Mahsa Amini, 22; Nika Shakarima, 16; Hananaeh Kiah, 23; Reza Azizi, 22. They were all young and beautiful with hopes for a brighter future. They all had names. They all had dreams. They all longed for an Iran where they could live in freedom, without the suffocating chokehold of a tyrannical theocracy around their necks.
There is something else they have in common. Now, together with approximately 300 other courageous dissidents, they are dead. All of them were killed by the Iranian regime and their ironically named “morality police.”
I wish we had the capacity to remember every single one of those 300 names and faces. This is part of the tragedy of their deaths. After a while, they become mere numbers, anonymous victims, robbed of their own personal identities.
Over the last two months, we have watched as thousands of valiant dissidents took to the streets of Iran, transcending every ethnic group and gender, in every province of the country. Sparked by Amini’s brutal murder at the hands of the “morality police” for the “crime” of showing a few strands of hair, these demonstrations are like none we have seen since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
One might think that these massive protests would have given the self-righteous ayatollahs and their disgustingly smug “morality police” some pause.
We do not have access to the inner workings of their depraved minds. Many speculate that the regime is “beginning to crack.” I hope they are correct, but I fear they are not.
We do know that the repercussions are becoming global. There have been massive demonstrations in London, Paris, Rome and Berlin in support of the protests.
We also know that on Oct. 12, after 18 months of negotiations, U.S. State Department Spokesman Ned Price said that a nuclear deal with Iran “is not our focus right now.” He added, “The Iranians have made very clear that this is not a deal that they have been prepared to make, a deal certainly does not appear imminent. … Iran’s demands are unrealistic.”
Significantly, he added that America’s focus “is on the remarkable bravery and courage that the Iranian people are exhibiting through their peaceful demonstrations, through their exercise of their universal right to freedom of assembly and to freedom of expression.”
Over those 18 months, we have seen America debase itself in an effort to appease the Iranian despots. The U.S. was not even allowed to be in the room where the talks took place. Instead, it allowed Mikhail Ulyanov, the Russian negotiator, to be our water carrier. On March 6, Mr. Ulyanov positively gloated about how Iran, China and Russia had worked together against Robert Malley and the U.S. team of negotiators.
Iran’s demands apparently grew more and more outrageous, such as rescinding the State Department’s designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist group, which it certainly is. This came as IRGC-backed terrorists attempted to murder former White House officials Mike Pompeo, John Bolton and Brian Hook. Iran also demanded assurances that, if another administration comes in, the deal could never be negotiated away. This was impossible, given that two-thirds of the Senate would never approve such an agreement.
As much as we would love to believe that the Islamic Republic of Iran is showing signs that it is beginning to crack, brutal regimes do not go quietly into the night simply because there is popular unrest in the streets. These are not Jeffersonian democrats who have to stand for election every few years. The regime will only crack under a credible threat of military force.
For now, unfortunately, we are seeing a fresh wave of brutality. On Nov. 7, 227 members of the Majlis, the Iranian parliament, signed a letter to the Iranian judiciary calling for the execution of everyone involved in the protests. The letter said the protesters should “be given a harsh punishment” that “would serve as a good lesson in the shortest possible time.”
According to Karim Sandjapur of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the number of those arrested is nearing 15,000. Yet the brave Iranian dissidents are continuing to protest.
Without them, we might well have had a nuclear deal that enriches this monstrous regime with billions of dollars. Those dollars would have lined the pockets of the reigning mullahs and funded their nuclear, missile and drone programs, as well as their terror proxies around the world.
Every one of these 15,000 young demonstrators is a valiant hero. All of us who appreciate our freedoms in the West owe them a tremendous debt.
At the very least, they deserve to have their names remembered.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and President of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.