There are certain moments in history where we as a civilization are put to the test.
Such a moment occurred during the Soviet Jewry movement, when thousands of American Jews did everything in their power to support brave dissidents. They struggled for the right to emigrate so that they could live out their lives in quiet dignity and religious freedom outside of the “Iron Curtain.” It was successfully used by Sen. Henry (Scoop) Jackson (D-Wash.), and Rep. Charles Vanik (D-Ohio), to expose the abysmal human-rights record of the Soviet Union and to link their trade with America to their ability to let the Soviet Jews leave for other countries.
This movement created the beginning of a fissure in the massive wall of fear that the Soviet Union had hid itself behind, despite the fact that they had already accumulated a formidable stockpile of nuclear weapons. Our ability to use the human-rights issue was one important factor that eventually led to the fall of what President Ronald Reagan had dubbed “The Evil Empire.”
Such a moment exists today with regards to Iran.
After 41 years of blood-soaked terror, beginning in 1979 with the Islamic Revolution, there is a hopeful chink in the horrific wall of terror and fear that the Iranian regime has painstakingly erected around itself.
Today in Iran, thousands of tremendously courageous young men and women have been protesting on the streets, knowing full well that since at least 1,500 demonstrators have already been murdered by the regime, they are taking their very lives in their hands.
Knowing that in fear-based regimes, such as the former Soviet Union or Iran, when those in power feel threatened they will stop at nothing to be able to preserve their grip on power.
Knowing that thousands more of the demonstrators have been carted off to the notorious Evan prison to be tortured and possibly never heard from again.
Such is the depth of the thirst for freedom from the suffocating chokehold of their Islamist theocracy.
The Iranian government has done everything in its power to shield the depth of their evil from the outside world, including jamming the satellites and establishing a nationwide shut down of the Internet. If they feel that the world is not paying attention, then they will get away with many more years of the repression and terror they inflict not only on their people, but upon the rest of the world.
That reign of terror began shortly after the Khomeini Revolution of 1979, when Islamists held 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days. It was responsible for the killing of 241 U.S. Marines, asleep in their barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983; and for the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1995, killing 19 U.S. service members and wounding hundreds of others. It was responsible for the bombing of our American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing 200; and for the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 that killed 17 U.S. sailors.
Their reign of terror was responsible for the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1992, killing 29 and wounding 250; and at the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires in 1994, killing 87 people and wounding hundreds.
It is responsible for the fatalities of 1,100 U.S. servicemen and women serving in Iraq, and for the fact that many of them have returned home without limbs because of IEDs with Farsi imprints on them.
Such terror is sowing chaos and destruction that stretches throughout the Middle East—from Tehran to Baghdad to Damascus, and Beirut and Sa’ana, as well as planting its bases in Central and South America.
It funds Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip that has resulted in the loss of thousands of Israeli and American innocent lives, and is still sending rockets into Israel as of this week, traumatizing the population.
As terror-inducing and repressive as they are worldwide, they are that much more so to their dissidents at home. Yet these courageous men and women remain on the streets. Videos have been clandestinely sent of brave students who refuse to step on the American and Israeli flags that the regime has laid out before them. When someone walks over them, in unison, they shout: “For shame!”
We have a moment, now, in history to break that reign of terror
It is beyond appalling that this week, the Democrats blocked a congressional resolution in support of these brave dissidents. This is the same party that was responsible for the Jackson-Vanik Act that ultimately helped dissolve the Soviet Union.
We have got to learn to see beyond our partisan prisms and focus on these Iranian dissidents. The leaders of both parties should be able to recognize that after 41 years, this might finally be the moment in history to break the relentless reign of terror that Islamic Republic has inflicted upon its own people and on the world. Our news outlets should be focusing more on this critical moment in history than on our political bickering.
America has always been the leader of the free world—that beacon of hope that the oppressed have always turned to. And by listening to the courageous voices of the dissidents, we will be breaking the relentless reign of terror that Iran has been inflicting since 1979.
But only if the Iranian regime feels that the entire world is watching them.
This is our moment. We are being put to the test. We dare not fail.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.