Engaging Islam Mr. President, Requires Action

by Gedalyah Reback

The prevailing assessment of last week’s elections is that the Revolutionary Guards arranged for the colossal rigging of the ballot. At the same time, an ayatollah who is known as “Supreme Leader” lacks certain credibility as a grand scholar by his peers. Grand Ayatollahs have been arrested, sequestered and silenced. The Islamic credentials of the Islamic Revolution are a thing of the past to both lay Iranians and the major clerical figures of the Shiite branch of Islam.

Conventional thinking in the Obama White House assumes any vocal support from the United States would undercut any so-called “nationalist” credentials these protesters have.

But I must ask, who does the Obama Administration worry about alienating? For what other reason would Iranians feel the need to send pictures and videos and news reports in English to the outside world? The hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of Iranians dawning green know for sure that their spirit is not some artificial concoction of American instigation. Their cause is based on Iranian concerns, and they know that fact best.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric is of no substance to demonstrators, and his rhetoric evidence of cynicism and desperation. Iranians do not fear the charges they are American or Zionist pawns. The way they defy demands to clear the streets makes it seem like they almost relish in such slander. This is a charge that is not being taken seriously by the Iranian street. No matter how the White House addressed this situation, it would inevitably be blamed by Tehran for involvement.

In John Kerry’s own words, “we need only listen to the demonstrators. Their signs, slogans and Twitter postings say nothing about getting help from Washington – instead they are adapting the language of their own revolution.” We as non-Iranians do not need to support one candidate over another, or advocate some fantastical return of the Shah’s crown prince, ideas that themselves would be reminiscent of 1953 and the lead up to 1979. Instead, supporting the demonstrations vocally will fit into the Obama Administration’s policy of outreach to the Muslim world.

The President was mildly criticized for his words about openness being spoken in a country as repressive as Egypt. The cynicism Muslims have toward his rhetoric will only inflate if he fails to take a stand against Iran on the treatment of its dissidents. Muslims never opposed George W. Bush’s words about democracy. They opposed his hypocritical actions, namely his diplomatic relationships with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. They hated him for his recklessness in Iraq, and his lack of focus on Afghanistan. They despised him for the promises he offered and could not fulfill with the rise of Hamas and Hizbullah.

President Obama has a chance to separate himself from those follies. Democracy in Iran is not going to produce an extremist regime, just the opposite. The likelihood of significant strides by engaging Iran has been determined to be limited by analysts. Engagement here may actually be leverage for the US and West in the nuclear program’s negotiations.

The Islamic Republic has lost its identity – years before this election’s protest movement hit the streets. The Revolutionary Guards have corrupt control of the country’s military industrial complex and likely pushed last week’s election as a coup to their benefit. The “Supreme Leader” of their religious country is not a ‘supreme’ authority on the country’s official religion. The truly great scholars and religious jurists of Shiite Islam have been suppressed by the faith’s most extreme and warped clerics. The true hand of friendship to Islam will be recognized when Mr. Obama differentiates among the politics of religious factions within Islam. The game will significantly change if Mr. Obama supports freedom for both the Iranian layman, and the leaders of the religion hijacked by the Iranian government.

This is a cry from that diverse Islamic world, between Muslims and their extremists that the President mentioned in Cairo. Any serious engagement with its democratic and religious social sectors, must occur now, when those sides are united. Any future engagement after a failed social movement will be taken as seriously as the words of Iran’s current leadership.

Everyone, please read more on this topic and remember that the consensus is growing for President Obama and world leaders to comment.

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