Pictures and videos coming out of Iran are starting to look more like a full-on revolution than a protest movement, but American news agencies continue to be slow to react, describing the historic protests as mostly about the country’s weak economy and chastising President Trump for cheering them on.
That’s woefully under-reporting the depth of what is really going on in Iran, say experts on the country’s history and current political environment.
The Associated Press’s description of the protests as “over economic issues” seems to lack any justification for Iranians taking to the streets en masse chanting “death to the dictator,” while burning in effigy the image of Supreme Islamic leader, Ayatollah Kamenei.
CNN called the protests a “seemingly unorganized, leaderless wave of demonstrations against high prices, corruption and repressive government.” No mention of the fact that Iran is an Islamic state, a theocracy where converting to a religion other than Islam is a crime against the state.
There is much more going on than what is being portrayed in these left-leaning news sites.
Twitter and other social media are alight with videos coming out of the Islamic Republic of Iran that show people rallying around the idea of freedom and democracy.
One video in particular features a young woman, her long black hair fluttering in the wind, standing in a public square silently waving her hijab on the end of a stick, as if to say “I will no longer be forced to cover my head in public against my will.” She was reportedly arrested and detained.
Watch video below of Iranian woman waving “white flag,” which is her hijab:
In another video, protesters are seen chanting “Independence, Freedom, Iranian Republic.” [Note the absence of the word “Islamic” from the nation’s official name.]
BREAKING: People of #Bushehr are now protesting against Islamic and Tyrannical regime of Iran. They are chanting: “Independence, Freedom, Iranian Republic”. #IranProtests #FreeIran pic.twitter.com/HrEV9GPDY3
— Babak Taghvaee (@BabakTaghvaee) January 2, 2018
Michael Ledeen, an Iran expert and foreign policy scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the true story of the Iranian people’s struggle has yet to get widely reported in the West.
“The demonstrators are not chanting ‘give me money,’ or ‘give me lower inflation,’” Ledeen told WND.
“There’s none of that. That’s not why they are in the streets. They are in the streets because they want an end to the Islamic Republic,” he said.
Seventy percent of Iranians are under 35 so those young people have no memories of pre-Islamic Iran, when the Shah ran the country as a Western-allied monarchy. But those 35 and under Iranians hear stories from their parents and grandparents, Ledeen said.
“They know Iran has been free from time to time in its history and they want a government that speaks for them, and they’re enraged this terrorist regime has given away billions to invade Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories with their Islamic ideology,” Ledeen said. “So they say don’t talk to us about religion, talk to us about Iran, we are your people and act on our behalf, not spreading your religion to other countries.
“They now know this regime will not do that, cannot do that, and that they need a new regime, and they knew they could not do that as long as Obama was in the White House, because he wanted an alliance with this regime. But we have a new administration in Washington now and Trump is much better on this issue.”
Trump tweeted on New Year’s Day that the “great Iranian people” were tired of their country being looted and it was “TIME FOR A CHANGE.”
Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration. The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 1, 2018
Women are at the head of the spear
Ledeen said the role of Iranian women in the protest movement has been huge.
“In fact the regime had to make some kind of concession a few weeks ago where they said women would no longer be arrested by the morality police for failure to obey strictures of the Islamic dress code,” Ledeen said.
The revolutionary climate could not hit the Iranian mullahs at a worse time as they have been working to extend their influence throughout the Middle East with help from Russia and China. Now they have problems to contend with at home.
“The regime is frightened, it has closed every school in the country and that’s because they’re terrified of meaningful numbers of people gathered in one place in city after city,” Ledeen said.
That’s what’s new about this movement. Unlike in 2009, it is nationwide. More than 80 cities are involved.
“Previous demonstrations were largely limited to Tehran and a couple of other cities, but now it’s all over the whole country including small towns and villages,” he said.
So far 20 people have been killed in clashes with security forces and more than 500 arrested.
“If you add it up all over the country it’s much bigger. It’s one thing for the revolutionary guards to shut down Tehran, but the whole country? That’s much more difficult.”
Ledeen, who has been studying, speaking and writing about Iran for decades, said the movement is long overdue, and the changing of the guard in Washington may just be the difference maker this time around.
“It’s time already, it’s enough. This regime has to come down. I’m so encouraged seeing our political leaders calling for regime change,” Ledeen said. “Trump has made some strong statements, and [U.S. Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson has too.”
It’s about religious freedom
As a child of just 9 years old, Shahram Hadian left Iran with his parents just before the onset of the 1979 Islamic revolution that brought the mullahs to power. He now lives in Washington state but still has extended family in Iran.
“I have cousins, one of my aunts is still alive, direct family still there, and they’ve been very quiet. I suspect that this is more of a threat to the regime than is being let out,” Hadian told WND.
While Iran has a “token” president in Hassan Rouhani, the real government power rests with the Islamic clerics, Hadian said.
“Some of the military police are defecting and we’re seeing various things. There is an element where the people are being oppressed economically, because all the money that’s going to the government is being used for illicit purposes rather than helping people.”
That’s been a fact for many years, even before Obama freed up $1.5 billion for Iranian coffers under the nuclear deal he brokered.
“But at its heart this protest movement is a call for religious freedom, they are tired of this Islamic regime, because what most people don’t understand is the history of Persia is of a more secular nation. Islam conquered Persia, and it is once again the Persian people wanting to break from the yoke, and that’s what it is, the yoke of Islam, and wanting to be governed democratically,” Hadian added.
Time to bring back the monarchy?
Hadian said he has “mixed feelings” as to whether democracy can work in Iran.
“Some Iranians are saying they want to bring back the monarchy. But the clarion call is we are tired of this religious dictatorship,” he said. “And you have to take into account that Iran has the fastest growing church in the world, up to 1.5 million born-again believers in Iran and I think that is a huge influence driving this push for religious liberty.”
According to Open Doors, which tracks persecution of Christians worldwide, Iran is No. 8 on the list of the world’s worst regimes for religious persecution.
“The number of Christians who are in prison on charges of blasphemy and sedition are outrageous,” Hadian said. “So they want this yoke of Islam off of their backs, the majority of Iranian people do not share the aspirations of the regime, and it really is shocking to see the complicity of the U.S. media to not cover what is going on until they were forced to, because they don’t want the regime to look bad.”
Trump is making a difference
Hadian said he is talking with people on the ground and is convinced, like Ledeen, that the American people are being kept in the dark about the true reasons for the Iranian protests and where they might be heading.
“This is a much bigger movement then we are being led to believe. They say it is not well organized, and I agree it is not well organized but this regime is brutal and will do whatever it can to put down the rebellion,” Hadian said. “During the 2009 Green movement Obama said ‘we don’t interfere in foreign regimes.’ And the regime blacklisted and killed people as a result.
“I suspect this movement is more dangerous to the ayatollahs than is being portrayed by the media.”
The difference maker, if there is one, could be Trump.
“Look at the contrast. Obama says we don’t interfere and in 2011 he’s meddling in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria and Yemen. So we don’t interfere in Iran but let’s interfere and destabilize all these other nations,” Hadian said. “What a contrast with Trump coming out in support of the Iranian people and making a call for freedom of the Iranian people.”
Hadian, who is now a Christian pastor, said the reason so many Iranians are open to the gospel is they have lived under Islamic yoke for more than 30 years.
“I remember what it was like in Iran pre-1979 before Islam took over. There was religious plurality, freedom,” he said. “So in the minds of these young people right now who are in the streets, they know. It’s only been one generation. They know that contrast, versus countries like Pakistan, Egypt, or Somalia where they have been under Islam for centuries.
“The economics and all that stuff is secondary. This is about freedom of religion, freedom for them to live their lives free of the religious police. They want to break off the yoke of Islam in that country,” he said.
Even secular Iranians, if you talk to them, will say they are tired of being repressed in the name of Islam, said Hadian.
“They may be agnostic or not religious but they will say they are tired of Islam, which should be a lesson for us in America,” he said. “Instead of glorifying Islam, instead of always apologizing for it, we ought to be more like the Iranian people and say let’s get rid of it.
“I still have the memory in my mind of pre-1979 Iran and it is heartbreaking.”