Iran and the French Connection

By Nir Boms and Reza Bulorchi
Published March 11, 2005

As Washington considers backing the European Union’s proposal for trade benefits for Iran, troubling revelations emerged this week about Tehran’s continued mislead-and-cheat tactics to hide the extent of its nuclear weapons program. 

The International Atomic Energy Agency revealed earlier that the clerical regime had refused the inspection of the Parchin military site near Tehran. It also reported that Iran has started building a heavy-water reactor near the central city of Arak. Further, the Associated Press reported that Iran has constructed deep underground tunnels to store its nuclear components. 

While the EU — led by France, Germany, and Britain — pursues a futile policy of appeasement cloaked under “engagement” with Iran’s mullahs, there are signs of fissure among the EU’s Big 3. A senior Iranian official in Tehran told the Financial Times that while France was “open and understanding of Iran’s position,” Germany was “confused” and Britain was “taking a greater distance over the past 20 days.” Indeed, France has for all practical purposes turned into Tehran’s No. 1 backer in the EU. 

A few days after President Bush pledged to the Iranian people in his State of the Union address that “As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you,” the French government banned a previously authorized peaceful rally organized by the dissident Iranian diaspora in Paris. It was not just a banned rally, but a story about the inner strength of a nation yearning for freedom under the yoke of religious tyranny. 

The occasion was the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 revolution, which was originally carried on the wings of hope for freedom, democracy and honesty but brought instead tyranny, autocracy and corruption. According to the news reports, the expected 40,000 rally participants were going to tell the world that neither engaging the mullahs nor external military intervention present a viable solution in dealing with the menace in Tehran. 

But France, whose commerce with Iran rose by 22 percent to 3.353 billion euros in the first 11 months of 2004, could not stomach such explicit talk from Iranians in its capital just a few days after Mr. Bush’s pledge. It decided to ban the rally. 

France, long dubbed “the cradle of revolutions” and a place of enlightenment, is on a crash course to become the cradle of appeasement of Iran’s rogue regime. In order not to offend Iran, the Elysee Palace has been resisting the call to add Hezbollah to the EU’s list of terrorist groups. After losing Iraq to the Americans and Lebanon to the Syrians, Iran remains the only country in the region where France maintains a foothold — and one it wishes to keep. After Germany, France is Iran’s largest trading partner in Europe, and in many ways, its most important patron. 

The banned rally was subsequently moved to Berlin, which had initially authorized it. But under pressure from both Tehran and Paris, it was again cancelled. At the very last minute, a Berlin court allowed the gathering and thousands of Iranian activists did end up marching to the Brandenburg gate. 

The bumpy road for Iranian freedom began more than a century ago with Iran’s Constitutional movement. In 1979, the Khomeini-led fundamentalists succeeded in hijacking the anti-monarchic revolution. Decades of political suppression had eliminated a genuinely democratic alternative, a huge liability skillfully exploited by the mullahs to consolidate their reign. 

The history of revolutions is never perfect. The French revolution, for instance, with its mottos of liberty, fraternity and equality, brought about Robespierre and the Reign of Terror before democracy eventually took root. In fact, it was at the same time that the Academia Francaise gave us the first recorded meaning of the word “terrorism” in 1798 as a “system or rule of terror.” It also served as a reminder that terror is often at its bloodiest when used by dictatorial governments against their own citizens. Communism, to take another case, did survive for 70 years before the people of the USSR succeeded in correcting the revolutionary track. The Iranian people, it seems, have already lost their patience. 

In 1979, Iranians had hoped that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s post-revolution provisional government, whose members wore three-piece suits — not turbans or robes — and were mostly educated in the West, would fulfill their democratic aspirations. But revolutions are not that predictable — and Mr. Khomeini, playing the Robespierre of Iran, soon purged most of his own handpicked cabinet members and installed his own theocratic version of the Reign of Terror that has lasted until this very day. Tens of thousands of political activists have been executed or imprisoned in the name of God, and political groups, women, ethnic and religious minorities have been crushed with an iron fist. 

True revolutionary aspirations may take their time until they reach true fruition, and, in the meantime, the ideals of freedom and liberty can often find themselves circumvented in the most brutal way. But history teaches us that the inner strength of some ideas is more durable than their adversaries, and that given the time, they will find their way to march forward through their own Brandenburg Gate. 
Nir Boms is the vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East. Reza Bulorchi is the executive director of the U.S. Alliance for Democratic Iran. 

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