WASHINGTON – Iranians in the United States are divided between supporters of a foreign intervention and those who prefer a revolution from within as a way to bring a more open and liberal government and restore the country's tarnished reputation.
Iranian activists and opposition leaders gathered last week at the National Press Club to support the leader of Change of Regime in Iran,Ahura Yazdi.
Yazdi,an aviation expert with 40 years of experience,wants an international coalition to intervene in Iran and replace the government.
Addressing his supporters and the Iranian people through cameras taping his remarks,he thanked them for being patient under what he called the mullahs' cruel regime.
Talking to the non-Iranians in the room,he said the Iranian radical government is holding 70 million Iranians as “hostages.” He said that the mullahs manipulated his people in eight years of “the Mickey Mouse game,” referring to the Iraq-Iran war from 1980 to 1988.
Yazdi said the Iranian government is a terrorist government that is feeding terrorists in the region such as “Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas Islamic Jihad in Palestine.”
Hezbollah is an Islamic freedom fighting movement founded after the Israeli military seizure of Lebanon in 1982. Hamas – which means courage in Arabic – is a radical Islamic organization that became active in the early stages of the Intifada,when Palestinians rose against Israeli rule.
Yazdi asked American and European governments to support him and his people. “Iran is holding the key of victory against terror,” Yazdi said,urging Bush to take action based on the president's remarks in his 2002 State of the Union Speech: “It is the ‘axis of evil.'”
Yazdi claimed he is popular inside Iran and he asked people to be patient because he is coming to liberate them. “I'm going tomorrow to Iran,” he told the crowd,although he remained here a week later. Efforts to reach him in the last few days were unsuccessful.
But some other Iranian intellectuals who met separately to discuss the country's future disagreed strongly with Yazdi. Some described him as “out of the picture.”
Ahmed Karimi,60,director of the Center of Persian studies at the University of Maryland,said,“You can't have a foreign intervention in Iran. This is out of question.”
He said it could backfire. “Patriotism and nationalism might be even stronger than what we see today in Iraq,” Karimi said.
In an e-mail Karimi said he left Iran in 1983 after being “purged from my position at the University of Tehran.”
Karimi said that Iran needs what he described as “micro developments,” or slight changes in the government's organizations,to accommodate the country's religious and conservative society.
He said the government should have controls on the economy and military,but none on social culture and religion.
Rasool Nafisi,who holds a doctorate in general studies and teaches at Strayer University here,said that he is sure that there are people even inside Iran who wish to have a foreign intervention because “they are so powerless.”
“The Iranian society is dynamic – 85 percent are educated,63 percent live in urban areas – all what we have to do is to wait for the people to move,” Nafisi said.
“Women's rights are violated and denied by society,” said Masha Shekarloo,editor of Bad Jens,an Iranian feminist online journal.
Iranian women are trying their best to make their voices reachable,Shekarloo said. They are using technology today such as the Internet,she said,because it is easy,expressive and anonymous. “You can never tell who is she,” Shekarloo said of the women who post their “personal secrets.”
Three U.S. experts on Iran agreed with Yazdi that Iran is harboring terror and feeding terrorist organizations in the region.
Thomas W. Lippman,a former journalist and an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute,said,commenting on Iran's role in international terror,“ Nobody is conflicting about that.”
“Iranians were clearly responsible for what happened in Argentina,” Lippman said,referring to a terrorist attack on the Argentina Jewish Mutual Association building in Buenos Aires,which has the biggest Jewish population in Latin America,July 18,1994,in which 90 people died and 200 were injured.
The Heritage Foundation's Middle East analyst,James Phillips,said that the Iranian government is not only feeding terror,but “they also terrorize people,cooperate with al Qaeda,and they are trying to make troubles for the U.S. in Iraq.”
But the experts strongly opposed a U.S. intervention in Iran. They said there will be a change of regime in Iran some day,and the Iranians are going to do it,not anyone else.
“No one is next,” Lippman said,answering the question of whether Iran would be the next U.S. target after Iraq.
“I don't think that the U.S. government has the power or the will to do so;” however,“the Americans will help if the people worked for their liberation,” Phillips said.
Patrick Clawson,of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy,said,“The Iranian government is functioning quite well,” and that is why there is no need to have a foreign intervention.
Clawson said that the Iranian opposition is much more successful than the Iraqi opposition was. The opponents have a lot of supporters,even inside Iran.
One prominent supporter of revolution from within is the son of the late shah,Reza Pahlavi,who has “serious advisers,” Clawson said. Pahlavi,born 1960 in Tehran,studied political science in Texas and now lives in the United States. He calls for the monarchy to be restored.
Phillips said he doesn't think those living outside Iran have much support in Iran. “The most effective opposition is the one that operates inside,” he said.
But one Iranian who lives in Tehran has a completely different picture.
Sussan Tahmasebi,of the Iran Civil Society Organization Training and Research Center,said that the Iranians know that there is a lot to do. Tahmasebi was in Washington to attend a conference on civil society in Iran.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami is liberal,but government organizations are controlled by religious extremists,which makes the president powerless,Tahmasebi said.
“We do rely on the next presidential elections,” she said. She said that things are getting better day by day in Iran.
Presidential elections in Iran will take place in June. Five liberal and reformist candidates,including Khatami,and many conservative candidates are running.