobedience, street protests, labor strikes, and ubiquitous resentment produced by a collapsed economy and grotesque corruption. Even prominent regime insiders are now openly proclaiming the emptiness of the regime’s authority, with critiques resembling late analysis from the Soviet nomenklatura as it was confronted by cascading legitimacy crises manifested by the primordial contradictions of an ideological state.

When the Iranian people rose up against an authoritarian dictator four decades ago, they were rewarded with one of the most politically ruthless and socially backward totalitarian regimes the world has known. Falling for the siren song of populist Islamist rule, they failed to win the justice or the freedoms they had been demanding, and instead lost everything they had taken for granted under secular, modernizing rule: personal liberties, social progress, and economic opportunities that had birthed a middle class. South Korea and other countries economically inferior to Iran before the revolution are now towering over it, despite Iran’s vast oil wealth.  Iran, like Venezuela, has fallen precipitously into a wasteland of severe government mismanagement and unaccountability, environmental apocalypse, brain drain, and social malaise. Today, the country is beset by poverty, child exploitation, drug addiction, suicide, prostitution, human trafficking, and a profound lack of trust, the full truth of which no one dares bring to light for fear of deadly repression.

Even before they had managed to unseat the Shah, Iranian revolutionaries—a coalition of leftists and Islamists that ultimately galvanized the masses behind the radical cleric Ayatollah Khomeini—had captured the world’s attention. Ordinary Americans still share memories of Iranian students demonstrating on American college campuses. The irony of US educated Iranians rising up not only against a Shah that gave them scholarships to study abroad but also against “The Great Satan” that had welcomed them into its liberal and democratic society may be lost on American progressives. But it stands in bold relief for a generation of young Iranian liberals who reject a revolution predicated on hatred for America and the West, Israel, modernity, and a free, pluralist conception of the Iranian nation with ancient roots in the egalitarian, secular rule of Cyrus the Great and his declaration of human rights.

Now, Iranian protestors chant the name of Reza Shah, Iran’s early twentieth century nation builder, an authoritarian patriarch who nevertheless restrained the clergy and helped usher in a robust public sphere with a modern judiciary, schools and universities, industry, and urban infrastructure. He was the first Persian monarch in over 1,400 years to worship alongside Jews in the synagogue of Isfahan, a symbolic move that hearkened back to the Persian Empire’s religious freedom. His unveiling of women and his desire to see them educated empowered the nation’s workforce and catalysed a rapid advancement in women’s rights.

Reza Shah was certainly no Jeffersonian democrat. He ruled with an iron fist. But there is no question that the revolutionary tyranny that replaced his son Mohammad Reza Shah has been infinitely worse. Now boasting a “moderate” president, it recently blocked a bill to raise the minimum age of “marriage” for girls from nine to 13. Every night in Iran now, masked men (and even a cleric in broad daylight) brave security forces and cameras to spraypaint Javid Shah (“Long Live the Shah”) on street signs, city walls, and billboards. Acts of civil disobedience like these have arisen amidst an existing campaign by Iranian women who remove the hijab forced on them for the last four decades and post videos of their hopeful defiance to social media.

These, and other personalized acts of resistance toward corrupt clerical rule, have emerged alongside sustained protests against the regime’s totalitarianism by farmers, factory workers, pensioners, truckers, teachers, students, rights advocates, and more. Every day, Iranians’ social media feeds are filled with videos of fresh protests, as the constituency for Iran’s democratic breakthrough expands across the whole of the country, to encompass a full spectrum of employment sectors, lifestyles, and worldviews.

Yet today’s Iranian liberals, unlike the anti-American supporters of the 1979 revolution, are largely ignored in the West. Though their values are no different from those expressed by Solidarity in Poland or the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, Iranians who yearn for democracy and an open, prosperous society at peace with the world are met with overwhelming indifference from the West’s media and political leaders, not to mention its universities, unions, civic groups, churches, and celebrities—the very people and institutions that historically have lent their empathy, solidarity, and concrete assistance to the cause of freedom across the world.

On the occasions when outlets like the New York Times, for example, deign to cover the country’s disastrous economic mismanagement, they seem reluctant to acknowledge the widespread dissent and labor organizing that it has produced. Nor do they bring much attention to bear on the robust social media scrutiny Iranians exert on the ruling mafia that robs an educated but hungry people to fund its own hedonistic lifestyle and to finance terror abroad, all in the name of God. For years now, self-censorship has been rampant among Tehran-based correspondents and commentators including those filing with prestigious outlets like PBS NewsHour and the Financial Times and other outlets generally assumed to be professional and fair-minded. Even when interviewing regime officials in the safety and freedom of the West, journalists will pander with soft questions and even by donning the hijab, the regime’s most coveted symbol of its power:

And if the attention of a progressive journalist does occasionally linger on Iran’s parlous economic state, it is safe to assume they will find a way to blame the West rather than hold Iran’s own regime accountable for decades of theocratic misrule:

Minding the red lines keeps these journalists’ visas and prestigious beats safe from regime interference and disincentivises criticism. Rather than expose regime disinformation, these reporters frequently recycle it in their articles and tweets:

The recent focus on the murder of Khashoggi offers an instructive example. The Iranian regime has bombed and assassinated countless innocents abroad, including former Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar, and it continues to plot foreign assassinations and torture activists in Iranian prisons to death. But Western journalists whose responsibility it is to report on Iran have preferred to turn their attention to the Saudi regime’s horrifying murder of one man, replicating the Iranian regime’s diversionary condemnations of the killing as it escalates its own domestic repression.

Angry Iranians want to know why relatives of high ranking regime officials and former regime officials themselves are granted permission to live in The Great Satan while they are denied entry. Hossein Mousavian, for instance, the regime’s ambassador to Germany during the Mykonos terror attack, is now a fellow at Princeton University and widely cited by the media and think tanks as an Iran expert. But the West’s reporters have not pursued this scandal or others like it, and appear to be content to leave the topic in the purview of the State Department:

Even taxpayer funded media, the specific mission of which is to counter regime propaganda, have become ensnared in regurgitating it. Once lauded for their commitment to truth and for the support it provided to democratic dissidents behind the Iron Curtain, Voice of America Persian Service and Radio Free Europe/Radio Farda have been feckless for years, the butt of jokes among Iranians demanding scrutiny of one of the world’s worst violators of press freedom. As real world demonstrations and accompanying anti-regime social media discourse have mounted, these outlets, heavily staffed with “reformist” journalists who previously worked for Iranian state media, are lazily—if not suspiciously—repeating regime propagandabolstering regime apologists and sidelining (when not openly antagonizing) dissidents. The BBC’s Persian Service has recently been relabeled #AyatollahBBC by Iranian protestors infuriated by the broadcaster’s pro-regime bias and its censoring of the democratic opposition.

If the Free World’s press is complicit in the regime’s stifling of Iranian democratic voices, its universities are no better. While Iranian women are braving arrest and violent repression to defy the Islamic Republic’s draconian religious dress codes, gender apartheid, and day-to-day humiliations, college campuses have either looked the other way or asked us to admire those women who adhere to Islamist norms in defiance of “Westernization.” These ostentatious displays of cross-cultural intersectional tolerance are effectively silencing and denigrating the courageous uprising of women denied the most basic freedoms and opportunities, and at a time when American women have never been more free and more able to help less fortunate women in other parts of the world.

Though it is barely recognized by Western feminists, the Iranian women’s movement is at the forefront of a valiant struggle for human dignity against a fascist ideology determined to deny Muslim girls and women the fundamental human rights and freedoms rightly cherished in the West. The defeat of Islamist politics and the global advancement of women’s rights are in no measure guaranteed but are, rather, wholly reliant on those heroic souls—above all free thinking women—with the courage to denounce medieval gender doctrines. In the halls of academe, the struggles of Iranian women are more likely to elicit embarrassment about the Global South’s naive embrace of Enlightenment norms than solidarity with the universality of their cause. In the name of a pious commitment to self-criticism, Western elites prefer to embrace the headscarf rather than risk the arrogance of imperial judgement. But their selectively applied moral relativism only helps to confer a perverse legitimacy on practises like child marriage, domestic violence and marital rape, stoning, and unequal treatment before the law which are, it is implied, culturally authentic and therefore superior to the hypocrisies of the West’s imperfect egalitarianism. In this way, not only are the socio-economic achievements of Western women diminished, but the struggles of women in places like Iran are scorned.

Not content with its betrayal of Iranian democrats and feminists, the Regressive Left is also betraying Iranian workers. Despite violent repression of independent labor unions, Iranians have staged a series of nationwide strikes. But their demands, the reports of torture, and the photos and videos of striking workers have been ignored by all but a few unions in the West.  The AFL-CIO once proudly supported Poland’s Solidarity worker’s movement during the years of Cold War oppression, but it has remained silent about striking Iranians. The American Federation of Teachers, meanwhile, has turned its back on Iranian teachers striking to protest unpaid wages, abysmal working conditions, and the omnipresent ruthlessness of the regime. It is as if the American Left is unwilling or unable to see that Iranian dissidents are suffering the same state-controlled command economies and rentier politics that characterize all brands of totalitarianism, regardless of time or place, culture or religion.

Even the world’s environmental protection organizations are afflicted by this peculiar myopia, and find themselves unable to condemn the regime’s responsibility for Iran’s dying rivers and filthy air. Instead, they concern themselves with polarizing, abstract climate change advocacy and drives to improve the lives of already privileged animals in the West while in Iran, natural resources are plundered, the environment is despoiled, and activists’ calls to reverse the devastating impact of government policies on public health are ignored.

What explains this callous lack of interest from the Free World in the plight of Iran and its people? Part of the answer can be divined from the accusations of “warmonger” that invariably greet anyone who draws attentions to the regime’s depredations. Claims like those I have made above, we are told, are simply a means of preparing the basis for another American war in the Middle East. But this thinking is as logically nonsensical as it is morally cowardly. Americans are understandably wary of military intervention after the experience of Iraq and the calamitous consequences of the “Arab Spring” in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria. But opposition to military intervention does not require anyone to deny the despotic reality of the Iranian revolutionary regime or to ignore its embattled victims. There are many ways that Western democrats can offer solidarity and support to the struggles of Iranians who yearn for the same freedoms they enjoy. But first they have to open their eyes.


Mariam Memarsadeghi is co-founder and co-director of Tavaana: E-Learning Institute for Iranian Civil Society, a virtual institute offering secure democracy and human rights educational opportunities. A 2017 Presidential Leadership Scholar, she is an outspoken advocate for the principles of liberalism, women’s rights, civic education and internet freedom, particularly in Islamic contexts. You can follow her on Twitter @memarsadeghi


  1. Robert Gantry says

    “What explains this callous lack of interest from the Free World in the plight of Iran and its people? Part of the answer can be divined from the accusations of “warmonger” ”

    What’s the other part? Frankly, I’m mystified, and this article doesn’t provide the answer.

    • American Imperialist says

      @Robert Gantry

      I think I found the formula…

      “Help us United States, you war-mongering, Trump-voting, imperialist pieces of shit!”

    • (Prof. Emer.) Ferrel Christensen says

      Robert, complex social phenomena often have complex causes, and I would not pretend to know how to weigh them. But Western kowtowing to Israel stands out to me as one factor. Of course, in the case of Trump it is “the enemy of my cash-cow (Saudi Arabia) is my enemy”.

  2. Morgan Foster says

    I have yet to hear a really good, clear, rational explanation of why Western progressives and feminists do everything in their power to shield conservative Islamists from criticism for their murderous opposition to progressive and feminist agendas. This article has not helped.

    • Because they think of everything in terms of power. In the West, Christianity is powerful. Hence it is okay to criticize Christianity. Islam, on the other hand, is an oppressed religion in the West. Hence it must be defended, because we must always punch up and never down.

      No, really, that’s the insane narrative behind it. (Although I am more inclined to ascribe the true motivation to be shallow tribalism — Western conservatives are Christians who dislike Islam; therefore Western liberals must defend Islam. Us vs. Them garbage, as usual.)

      • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says


        Yup, there is the normal phenomenon that my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Thus, since the universal Satan is The Patriarchy (the West), and since The Patriarchy — in it’s Western Imperialist dress — is the enemy of Iran, it follows that the Iranian regime, being an enemy of The Patriarchy, must be an ally of all other enemy-Victims of The Patriarchy, especially the Oppressed, suffering, academic feminist. She stands shoulder to shoulder with the mullahs in their mutual desire to destroy the West. But do the mullahs stand shoulder to shoulder with her? She has a rude surprise in store if she lives in Sweden.

      • This right here explains everything about the modern left in the western world.

      • Stephen Phillips says

        Christianity is THE most oppressed religion in the world and accounts for more ‘martyrs than any other. Go to the Amnesty site for details.

    • Farris says

      In 2009 the American government made the conscious decision to ignore the Iranian Green Movement. The media agreeing with that decision has continued to follow suit. Feminists and universities are heavily populated with anti-semites who equate criticisms of Islamic countries as pro Israel.

    • Stephanie says

      Maybe the leftists are disappointed that the Holocaust failed to remove all the Jews, so they’re hoping by importing a bunch of Muslims hostile to Jews, they can chase the rest away to Israel. Then Iran can finish the job with the bomb the West has been helping them afford.

    • Robert Gantry says

      >”I have yet to hear a really good, clear, rational explanation of why Western progressives and feminists do everything in their power to shield conservative Islamists”…

      Nor have I.

      That said, I also haven’t heard a good, clear, rational explanation of why Western conservatives and right wingers also shield conservative Islamist regimes.

      • Daath says

        @Robert Gantry

        For elites it’s probably mostly about business and geopolitical interests, while the ordinary right wingers just don’t care that much about what other people do in their own countries. They’re not particularly passionate about defending such regimes, however. If someone gets viciously angry about criticism of Islamists, it’s most likely a progressive.

      • Stephanie says

        @Robert, what are you talking about? Conservatives are the only ones critical (read: realistic) about Islam. I don’t think I’ve ever talked to a right-leaning person who doesn’t think Islamic immigration is an existential threat to Western civilization. Have you ever read any news?? Red states preemptively banning Sharia law? Calls for a boycott of Saudi oil? Calls to limit “refugee” intake? Trump’s “Muslim ban,” which people on the right think doesn’t go nearly far enough?

    • Sandra says

      @Morgan Foster

      “I have yet to hear a really good, clear, rational explanation of why Western progressives and feminists do everything in their power to shield conservative Islamists from criticism for their murderous opposition to progressive and feminist agendas. This article has not helped.”

      The author cannot speak for the evil silence of the Western left. She is only offering a catalog of what it is silent about.
      The answer is that the feminists and the Western left will always support and never condemn regimes they consider equally anti-Western, anti-capitalist, and anti-Christian.The ideological affinity is too great; that women and children are perpetual casualties is irrelevant.

      “Progress by any means necessary” oftentimes means “No comment”.

      Showing solidarity with or compassion for the Iranians today will deliver a cognitive dissonance of such magnitude that it will devastate the leftist ideology from within or expose it for what it really is: totalitarian.

      • Sandra says

        “The answer is that the feminists and the Western left will always support and never condemn regimes they consider equally anti-Western, anti-capitalist, and anti-Christian.”
        I forgot to add “anti-Israel”.

    • HusGid says

      Because there is none. They (the Pahlavi family) are all living a dream and have yet to wake up from their slumber and accept reality on the ground.

  3. TeerapatGT says

    I started noticing that when it comes to women being oppressed in Iran or other Islamic countries, many feminists in the US tend to turn a blind eye. It’s like they have a soft spot for Islam or don’t want to be seen as ‘offensive’.

    Not sure which one is worse to be honest 🙁

  4. Let's not lie says

    “The American Federation of Teachers, meanwhile, has turned its back on Iranian teachers striking to protest unpaid wages, abysmal working conditions, and the omnipresent ruthlessness of the regime.”

    The AFT has publicly stated its support for the protests. See Washington Times article titled: “Teachers union president expresses support for Iranian protesters”.

  5. Heike says

    “Falling for the siren song of populist Islamist rule, they failed to win the justice or the freedoms they had been demanding, and instead lost everything they had taken for granted under secular, modernizing rule: personal liberties, social progress, and economic opportunities that had birthed a middle class.”

    I hate this kind of blinkered thinking. Tons and tons of Iranians got exactly the government they wanted – an Islamist one. To pretend that the Iranian government is some kind of widely unpopular monster belies the support that it has among the Iranian people. However, nobody wants to talk to them or hear what they have to say. Can’t contradict the narrative.

    • Stephanie says

      @Heike, I thought that was a strange claim as well. The people who were demanding justice or freedom could not possibly have been so stupid as to think an Islamist government was going to get them there.

      • Carrie Sklodorowska says

        When you’re doing okay, you fear the unknown, because it might be worse than your current situation.

        When you’re not doing well, which was the case of much of Iran under the Shah, you often yearn for the unknown, because it might be better than your current situation.

        • Irrational Actor says

          Spot on Carrie. This is an often overlooked motivating principle.

          The desire for change is strongly related to the current condition, whether perceived or actual.

          I think this explains some of the motivation of both the valid Iranian resistance that is the subject of this article, and the ever-growing desperation of the regressive feminists due to their perceived oppression at the hands of….well, everyone not holding their heavily distorted worldview.

        • Brenn says

          Plus the fact that people under a regime they see as corrupt, and in the case of the Shah’s regime, pro-West, are going to assume that a religiously based regime has to be less corrupt and more in line with their basic moral values (ie Islamic).

    • Mehran says

      People thought islamic regime was the way to freedom. They were convinced by mullas and even non islamici opposition groups that khomeini would bring democracy.
      People trusted them but it took only one year for khomeini to show his true face.
      Christians, jews, socialists and hijabless women were among protestors too and they sure weren’t looking for this.
      Oppositions started from the day that “leader” replaced shah. it wasn’t what protestors wanted.
      And people supporting government? No way. Not many people would support a government that has brought poverty and misery to them and all it cares about is destroying the great Satan. Most of those supporters you say are the ones who benefit from corruption inside the government which are minority. Just google “sasha sobhani”

      • Pirus says


        I broadly agree with Mehrans assessment. The Iranian revolution didn’t consist of a homogeneous group of people. People from all walks of life and with verydifferent world views were united against what they saw in Shah as a tyrannical ruler. Not least the modernised liberals.

        A significant proportion of the opposition was in fact made up of secular marksist/communist lefties supporting the toodeh party.

        For auret therewas significant portion of conservative, relegious (but not radical ) population and supporters of the clergy, not too happy with the rapid rate of modernisation and westernisation. I am not sure however how much this was a driving force behind the revolution. It certainly was a significant factor.

        Basically, people didn’t know what the wanted, they just wanted to get rid of the dictator.

      • Stephanie says

        “People thought islamic regime was the way to freedom.”

        Are you saying the Iranian people really were so extremely stupid? That a religion who’s name means “submission” and which calls for Islamic governance identical to modern ISIS would deliver anything remotely resembling “freedom?” If the population were indeed brain-dead as you suggest, then they got exactly what they need and deserve: democracy would not have produced anything better when the voters are stupid and unethical.

        • You know that 40 years ago we had no ISIS. In the whole Shah’s rule of 35 years only 80 people were excuted in total. Almost all of them were murderes and rapists. The revolutionaries promised free housing, transportation and monthly stipend. All the Iranian intellectual was fully under Islam’s spell. For them Islam was great architucture and poetry. They had no underestanding of Sharia and the Palestinians who trained and armed them forgot to tell them what the Muslim world wants from Iran, the richest country of the world at that time.
          All in all a collection of two campism by the left, multinational Islamism vast resources and excellent planning and Shah’s overly linient and tolerant security forces ruined my life and millions of others for ever. Atleast our Muslim ((brothers)) got rich though.

        • Anonymous says

          From the eyes of a young Iranian.. yes they were stupid. Very stupid!

          but so what? That was 40 years ago and many of those stupid people are dead now. But the result of their stupidity is still there. and who is suffering the most you might ask? children. young men and women who for the most part didn’t even exist then!

          now they show their opposition every day. Question is why there is no support from progressives, feminists, liberals?

          or maybe these group of people, who happen to be very anti-Trump, anti-Israel, pro-Islam, are just a bunch of fealthy hypocrites?

    • That’s exactly, Heike, what Michel Foucault wrote about the Iranian revolution, a direct form of democracy, the will and consentment of the masses (so, not of a bunch of intellectuals and new rich yuppies), the culture of the people. You are right, nobody wants to hear that anymore, or, even, can read it in some newspaper or book.

  6. Sydney says

    “What explains this callous lack of interest from the Free World in the plight of Iran and its people?”

    Is the author kidding?

    Iranian people are the victims of the success by global Muslims and Western leftists, in their all-encompassing and relentless post-9/11 indoctrination and propaganda campaigns, to present Islam as a positive, progressive, untouchable ideology/identity that is beyond any reproach whatsoever. The West has been successfully Islamicized. It didn’t even require torture chambers and secret police.

    Westerners who voice support for current Iranian revolutionaries are stupidly trolled as, ‘Nazi,’ ‘far-right,’ ‘alt-right,’ ‘Islamophobic,’ and such. The author can thank CAIR, Muslim Brotherhood, and their foot soldiers and ‘useful idiots’ for this “callous lack of interest.”

    Halal chickens coming home to roost?

    • Martin Pena says

      “Is the author kidding?”

      No, the author is thinking.

      You, on the other hand, are repeating conspiracy theories. You shed no light with them.

      • Sydney says

        @Martin Pena,

        Your comment is nonsense. You clearly do not know what a ‘conspiracy theory’ is, or means.

        The Islamicization of the West is fact, not theory.

        An example that speaks to the Iran issue: Children in secular, public Western schools have been directed to “try on” hijabs “for a day” in order to normalize this Muslim practice. Why? Why now? What groups are instrumental behind this heinous and repulsive push? Searching for an answer? Put on your thinking cap here, instead of your fabulous hijab.

        Here, Muslims and their Western leftist supporters encourage Western Islamicization on one hand, and then cry wolf when Westerners fail to make #WhiteWednesdays trend on Twitter.

        Another example: Canada’s far-left Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a huge fan of Iran (and Cuba). His brother, Alex Trudeau (who works for his PM brother and was a campaign advisor) infamously produced a glowing documentary about the Iranian government. Does the author want to support for the revolution from Canada? She can make a trip to Canada and speak publicly about Iran to the pro-Iran, Islamicized Canadian government.

        PM Trudeau bizarrely and entirely unnecessarily instituted the universally loathed Motion 103, a soft-Sharia law protecting Muslims. In 150 years of Canada’s history, the nation never had, or required, legislation protecting one particular group. Who was behind this? Why? Why now? No matter; but too bad for this author: You can’t force special protections and Islamicization, and then also expect support for an Iranian revolution.

        The author is doing more disingenuous whining than “thinking.” Iranians are the direct victims of Muslims, their useful Western idiots, and the Islamicization they all wanted. Those are just two examples; we can continue with many more if you like. No theory; just fact.

  7. I’ve lived in Iran, studied it, and kept abreast of its politics. I think this piece is probably a decent primer for those who don’t know its recent history or who don’t pay very close attention to events in that country, although it does read more like an impassioned op-ed than I’d like. There’s no attempt at historical balance by Ms. Memarsadeghi — for example, she sugarcoats the reign of Reza Shah and underestimates the existing support for the regime — and she sounds at times more like an angry pamphleteer on a street corner than a writer in an online journal of ideas.

    But she is correct in describing the sadness and bafflement of Iranian liberals at the apathy of the American left. It makes me sad, too.

  8. Sandor Nemos says

    “But she is correct in describing the sadness and bafflement of Iranian liberals at the apathy of the American left. It makes me sad, too.”

    Fair enough. But how do Iranians explain the apathy of the American right, which is often openly anti-Islam, and should therefore be chomping at the bit to bring down a Muslim theocracy?

    • @ Sandor Nemos

      You wrote: “But how do Iranians explain the apathy of the American right, which is often openly anti-Islam, and should therefore be chomping at the bit to bring down a Muslim theocracy.”

      Those conservatives in the US who actively follow world affairs tend not to be “apathetic” about the abuses of the Iranian regime. You see a lot of articles, for example, in the American conservative press about the anti-hijab movement. Conservative Twitter feeds regularly feature amateur anti-regime video from Iran.

      Much of the “apathy” you describe in the US about Iran is simply a function of the low interest of Americans in world affairs, a long-standing phenomenon supported by polling data from the past forty or so years.

    • Stephanie says

      Sandor, where do you get the idea the right is apathetic towards Iranian protesters? They regularly appear in right-wing news, particularly those who voice support for Israel. The American right has supported them in the most meaningful way: slapped sanctions on the regime and supported energy independence. What the protesters need for the movement to succeed is the economic collapse of Iran. That is what gets people into the streets and makes regime change happen.

  9. Mohsen says

    I thank you for being honest (brave) to tell the truth about the reality and living condition of Iranians under Islamic Republic across the board. The view that “You’v got what you asked for” is a bit harsh for the new generation of young & educated that had nothing to do with the unrest of 1979 that ousted the Shah. Today they are protesting against a ruthless regime asking that if our parents made a mistake or choose to elect an Islamic gov. 4 decades ago, why can’t we have a free election to see if majority of people still want an Islamic regime.
    I understand that it’s not in the best interest of the EU to have a regime change in Iran, they are stealing our natural resources, and the mulla’s are partners in crime. A willing participant as long as they get money both to hide their wealth in EU, Canada, US, and for support of their Islamic expansionist ideas via terrorist activities across the region.
    Iranian people are not asking the US or EU to change their regime for them, they want the outside world to be their voice so they can have a level playing field in order to be able to decide for their own future without the fear of being arrested, imprisoned, tortured or worse yet killed for nonviolent protest requesting their months of unpaid wages or better condition for schools & so on..

  10. Bubblecar says

    As a Western centre-left liberal, I too am very frustrated by the apologetic attitude of many leftists to these disgusting Islamic theocracies.

    And to those on the left who think they are “defending Muslims” by defending such regimes – or at least blaming their existence on the West – I frequently point out that it is of course ordinary Muslims who are the real victims of these despots, and of Islamic fundamentalism in general.

    It’s hard to make sense of the detailed positions of leftists like Corbyn, since they’re dependent on a long series of knee-jerk anti-Western reactions to this or that historical event. He is quite right to point out that Western governments are far too chummy with Saudi Arabia, but he seems to think that this stance somehow excuses his own chumminess towards Iran and Hamas etc.

    But there’s little I can do to support pro-democratic movements within Iran and other Islamist states, except maintain criticism of Western observers who would play down the evil of these regimes.

  11. Loïc Hoguin says

    I don’t know much on the topic but I recall a few months ago Infowars receiving some praise from some Iranian people for covering the RESTART[1] opposition movement. There was a lot of comments thanking them for covering some of the opposition. A quick check shows me they still cover it to this day. I’m not sure we want Infowars to be the go-to outlet for information about Iran.


  12. Donald says

    It is all about money and power. In the 50s a secular nationalist democratic government was overthrown by the CIA to keep control of Iran’s oil. This regime was then overthrown by an autocratic conservative “religious” dictatorship whose great satan was the west and America. Convenient to keep people distracted while you loot their wealth. In fact it has been convenient for Saudi Arabia, the Military industrial complex with the iran/Iraq war and Big Oil who controll a lot of Saudi oil, think the Bushs. Iran has been so maligned in the west the left see no propaganda benefit in supporting them, they also have an eye on where the money and publicity is..
    The bombs now falling in Somalia, paid for by Saudi oil made in middle America and Britain.

  13. Our minister of foreign trade, a woman, was wearing a headscarf on her visit to her Iranian colleague. Pictures in the newspaper, and general scorning for that gesture, and not only by feminists, also the public at large. However, her behaviour was in line with a very long Dutch tradition of diplomacy and trade relations. In the time that the Dutch were the only ones allowed to trade with the world outside Japan, they also did exactly what was expected from them to please the emperor, among others reading from the bible, in their own language, (general laughter of the emperor, court members and the many court ladies, a giggling from behind the hands before their mouth). When in Rome, do as the Romans, in short. However, after the Human Rights bill (concocted in a period that the US more or less had world hegemony) this is becoming more and more difficult.In fact, quite possible that 90% of all conflicts in the world have in some way to do with the ideals (and certainly not rights) put down in that Bill.

  14. We are living in a Manichean age. The far right clings to an orthodoxy which champions White Nationalists and the Sunnis; the far left celebrates “oppressed people of color” and the the Shia. Thus, we see Netanyahu cozying up to the anti-Semitic Orban and Trump placing his hands on a shining globe with MbS, while Jeremy Corbyn schmooozes with Hamas and JVP accuses Israelis as “settler-colonialists.”
    The horrible irony is that this simplistic view of the world as a binary good vs. evil has its roots in a late antiquity Persian prophet, Mani.

    • I wonder, Wolf, whether this binary simplification (also seen in cultural marxism, white privilege and intersectionality), a rather political and socioeconomic thing after all, has anything to do with the purely spiritual world vision of Mani. But, in both cases, truely, diverse and gradual shadings seem to make place for a sharp black and white.

  15. Darwin T of BC Humanists says

    Alas, unless and until Iranian dissidents organize into a solid disciplined mass that is willing to die and to kill for freedom they will not win it. The mullahs and their Islamo-fascist Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia are willing to kill in the name of Allah.

    Will a tipping point come with outside agents lending moral and other support? Only if it is strong and steady.

    Stay tuned.

  16. Stop the interference says

    For more than half a century, Iran has suffered from interference from the USA – overthrow of the democratic Mosaddegh government by the CIA (at the behest of the British), support for Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran, and now sanctions against Iran despite compliance with the anti-nuclear deal. The best thing that the USA and the rest of the West can do for Iranians is to leave them alone to let their society evolve as they wish.

  17. Darwin T of BC Humanists says

    Evolve. Wow. Hanging gays from bridges. Sentencing women to lengthy prison terms for not wearing a headscarf. Murdering opponents in and out of Iran. Directly sponsoring terrorists in Hezbollah and Hamas. Raping little girls as young as 9 and calling marriage. I am just getting started!

    Iranian authorities ignore all norms of decent conduct with their own citizens and the world. Yet so many in the West hate the West so much they support evil regimes like Iran. Such is the state of the Regressive Left. Pathetic fellow teavellers.

  18. Stop the interference says

    Obviously you know best DToBCH. But bad as things are in Iran, they are so much worse in many of the kingdoms on the other side of the Gulf. However, the West does not seem so keen on destabilising those governments.

    • How exactly is it worse? Like unemployment is higher? Or political prisoners or dying? Even if we assume you are right why should we Iranians pay? Why is it always us? We paid for 40 years for the lie of Palestine and now we have to pay for our super rich southern neighbors? You know what? I think this writer is wrong. Its pointless to beg support from the left. The left and the Islamist are one. They are the pigs and the men in our farm. They collaborated with the Islamists to ruin our life and take our happiness away and invest it in their revolution and their endless Jihad against everyone.

      • But, Ahad, these Islamists, is that not your people? Men? Women, that wanted the hijab? You paid for 40 years? With what? Money, earned with oil, extracted by foreigners? Please, stop that nonsense! Where the hell do you live? To whom do you own all what you are??

  19. Fickle Pickle says

    The on the ground facts of history tell us that the West has seldom supported dissidents?
    And conversely was/is almost always on the side of the brutalists as this truth-telling site points out and describes in great fact-based detail.

    And why are Western feminists supposedly guilty of not speaking out on this topic, especially as the entire world is saturated with unspeakable brutality and suffering. As if their speaking out can make any real lasting positive distance.

  20. Disappointed that Quillette published this awful article. While I agree the islamic republic is terrible and hope they fall, the only ones responsible for it are the iranian people. Not western leftists. The iranian people put the mullahs into power, the iranian people have the sole responsibility for it.

    The narrative that Iran would be a sprawling liberal democracy with gay rights if it wasn’t for western leftists and other foreigners is as tiring as it is ridiculous. The mullahs had large public support, sharia laws had large public support. No one forced it upon you except iranians themselves.

    The main reason the mullahs are still in power is because the iranian opposition keeps blaming the islamic republic on everyone else except themselves and the iranian people.

    Time to take some responsibility. Stop blaming the west and take a long hurtful look in the mirror instead.

    • Daniel says

      Lind, there’s room for your perspective as well as that of this article. As you point out, nobody’s going to change Iran except Iranians. But, as Memarsadeghi points out, they would benefit from outside support.
      The reality is, we live in a global world, and everyone has some degree of responsibility to make the world as healthy a place as possible. Given the tenets of Leftist ideology, the most vocal critics of the Islamic Republic in Iran really ought to be the Left. Even if they just wave their arms and cry foul.

      And given the pathology of Leftist ideology, it is entirely appropriate for Memarsadeghi to call them to task on their hypocrisy.

  21. Commenters with special interest in the theme: compare also Mariam’s July article – The Islamic fall of Iran-, also with many comments, partly agreeing with Mariam, partly wondering, like Lind and others, whether our indignation and wish to interfere is such a good idea.

    Interesting also, maybe, to compare all those hoped for or wished falls (Iran, prophet Solzhenitsyn, a.o.) with- The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire-, people far away, in space or time, judge about, or reflect on an empire, or government, or social system. Funny thing, read Lind here above, is that so few have the inclination to take some time out and have a look in the mirror.

    For example, Mariam cherishes our human rights, justice and freedom. OK. But, are these forms of justice and freedom (yesterday in the centre of Amsterdam, young women shouting “fuck off with our prime minister”, nobody even listens, least of all the police) local western inventions and culture, instead of universal values to be “cherished”?

    • Problem with Mariam’s article is that it pushes the tired narrative of the white man’s burden. Iranians are seen as completely free of responsibility for the iranian regime. Iranians have no responsibility for allowing the regime into power nor any responsibility for allowing it to stay in power. It’s the white man of the west. This tendency to blame everyone except themselves is the reason iranian opponents of the regime have failed to organizing anything resembling an effective opposition movement. Why would they when it’s not their responsibility?

      Iran is not the center of the world. Nor are other dictatorships like North Korea, Saudi Arabia or Cuba. Why should westerners prioritize fighting the iranian regime? They have other priorities, Iran is the priority for iranians, other nationalities care about their own problems first. Iranian regime opponents need to understand that it is up to them to crush the mullahs, it’s not up to the swedes or the danes or the french.

  22. Yes, I’m for an isolationist foreign policy. I’m anti-neocon. It’s not our responsibility to spread liberal democracy across the world. Come at me.

    • Not our responsibility, OK, but how many here on Quillette will agree with that?

      • I wouldn’t support isolationism, but foreign policy restraint, that is, no military intervention unless it is in the national interest of the United States. A war to secure oil shipping routes if critical to the U.S. economy is fine. A war to make the world safe for liberal democracy is moonshine.

  23. Darwin T of BC Humanists says

    The express aim of the Islamic Republic of Iran is to spread it’s version of Islam all over the world. They brag about this. How is that being a good neighbour or a peaceful one? They are all over the Near East and are also now partnered with drug and people smuggling gangs in the tri-border region of South America. It does not end there.

    The DNA of all dictatorial revolutionary states is not to stay as nice neighbours but to force themselves upon others by violent means.

    You want peace. Peace on the basis of whom? Well you can never have it with a regime like Iran. Functioning democracies do not go to war against each other. War will end for all time when all governments are democratic. The IranIan theocracy is a warmongering stain on humanity.

    Other Near East governments have beaucoup faults and problems too. They are not exporting revolution via terrorist organizations to the world. Saudi Arabia is an awful place for any non-conformist. It needs to be blocked and challenged too. They can be shamed as in the recent KashoggI murder. This is a key point and distinction. Shame. The mullahs of iran have zero shame and are in fact proud of their evil ways. The Saudis stammered and we’re flummoxed by the worldwide reaction to the murder of Kashoggi.

    • Democracy all over the world, Darwin, are you serious? In countries with a long history of education, civilisation, culture, trias politica, middle class etc etc, OK, but all over the world? In Central Africa? Quatar? Cambodja? You can’t mean that, anyhow, I wish you a comfortable life, in your own country,blessed with a functional democracy!! But I can tell you one thing, democracy is not something like a ticket for a free ride, or even a needed condition for happines.

  24. Darwin T of BC Humanists says

    Well Dirk, it occurs to me from the content of your reply that you perhaps think I have not left my democratic cocoon. Just so you know I have seen gays hung from bridges and constructure cranes with my own eyes in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The signs around their necks in Farsi said that homosexuality is a sin against Allah and they deserved this punishment. That kind of visual, repeated I might add does shake your worldview to the core. I also witnessed firsthand an al-Qaeda terrorist attack less than 50 metres away from me and escaped by a very narrow margin.

    Please tell me a better system than a liberal democracy with checks and balances and diffusion of powers. Since it was invented in July and August of 508 BCE in Athens by Cleisthenes who thoughtfully weaved together disparate constituencies to start something the world had never seen, democracy has been and is the best thing so far. Differing models with unique approaches are adopted by different societies and that is to the good.

    I am open to being proven wrong. Show me the evidence. Let me know when the current models in Finland, Japan, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Barbados, Malta, South Korea, Armenia, Papua New Guinea and many other democracies fall into famine, torture, wide scale corruption and civil war. Are any of those listed above exporting terror abroad or making common cause with Islamic Jihadists?

    As good old Jean-Marie Arouet said, “Do not make the perfect the enemy of the good.” Democracy is good but not perfect. An informed citizenry that actively participates and thinks of more than their own personal interests is the way to go.

    I remain your humble correspondent.

    • Yeah, you just get a written constitution like Americas, and then, presto chango, you become a liberal democracy like Iraq and Liberia.

      But when you come off your rainbow and unicorn fruit punch, you have created another failed state exporting terrorism, drugs, piracy and chaos into the free world, and just put even more strain on a fragile international order.

      If you have an ethnically homogeneous country with high levels of literacy and a Christian or Confucian cultural orientation, you might have a chance (Japan). If not, your best bet is probably dictatorship if the dictator isn’t too greedy (Singapore, Indonesia), otherwise, you’ll just have a ethnic civil war as rival ethnic groups war with each other for control of the government or you end up with some kind of backward theocracy.

  25. I,m very happy to live, like you too I hope, in a functioning democracy, what I meant, that’s only possible where the groundwork has been done (enlightenment, education of the masses, and such), I have worked in a country where during my time there, democracy was introduced (forced by Europe and US, no good governance, no more aid and credit). My maid also went to vote, and came home, laughing, that some people in the village stood in the wrong line, the line for the wrong candidate, of the wrong tribal group. All people had to choose a line outside the poll bureau already, so it was clear who had voted for whom.
    The whole idea of secret voting and party policies and parlementary responsability was alien to the new voters and politicians, logically, I thought.

    Democracy will be asked for by most nations of a certain development, even if they have to fight for it, and even where it will take time and efforts and struggling. Just look only what happened in Iraq, after the US efforts to introduce democracy, not very succesful, to say the least, better a strongman there. Look what happened when general Tito of Yugoslavia died and the country was divided into separate democracies. I,m happy to live in a democracy, and not needing to fight for it.

  26. Sorry Iran dudes. We are having enough problems with our own corrupt and out of touch ruling class to deal with yours. Also, our leaders do not give a fuck about you. They will see you dead or enslaved. Either outcome is fine. Sort your own problems out.

  27. Darwin T of BC Humanists says

    Well, it seems the lesson you draw is that democracy is messy and complex and a change and it does not work right away so give up or better yet do not try.

    That sounds amazingly like losing one’s innocence!

    Not many things in life are easy the first go-around.

    Germany, Italy and Japan were all democratized thanks to direct and sustained confrontation with evil. You cannot learn to swim by putting only your toes in the water. Commitment is required.

    I submit Iraq is a fledgling democracy now. It has a chance to succeed as one and the world community needs to assist it whenever it asks for help or advice. The alternative is what? It might fail. Iran next door may take it over by means of intimidation and religious dominance through the 60% majority Shia communities.

    East Timor is now a thriving new democracy thanks to the British Navy and Australian Marines who physically kicked out the roving murderous gangs of Indonesians who were supported by Islamist elements in the old Indonesian despotic regime.

    The Butcher of Bosnia, Milosevic was turfed out of power and Kosovo thanks to NATO and the entire area now has a chance for success. A chance not a guarantee. There is no guarantee for life and success. But you can get a chance if you are willing to struggle and fight for it.

    All it takes is a few good people at the election station lineup you mentioned to REFUSE to line up as instructed. I am talking about peaceful and principled dissent with a dash of stubbornness thrown in. The idea spreads to other election stations and pretty soon there are no separate lineups. Voila, you have a secret vote. Maybe that will not happen the first election maybe only on the second or third. This is how change happens, organically and one mind at a time. Not sexy but hopefully worthwhile.

  28. Some of our friends, Darwin+, from the old Yugoslavia, are so angry that all their bridges have been bombed by NATO that they now prefer traveling to Moscu or Kiev for a holiday, and not to Paris or Rome (also helps that their cyrillic and language is the same or similar). But I agree, working for the good (democracy, where it is dictatorial now) is not sexy, but if you try, try and try again, and organize yourself with others, you might succeed. And for us in the free west, in our corner of the globe, complain, rebel and judge is part of the game.

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  30. But what I now read again in my newspaper, about the outcome of the voting in Congo (once Zaïre, but the name of the country is changing all the time), does not enforce my belief in the value and universality of democracy. Democracy, certainly good, somewhere, but that’s all it is.

  31. Since when does the “West” owe a duty of loyalty to Iranian dissenters?

    If the “West” doesn’t owe a duty of loyalty, then I don’t know where you get a betrayal.

    Besides, Iran is run by a Supreme Council of Judges, America is run by a Supreme Council of Judges. Iran has elections. America has elections. Its mostly the same hardware, they are just running different software, the religion of “Peace” v. the religion of “Social Justice”.

    Does it really matter if you are told how to live and how to think and how to speak by guys in black robes and turbans with beards versus Ezra Klein and Amy Harmon and the marketing department? If anything, the Mullahs are less sanctimonious by contrast. No one in Iran is calling for beating up children for smirking at least.


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