Trouble in paradise

Iran: Democracy demonstrators are children of the revolution that rightly fears them.

July 15, 1999

THE BEAUTY of the the Islamic revolution in Iran 20 years ago, like the Communist revolution in Cuba 20 years earlier, was that it allowed opponents to escape. In exile, millions opposed it ineffectually. Pent up at home, they would have caused trouble. The remaining population was more docile. The balance of the country tilted toward the minority regime.

The students demonstrating for the past week in Tehran, suppressed and some killed by tyrants afraid of them, know only the education and government provided by the Islamic Revolution. By their lights, they are loyal. They just want the regime to lighten up.

The spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei understands how truly subversive these students are, though they do not. If they could read freely expressed criticism in newspapers, if leading critics would no longer be murdered, if the most ignorant young men of the country were not sent out as morality police, the regime might well be undermined -- gradually, peacefully and irrevocably.

The student demonstrators are loyal to the moderate but weak president, Mohammad Khatami. He is disloyal to them. Hiding in his presidential palace, he went on television accusing the demonstrators of "evil aims" and violence.

When Chinese police mowed down student demonstrators -- the cream of the new generation -- in Tiananmen Square a decade ago, the regime did not fall. When Indonesian troops did the same to students in Jakarta more than a year ago, that regime did.

Killing students is a serious business in most countries. The spiritual leader of Iran, who rather than the president commands the police, would be well advised to hold it to a minimum.

The backward regime of Ayatollah Khamenei need not fear the Iranian diaspora which is organized -- rather, disorganized -- in Washington, Los Angeles, Paris and Baghdad to bring it down.

Instead, it must fear the young men and women it raised from the cradle. The enemy is within, and doesn't know it is the enemy. The regime knows. That's why it behaves as despicably as it does.

Pub Date: 7/15/99

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