We are a group of university educators and antiwar activists with diverse political views who are based in Europe and North America. During the past few years we have been active in defending Iran’s national rights — particularly those relating to the peaceful use of nuclear energy — against the pervasive deception created by western and Israeli-influenced media and official statements. We have consistently taken a stand against the policies of the United States and its allies, including the improper submission of Iran’s nuclear file to the United Nations security council, the imposition of sanction resolutions against Iran, covert destabilisation inside the country and repeated threats of military intervention and bombing of nuclear centres on the part of US and Israel.
At the same time, we have advocated the human rights of individuals and democratic rights for various groups and constituencies in Iran. We have emphasised that the guarantee of such rights is necessary not only for Iran’s social and political advancement, but also for the vital unity of our people against foreign pressures.
In the current post-election crisis, we see it as our duty to share our views based on years of defending Iran’s national rights, and to help develop realistic solutions for the benefit of all our compatriots of whatever political persuasion.
The background to the current situation is the longstanding belligerent policies of the US and its allies, encouraged by the neoconservatives and the Israeli lobby, which peaked during eight years of Republican rule in the White House. Despite President Khatami’s conciliatory approach, exemplified by his promotion of “Dialogue Among Civilisations”, and despite Iran’s co-operation in the overthrow of the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan, the administration of George W Bush labelled the Islamic Republic a member of the “axis of evil”. Following the illegal invasion of Iraq, Bush pushed for regime change in Iran. These provocative and confrontational policies played a key role in the defeat of Iranian reformists in the parliamentary elections of 2003 and the presidential election of 2005.
During the past four years, a whole series of policies have targeted Iran’s right to produce nuclear fuel for peaceful energy, including illegitimate UN/US sanctions, repeated implicit and overt threats of military attack by the United States and Israel, overt and covert well-funded US destabilisation operations, and aid to terrorist forces seeking to overthrow the government of Iran. These policies have created fears of an externally-instigated “velvet revolution” in the leadership ranks of the Islamic Republic. These fears were used to justify restrictions of civil and political freedoms promoted by the reformist administration of Khatami and, as a result, civil society and non-governmental organisations suffered a setback.
According to critics, these social and political pressures, along with government mismanagement caused by the removal of competent technocrats, have negatively impacted the public interest and put enormous pressure on the middle class, the educated class, journalists and artists. These people must be allowed a more open and free environment in order to fulfil their instrumental roles in service of the country.
On the external front, the Obama administration, facing neoconservative pressure and keeping many of his predecessor’s policies against Iran, has nevertheless declared its readiness for unconditional negotiations with Iran. He has for the first time referred to Iran as the “Islamic Republic” and indicated that he is not pursuing regime change in Iran. Furthermore, shortly before the Iranian elections, in a first for an American president, Obama admitted the role of his country in the 1953 coup that overthrew the democratically elected prime minister Muhammad Mossadegh. These changes in US politics have created room for active and constructive diplomacy for the purpose of solving conflicts and disagreements between Iran and the United States, and for creating a nuclear-free Middle East.
This year, there was in Iran a record level of participation in the elections, unprecedented television debates and, most important of all, widespread participation in election campaigns. Despite some restrictions, the elections took place in an overall constructive climate, perhaps making Iran a model democracy among Islamic nations of the region. A day before the elections, Senator John Kerry, a key US statesman, was so impressed that he dismissed as “ridiculous” Bush’s policy of denying Iran peaceful nuclear energy, which in itself exposes the baseless nuclear accusations levelled against Iran and proves the illegitimacy of security council resolutions against Iran.
However, in the view of a considerable number of Iranians who are discontented and frustrated with the restrictions on civil and political freedoms, there were various irregularities in the elections, including the suspension of reformist newspapers and mobile telephone SMS service on election day. This caused mass public demonstrations in support of nullifying the election. The unrest has created a major rift between the supporters of Ahmadinejad, who deem Iran’s national sovereignty to be of the highest priority, and the supporters of the two reform candidates Karroubi and Mousavi, who demand increased civil and political freedoms above all.
Each of these two major wings of the body politic includes millions of people and both play a vital role in Iran’s progress. The rift between these two must heal in an environment of calm, without agitation and mudslinging, for the sake of Iran’s future. This healing must be pursued through the path of constructive dialogue and reconciliation, so that the unity of our people for safeguarding national rights can be achieved.
Unfortunately, a large number of our protesting fellow countrymen have been attacked and injured and even more regrettably, a significant number of them have been killed. Also, a large group of reformist activists and leaders have been arrested and imprisoned after the elections.
Both Mousavi and Karroubi have stressed that all protests must remain within the law. Following the request of the reformist and Green leaders, almost all protesters rallied completely peacefully, and in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, condemned all types of violence, calling the Basijis and Revolutionary Guards their own brothers. Extremist elements who used the opportunity to create chaos and engaged in the destruction of public property were condemned by Mousavi.
The western media, by their one-sided coverage of the post-election developments, portrayed the street demonstrations protesting the election results as the start of a “velvet” revolution against the Islamic Republic. Regime-change advocates also tried to piggy-back on the protests outside Iran for their own purposes. The British government, which claims to follow a policy of non-interference in Iran’s internal affairs, did its part by confiscating nearly £1bn of Iranian assets. To make matters worse, the neoconservatives demanded a re-evaluation of the Obama administration’s policy of unconditional negotiations with Iran. The US state department also used this crisis to justify its continuation of Bush-era policies of financing anti-Iranian government organisations for the purposes of “spreading democracy, human rights and a government of law and order”. For “security reasons” they refused to release the identities of the recipients of the funds. The Iranian government, for their part, deported two British diplomats, accusing them of interference in Iranian affairs and pointing to western governments as the root of the post-election unrest.
Whatever the role of the western media, governments, and regime change forces, it cannot detract from the legitimacy of the massively popular protests. In fact, Mousavi has emphasised his complete loyalty to the Islamic Republic and admonished his supporters abroad to stay away from the anti-Islamic Republic groups. To attribute the roots of the demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of Iranians to external interference or to regime-change groups amounts to questioning the independence of the country which has been gained and consolidated by the sacrifices of hundreds of thousands.
In the opinion of millions of Iranians, the current crisis has been caused by restrictions on political freedoms, particularly freedom of the press, economic discontent, and deficiencies in transparency and accountability on the part of government institutions. Although these issues have been aggravated by the US political, military and economic encirclement and the CIA’s destabilisation programmes, in the view of this segment of society the problems are ultimately rooted in the government’s own policies. After their unprecedented participation in the elections, millions of Iranians have lost their confidence in the system. Awareness of this reality was expressed by the speaker of the Iranian parliament Ali Larijani, who indicated on live national television that some members of the Guardian Council openly supported a certain candidate, instead of being neutral during the investigation of the election complaints. He also added that the large segments of society who distrust the declared election results should not be regarded in the same manner as the rioters.
On the basis of the above assessment, and in the interest of resolving the present crisis, we direct all officials and fellow countrymen to the following proposals:
1) Arrests and assaults of reformist and Green movement activists and any use of deadly weapons against the protesters are against the national interest and must be stopped and condemned by the authorities. Of the government of the Islamic Republic, we demand, in accordance with the constitution and for the preservation of national unity, that it release the reformist leaders from detention and observe freedom of the press and other civil rights. Iranian state television and radio must provide time to the protesters to express their views. Permits for nonviolent assembly must be given to the protesters. The government must guarantee the safety of the demonstrators against any violence and those responsible for battering and murdering students and demonstrators must be identified and prosecuted.
2) The current division among the people that separates government supporters and dissenters, under conditions of economic, military and political encirclement, must be reconciled with calm and patient negotiations and reasoning, by condemning any kind of violence and by renouncing name-calling and inflammatory rhetoric. We call on the political forces of both sides to move toward building such a constructive climate and toward creation of an economic, political, and cultural agenda that can respond to all social needs.
3) Of the government of the Islamic Republic, we request that in view of the distrust on the part of a great segment of the country’s population, it form an independent truth and national reconciliation commission with representation from all candidates, such that it can gain the trust of the people of Iran and find a reasonable solution for the conflict. The votes of a great portion of the Iranian society for both Ahmadinejad and Mousavi show that the best solution is negotiations for reconciliation and creation of a government of national unity from the ranks of Principalists and the Green movement and reformists. With a comprehensive programme based on Iran’s national rights and on people’s civil rights, such a government of national unity must address the current challenges facing the country and mobilise in an effective way the totality of human resources and expertise for national development.
4) Of western governments, we request that they cease any and all interference in Iranian affairs and end all their illegitimate economic, political and military pressures aimed at the internal destabilisation of Iran. They need to cease any support for the anti-Islamic Republic opposition and lift the economic and scientific sanctions. The Obama administration should emphasise unconditional negotiations and take steps toward creating a nuclear weapons-free Middle East. Only under these conditions, without any foreign threats, can the Iranian people reach their aspirations of freedom and establish their unity in a framework of independence and national sovereignty.
5) To the leaders of the reformists and the Green movement, we suggest that in order to prevent exploitation of the current crisis by western propaganda and opportunist groups, they unambiguously oppose all sanctions and condemn regime change operations and any foreign support for the anti-Islamic Republic opposition.
Dr Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, SOAS, University of London
Professor the Baroness Afshar, York University
Mojtaba Aghamohammadi, researcher, University of Arizona
Professor Mohammad Ala, Persian Gulf Task Force
Esfandiar Bakhtiar, Georgia Institute of Technology
Professor Abbas Edalat, Imperial College London
Javad Fakharzadeh, Iran Heritage
Dr Farideh Farhi, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Massy Homayouni, independent antiwar activist
Dr Mehri Honarbin-Holliday, Canterbury Christ Church University
Mojgan Janani, independent antiwar activist
Mohammad Kamaali, Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran
Fareed Marjaee, writer and democracy activist
Masoud Modarres, independent activist
Professor Pirouz Mojtahedzadeh, Tarbiyat Modarres University
Daniel Pourkesali, Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran
Rostam Pourzal, Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran
Dr Mohammad Purqurian, LaaL.org
Manijeh Saba, independent human rights activist
Professor Mehdi Shariati, Kansas College
Professor Nader Sadeghi, George Washington University Hospital
Shirin Saeidi, University of Cambridge
Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich, independent antiwar activist
Reza Shirazi, Goftogoo TV
Safa Shoaee, Imperial College London
Saeed Soltanpour, Iranian TV Canada
Dr Alireza Rabi, Middle-East Citizens Assembly
Dr Elaheh Rostami, SOAS, University of London
Professor Rahmat Tavakol, Rutgers University
Professor Farzin Vahdat, Harvard University
Leila Zand, Fellowship of Reconciliation
This open letter was first published by the Guardian on 31 July 2009; it is reproduced here for educational purposes.