THE BLOG

Iran Election 2013; Listen Up, the Radicals Are Speaking

More than 27 percent of Iran's eligible voters did not participate in the Islamic Republic's 2013 Presidential election, even after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had announced that those who oppose the regime should still vote for the sake of their country. From the outside looking in, one may conclude that non-voters in Iran lacked political motivation, but just like how many people who voted for current President Hassan Rouhani desire change in Iran, many non-voters also desire change. The difference is that non-voters are not hopeful that change is possible in Iran through the people's cooperation in an electoral process that just allows candidates approved by the Guardian Council to run (women, political opposition, religious minorities, and atheists are disqualified). Iranians may have also not voted in order to demonstrate their objection to the violent crackdown that followed the 2009 election.

Breaking it down, 18 million eligible voters elected Hassan Rouhani, 13 million did not vote, and only six million voted for Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (presidential candidate who placed second in the election). This means that non-voters made up the second largest group in the election.

Non-voters in Iran who desire for change are often labeled "radicals" -- not only by the Islamic Republic, but also by a great number of voters. They are often ostracized and stereotyped as war mongers and/or Iranians belonging to the Diaspora. In the Iran context the term "radical" has a stigma attached to it, yet it should still be the duty of people who yearn for real change in Iran to help strengthen the voices of and defend the non-voters.

History has taught us that real change is achieved through the work of radicals. Take the Radical Feminist movement of 1968 in the USA for example. Radicals helped break taboos and empower a woman's right to abortion not necessarily for the purpose of creating more equality between men and women, but rather to give women the right to self-determination. American activist Ellen Willis in Daring to Be Bad has said: "The radical feminist surge helped liberals win support for economic and legal reforms (the ERA, which has been languishing for decades, passed Congress easily in 1970)."

Another example is Mansoureh Behkish, a non-voter, an Iranian activist who lost six of her loved ones in the mass executions of the 1980s in Iran. She uses every opportunity to create even the smallest amount of change through her actions. Though she resides in Iran, Ms. Behkish has still been able to coordinate the "Mothers of Khavaran" group, write articles, and help spread the word about rights abuses. However, Ms. Behkish pays the price for her actions though beatings and imprisonment.

It is time that Iranians make efforts to remove the negative connotations associated with the term "radical" so we may collectively help strengthen human rights advocacy in Iran. Radicals are often the ones who think outside the box and offer a fresh perspective on how to achieve political and social change. Iranians should listen to the words of those who resisted the temptation to vote in Iran instead of opting to vote in an election that requires one to accept a political structure defined by the Islamic Republic.