09/07/2013 06:43 pm ET Updated Nov 07, 2013

U.S. Crippling Sanctions Against Iran, Part II: A National Anti-Sanction Movement by the Civil Society

This is a two part blog. For Part I, go here.

As explained in Part I, unlike almost all other countries of the Middle East, Iran possesses all the social prerequisites for transition to democracy, as it is a nation with 4.5 million university students, 60 percent of whom are female, and one with influential intellectuals and feminist and labor movements. Moreover, a great majority of the Iranian people support negotiations with the U.S. and want good relations with America, which not only would benefit both nation, but also the entire region. As explained in Part I, the U.S. government is unfortunately creating a strong wave of anti-American sentiments in Iran, and explained why the wave has been gathering steam. In the present part of this series I describe a national anti-sanction movement that has been led by non-governmental organizations, and has been receiving support from every stratum of the society, even from the political prisoners that have been tortured by the Iranian regime.

Warning by Liberal Economists

Does one have to be an economist to understand the meaning and implications of the "most crippling sanctions in history?" Last March, 43 top Iranian economists wrote a letter to former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in which they analyzed Iran's economy and the reasons for its terrible state, and suggested ways to address the problems. In a part of the letter they wrote, "In the second half of [the Iranian year] 1391 [March 21, 2012-March 20, 2013] the sanctions' pressure has mounted, the national currency has lost half of its value, and inflation has accelerated... We cannot be indifferent to the harsh consequences of the sanctions. They have diverted Iran's economy from its normal path, and their effect will be manifested for years through recessionary inflation, rising unemployment and poverty, and lower productivity. Clearly, when the national economy is under such severe pressure, the government will not be able to carry out its development programs."

As the consequences of such back-breaking sanctions became clear, creation of a national anti-sanction movement was suggested by liberal Iranian economists. Dr. Mousa Ghaninejad, who advocates the economics theories of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, is a leading advocate of the movement. Economist and former political prisoner Saeed Leylaz who also advocates a market economy, and other leading economists, such as Drs. Ali-Naghi Mashayekhi and Mohammad Mehdi Behkish, have also joined the advocacy group for the anti-sanction movement. Then, two labor unions wrote to their European counterparts, and asked them to act against the sanctions and help the Iranian people.

Systematic Violations of Human Rights of the Iranian People by the West

Not only have the economic sanctions been imposed on banks, oil and non-oil exports, Iran's foreign currency earnings, and other economic sectors, they have also targeted all of Iran's industries, in order to force them to shut down and create massive unemployment. Are these punishing the Islamic Republic or the Iranian people? Are forcing millions of people into unemployment, driving them under the poverty line, creating huge inflationary pressure, and letting them go hungry for political purposes not systematic violation of human rights of millions of people, including children and old people?

The harsh economic sanctions imposed on Iraq from 1991-2003 caused the death of at least half a million Iraqi children. Recall the infamous interview in which Lesley Stahl of CBS asked Albright whether getting rid of Saddam Hussein is worth causing the death of 500,000 Iraqi children, more than the total number of people killed in Hiroshima, and Albright responded coldly, "The price is worth it." Are we going to repeat the history?

Fifty five Iranian political prisoners, the vast majority of whom have been tortured and incarcerated for years, recently wrote an open letter to President Obama, protesting his sanction policy and asking him to stop it. These are the people that have felt with their flesh and blood the gross violation of human rights in Iran, yet cannot remain silent about the systematic violation of their compatriots' human rights by the West, particularly by the United States. The great philosopher Immanuel Kant said one must never use someone as a mere means to one's own ends, but treat them with utmost respect. Whatever the goals of the United States (such as toppling the Islamic Republic or stopping its nuclear program), the Iranian people have been, and are continuing to be the victims of such goals. When it comes to systematic violation of human rights, there is no difference between a dictator like Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and those who claim to be democrats. The Iranian people, who have been repressed by the Islamic Republic, must also struggle against death and violation of their most elementary rights by the United States. It is precisely for this reason that 466 civil and political Iranian activists have also written an open letter to the President in which they supported the letter by the 55 political prisoners.

Transformation of a Pro-America Population to an Anti-America One and the Birth of a National Movement

It must be emphasized again that the great majority of Iranian people have a positive view of the United States and wish for improved relations between the two countries. So, even if we assume that punishing the Islamic Republic for its nuclear program is legitimate, how can one justify the harsh punishment of the Iranian people? Should the lives of the Iranian people be destroyed for what their government does (without asking their opinion)?

As time passes, the punishing effects of the sanctions become clearer. But, how would the people, who are fighting for their lives, view the government -- the U.S. government -- that is responsible for their predicament? Undoubtedly, their will point their fingers at the U.S. as the main culprit in the violation of their fundamental human rights. On 21 August 2013, during the second meeting of "Campaign of No to Sanctions" in Tehran, Leylaz said:

"That the U.S. has imposed unilateral sanctions and applied pressure on Iran is not strange, because it is in its national interests. We cannot expect a wolf not to be a wolf [emphasis mine]. Sanctions are part of the U.S. policy and inseparable from its diplomacy. Unfortunately, we must admit that the imperialist issues that the U.S. has with Iran were raised when its interests became aligned with those of a small minority [the Ahmadinejad cabal] in Iran. The [true] issue is that there are five oil-exporting countries in the region that can be influential nations in the future, four of which are occupied or under political influence of the U.S. The only country that is not is Iran that does not act aligned with the U.S. policy, or is not occupied by it."

These are words of a liberal economist and a former political prisoner of the Islamic Republic. Two days before Leylaz's speech, there was another meeting in Tehran on the 60th anniversary of the 1953 coup in which the representatives of major Iranian civil society organizations met in a conference about the anti-sanction movement. A founding member of the Council of Civil Society Organizations likened the U.S. sanctions to the 1953 CIA coup, and declared it an "aggression against the Iranian people's rights." A representative of the Theater Society also likened the sanctions to the 1953 coup that has targeted the lives of the Iranian people. The head of the Society of Surgeons said that, more than anything the sanctions have threatened the health and well-being of the Iranian people, and have caused severe shortages in medicine and their astronomical prices. A feminist activist, whose husband has been a political prisoner in the Islamic Republic, said that Iranian women have been hurt by the sanctions more than anyone else. Another speaker spoke about the effect of the sanctions on the environment and the echo system. A representative of the commerce explained the economic consequences of the sanctions. The head of board of directors of the Movie House called the U.S. sanctions crime against humanity, and asked international artists to take part in Iran's anti-sanction movement. Several representatives from other civil society organizations also spoke against the sanctions.

Former Speaker of the Majles [parliament] Mehdi Karroubi is a leader of Iran's Green Movement who has been under house arrest since 16 February 2011. In an extensive interview, Karroubi's son, Dr. Mohammad Taghi Karroubi who received a Ph.D. in international laws in Britain, declared "the collective punishment of the [Iranian] people by the sanction" a violation of international laws. He criticized harshly the extremist forces in the United States that push for approval of such sanctions by the Congress.

Thus, the United States must pay attention to two bitter consequences of its sanctions. One is the collective punishment of the Iranian people and the destruction of their lives. The second consequence is the rise of anti-Americanism among the Iranian people, and even those who oppose the Islamic Republic. Criticizing the foreign policy of the United States is not anti-Americanism. Former President Jimmy Carter also declared the U.S. in violations of articles of the thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An anti-American movement blames all the problems of a nation on the U.S., but the Iranian people do not. If the sanctions continue, however, a greatly pro-America population will be transformed to a truly anti-American one, and this will not be in the national interests of the United States. If the sanctions continue, they will surely create hatred of the U.S. in Iranian people. Even if we assume that the U.S. is right about imposing sanctions on the Islamic Republic, why should the Iranian people be collectively punished? Why should the people that are already under internal repression also be punished severely by the U.S. and its allies?

I have already suggested that the United States must take advantage of the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran's president, and try to address the problems between the two countries, and re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran. Cancelling sanctions that only harm the Iranian people demonstrates the U.S. commitment to respect for human rights and opens the road to peace and friendship. The opposition in Iran wants a peaceful transition to democratic rule, not creating conditions that will destroy all the already existing prerequisites for democracy through the "most crippling sanctions in history," and transforming Iran to another North Korea.