In January, 1776, Thomas Paine wrote a small pamphlet called Common Sense. He argued that the King of England had injured the colonial people, and the only option left for the colonists was to sever this broken trust and institute a government of their own. Within months his words had convinced tens of thousands that the King had broken his social contract; and so the American people declared independence to establish a government free from tyranny.
Since the American Revolution, democracy has swept across the entire globe wherever the freedom to share ideas has been permitted. Often, however, it has taken the acts of brave men and women to spread the ideology of democracy, and with it the hope of freedom, because the ability to speak freely is not always and everywhere a guaranteed right.
Today, the youth of Iran have declared their own ideological revolution. They are tired of their failed theocratic state, of the illusion of democracy, and of cultural and international isolation. To them, the legacy of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 is oppression instead of freedom. The economy of Iran is suffering because of the government's unwillingness to cooperate with the international community. Women are told what they can wear, what they can say, what they can and cannot do. The rights of men are only marginally better. People are often imprisoned, and sometimes stoned to death, for breaking these rules. However, the largest obstacle from seeing change in Iran is that journalists who report on this situation are thrown in prison (in fact, 1/3 of all journalists in prison, all over the world, are in Iran). Without the voices of dissent, the Iranian Regime has felt empowered to trample the rights of its citizens.
And so the young Iranians used the power that they believed they had, and they voted for change. They awoke on June 13th to find that the allegations of fraud were now painfully confirmed. Ahmadinejad, the man who represents everything that the youth of Iran are not, was again president. How could this be? How is it possible Ahmadinejad had a massive disapproval rating, and yet could win with a huge majority of the votes?
So, the Iranian government had failed the people, once again, and now they had only one option left. They took to the streets.
And they've paid the price for wanting freedom. Thousands have been arrested or detained since June 2009. Over 400 people have been publicly executed last year alone. At least 30 people have been killed on the streets. The government is cracking down on the people for religious and ideological differences, and as the New York Times pointed out last week, the problem is just getting worse.
And it will continue to get worse as long as their story remains untold. The success of the Iranian people has been hindered because their Thomas Paine has been silenced. The government is suppressing speech, slowing and censoring the Internet, and stopping text-messaging services, while denying Iranians the right to assembly. Without effective communication, and with government supporters ready to imprison, hang, or bludgeon any opponents, the transition from a theocratic despotism to an enlightened democracy in the heart of the Middle East will be painfully slow.
I've been following the opposition to the Iranian regime since before the first votes were cast last June. I've been part of a global network of journalists and Iranian expatriates who have been trying to tell the story of the true Iran, trying to give voice to the Iranian people. We've been trying to remind the world that all that the youth of Iran want is prosperity, and freedom.
And who are these Iranians? The average age of an Iranian is 28, and the majority of the people there are less than 35 years old, making Iran one of the youngest countries on the globe. The old wars and injustices are material from their history books. In their eyes, Israel was a problem their grandparents faced. The economic colonialism of the Shah was their parent's battle. The Iran-Iraq War is a distant memory of their childhood. What they know now is that the possibilities for the world in the 21st century are bright, and their own government's refusal to change is dimming that future. They are religious and non-religious, Muslim and non-Muslim, men and women, young and even sometimes old, and they are EXACTLY the kind of people that we need now. They desire a free, secular, cooperative Iran that can be a political, economic, and intellectual partner with the global community.
This message is catching on. Last week, the Obama administration loosened sanctions on certain communications technologies. It seems that their idea is to let software and hardware into the country, in the hopes that the people there will be able to use it to give voice to their story. However, as long as the government of Iran controls the Internet of Iran, the opposition to the regime will only be, at best, one step ahead of their oppressors.
We've spent seven years trying to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, when we've already won the Iranians. War will ruin these prospects. The rest of the world needs to help the Iranian people get Internet access, free from their government's tyranny, and then we can watch while Iran sets itself free. It won't happen overnight, because there isn't an ocean between the Iranian people and their tyrants, but if the Iranians can broadcast their voice, then Common Sense tells us they will find their independence.
James Miller is the creator of Dissected News, where you can follow the latest developments in Iran.