The result of almost three decades of hostility, exacerbated by Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its agitation in places like Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Afghanistan is that conflict in the region seems possible once more.
[photo]Should war break out, those likely to suffer most will be the people of Iran, who have long borne the brunt of their government’s policies, which have isolated, brutalized and impoverished them.
Although the regime boasts of having held numerous elections, not one has been fair or free, with people’s candidates able to avoid endless obstructions. Ahmadinejad’s own election was such a sham that even some of his handpicked opponents, including a former president and a Speaker of Iran’s Parliament, accused him and his supporters of cheating.
It is essential, therefore, not to confuse Iran with the clerical dictatorship. The cult of death and superstition that personifies the Islamic Republic has not conquered the spirit of our nation, especially its women and youth, who make up some 70 percent of the population.
Having squandered popular support, the regime today faces the most serious international crisis in its history and a number of sharp internal challenges, due primarily to the faltering, corruption-ridden economy. The mullahs’ only hope for survival is to use the nuclear threat to blackmail the outside world into inaction while brutalizing their people at home.
I have repeatedly stated my opposition to military action against Iran. There is no question that dialogue and diplomacy must be given time to take their course. But endless, futile negotiations cannot be a solution, either. The threat posed by those who have blackened the name of Islam and destroyed the prosperity of the Iranian nation can be countered only through what I have referred to as a “third way”: the mobilization and the empowerment of the Iranian people.
While the present crisis has been focused mainly on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, most Iranians hope the standoff will provide them with a chance to challenge and replace the despotic theocracy with a secular democracy.
Until freedom, democracy and human rights are fully respected and adhered to by a responsible government in Tehran that is committed to the welfare of its own people, peace and security in the Middle East and beyond will continue to remain in constant jeopardy.
Pahlavi is an opposition leader and the son or the last Shah of Iran.
Newsweek International (Issue 2008)