My view: What 'I am with you, Iran' means

Khosrow B. Semnani

Published: Sunday, March 27 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

In his March 20 Nowruz Speech to the Iranian people on the occasion of the Persian New Year, President Barack Obama stated that the same forces of hope that swept across Cairo's Tahrir square were seen in Tehran's Azadi square in June of 2009. Although the president stopped short of calling for the ouster of Iran's supreme leader, Sayyid Ali Khamenei, he made it clear that the future of Iran belongs to Iran's youth:

"You — the young people of Iran — carry within you both the ancient greatness of Persian civilization, and the power to forge a country that is responsive to your aspirations. Your talent, your hopes, and your choices will shape the future of Iran, and help light the world. And though the times may seem dark, I want you to know that I am with you."

As President Obama recognizes — and the Utah Legislature and Gov. Gary Herbert's unanimous support for a resolution backing the Iranian people demonstrates — when it comes to universal principles such as the freedom of speech, assembly and religion, Republicans and Democrats stand united behind the Iranian people. All recognize that the Iranian people's protests against falsehood and fundamentalism in Iran — the fall of Ayatollah Khamenei — will pave the way for blossoming of democracy throughout the region.

Obama's New Year's speech has put Khamenei on notice. Whether it is the jailing of prisoners of conscience, the silencing of journalists, the torture of women and the execution of children, the days of abducting and butchering the Iranian people under the cloak of religion are nearing an end. Thanks to Obama, the fate of human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, the filmmaker Jafar Panahi, the journalist Abdolreza Tajik and the student Mohammad Valian have become a matter of global concern.

Calling for a new season and new life, the president closed his speech by quoting Simin Behbehani: "I will recite the Hadith (tradition) of love of country with such fervor as to make each word bear life." Yet, despite the extraordinary power of his words, President Obama's declaration of solidarity with Iran's youth has to be backed by action. It's not enough to witness the darkness. What matters is rekindling the light and life — the vision of the future — Khamenei seeks to extinguish with fear, force and fraud.

As with Kennedy and Reagan before him, the president must now adopt a foreign policy that makes his words — I am with you — bear life. And that means empowering Iran's civil society, supporting democracy, defeating theocracy and deterring terrorism. For students jailed in Khamenei's dungeons, "I am with you" means finding a way to break down the gates of Evin prison. For journalists he has silenced, "I am with you" means making sure their voices are heard. For women he has tortured, "I am with you" means ending the reign of impunity. For workers and businessmen cheated out of the fruits of their labor and life, "I am with you" means the restoration of integrity and opportunity. For families and friends separated due to years of exile and persecution, "I am with you" means the promise of reunification. And finally, for dictators who steal the vote and violate the dignity of their nation, "I am with you" means drafting a constitution and reclaiming a civilization that reflects the beauty, honors the life and guards the future of the Iranian people.

President Obama is not alone in his support for Iran's youth and opposition to Iran's dictator. Republicans, Democrats, as well as thousands of Iranian-Americans will stand with him as he stands with the Iranian people. Together, Americans and Iranians have the poets, the power, the passion and, above all, the freedom and the will to make the Hadith of love yield its harvest of life.

Khosrow B. Semnani, a Utah resident, is the chairman of the nonprofit civil-rights group Omid for Iran.

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