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A Nonviolent Approach To Reform In Iran

A Nonviolent Approach To Reform In IranAs people in Iran explore nonviolent methods of protest against the country’s radical government, one Tufts graduate and internationally-renowned expert says they are on the right track toward freeing themselves from oppression and deserve the world’s support.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.10.06] The international community and Iranian activists are in agreement: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s latest actions are cause for concern. In recent weeks, political leaders around the world have condemned Iran’s president for his assertion that the Holocaust was a myth. Ahmadinejad also caused an international stir when he announced that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon deserved the stroke he suffered on Jan. 4. And Ahmadinejad has banned Western music from Iranian radio and TV. While many believe Ahmadinejad is out of control, one of the world’s leading authorities on nonviolent conflict sees a silver lining in what appears to be a dark time in the history of Iran.

“There is another development in Iran - this one positive and with great potential - that the world should not miss: civic defiance against Ahmadinejad's authoritarianism is increasing,” Tufts graduate and trustee Peter Ackerman, founding chair of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict in Washington D.C., wrote in a recent opinion piece he co-authored in the International Herald Tribune.

According to Ackerman – who earned a M.A., M.A.L.D. and Ph.D. from The Fletcher School and currently serves as chair of its Board of Overseers – Ahmadinejad, who was elected in June, has yet to deliver on any of his “crowd-pleasing” campaign promises, which included filtering money from the wealthy to the poor and cutting down on capitalism.

What he has been able to accomplish, Ackerman wrote, is the implementation of policies that “[exhibit] a volatile mixture of nationalism and radical Islamic social engineering.”

“Ahmadinejad's language has been replete with contempt for religious and ethnic minorities, xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, rejection of compromise, and readiness for violence in dealing with the political opposition and minorities, including Kurds and Arabs,” Ackerman wrote in the Tribune.

And the Iranian people are reacting.

“Iranians are risking imprisonment or worse by engaging in protests, not to satisfy American or European foreign policy, but because they are fed up living with fear, economic misery and arbitrary edicts from unelected clerics,” Ackerman wrote.

These citizen actions, he pointed out in the Tribune, have included strikes by medical professionals, teachers and transportation workers, student sit-ins and protests by scores of women fighting back against discriminatory laws, which prevent them for running for president.

Even a violent governmental response to these peaceful protests - including beatings, detentions, torture and extrajudicial executions - has not worn the Iranian people down, according to Ackerman. But their efforts are disorganized and need “ clear strategic vision and steady leadership,” he added.

It’s crucial that the rest of the world, Ackerman wrote, take notice.

“[Iranian activists’] determination should also be reflected by the international community in what it does to support freedom and justice in Iran,” Ackerman wrote in the Tribune. “Governments should increase pressure on Tehran to stop human rights abuses and release political prisoners. Nongovernmental organizations around the world should expand their efforts to assist Iranian civil society, women's groups, unions and journalists. And the global news media should finally begin to cover the steady stream of strikes, protests and other acts of opposition.”

History, Ackerman points out, proves that the international community can play a powerful role in advancing reform in Iran.

“Catholics in Europe and the United States aided the trade union Solidarity in Poland and the ‘people power’ movement in the Philippines. African-American organizations gave crucial support to South African civic groups fighting apartheid. American labor unions backed the anti-Pinochet campaign in Chile,” Ackerman wrote in the Tribune. “In each instance, the objective was assistance, not interference. That can also be the model in Iran.”

While they wait for the global community to become involved, the Iranian people are already on the right track, according to Ackerman.

“As with a score of other peoples who transformed their countries from below - such as Poland, South Africa, the Philippines, Chile, Ukraine and Lebanon - Iranians themselves can summon the will and apply the nonviolent strategies that dissolve oppression,” Ackerman wrote.


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