Paul Greenberg

I knew about the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in the glorious year 1989, when the Iron Curtain crumbled. I can even remember the Singing Revolution in Estonia about the same time. But this is something new: a Silent Revolution. The huge throng that marched through the Iranian capital last Monday spoke nary a word, Theirs was a silent vigil for a liberty not so much lost as never gained, from Shah to Ayatollah.

Whenever someone in the crowd would shout a slogan, others hushed him. The organizers of the march had prepared signs that read only: SILENCE! Only the sound of marching feet could be heard, like the oceanic wave of a people patiently rising, till the inevitable gunshots rang out as a confrontation was sparked.

After the silence of the day, people gathered on rooftops under cover of night to shout Allahu Akhbar! and Death to the Dictator. It was a prayer and call to action at the same time.

The big question about the latest "election" in Iran isn't whether it was rigged. The candidates were screened by the theocracy from the start, and the more active members of the opposition jailed before the first votes were cast. The big question is whether Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his gang stole the election or just inflated his margin of victory into a blowout.

We'll probably never know, as anybody can testify who has studied the history of elections in Cook County, Illinois, or of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, where the Ahmadinejad of his time and place was named Leander Perez. Rigged votes are scarcely confined to the Islamic world.

But the vote-stealing in Iran lacked the discreet charm of political bosses like Mayor Daley I in Chicago, who had enough restraint in 1960 to hold his ballots back till he knew just how many Jack Kennedy would need to overcome the Republican vote downstate. In Iran, the mullahs were less subtle. Any election in which almost 40 million paper ballots are tallied in only a matter of hours, and the winner declared before the votes could possibly have been counted, is bound to raise suspicions.

The electoral fraud was so obvious that even the ayatollah-in-chief had to qualify his earlier announcement that Mahmoud the Rabid had won by saying there would be an investigation and a recount of the more suspect votes. His Holiness may be willing to countenance a few score million stolen votes, but not a landslide.

Meanwhile, as days passed, the White House practiced its own form of silence. Things have changed since a president of the United States could be counted on to at least voice a protest when another people are cowed. Finally, finally, our president voiced some tepid concern, acknowledging that his silence was the kind that gives consent -- to tyranny. Or as he put it, "it would be wrong for me to be silent about what we've seen on television over the last few days." There was no would-be to it, it was wrong. When it comes to Iran, the president of Change and Hope became the president of stasis and resignation. Only slowly, grudgingly does he stir in defense of freedom in Iran even now.

There was a time, though it grows harder and harder to remember, when an American president was also known as The Leader of the Free World. If anyone uses that sobriquet these days, it's usually ironic.

The crushing of popular opinion in the mullahs' realm was so obvious this time that even Europeans, even the French, even the German chancellor protested. That would be Angela Merkel, who's starting to sound like Margaret Thatcher, aka The Iron Lady in her heyday. And the Germans may be Iran's biggest trading partner. The lady's got moxie.

Even the Spanish foreign minister voiced some mild concern about the election results in Iran. ("There is a need to clarify the situation and to express our concern that a sector of the population are having difficulties in expressing its opinion.") His statement was in the best/worst tradition of the late, unlamented Francisco Franco, who managed to thread his way between the Axis and Allies for years, always coming out on the currently winning side.

Happily, the opposition in this country is still at large and free to say what it thinks. Mitt Romney, demonstrating that the GOP is not entirely moribund, didn't have to wait days to comment on events in Iran. "The election is a fraud," he observed as soon the first dubious returns were being announced. "The results are inaccurate, and you are seeing a brutal repression of the people." How refreshing it can be to hear a politician dare say the obvious. Nor was it surprising to see John McCain echo those sentiments; he's never been known for kowtowing to dictators.

For that matter, there are still Democrats of conscience, too. Joe Lieberman, that reliable maverick, denounced the official vote count out of Teheran almost as soon as it was fabricated, demonstrating that the freedom-loving spirit of the late great Scoop Jackson is still alive somewhere in the Democratic Party -- even if you have to look hard to find it.

As for the White House's statements on the Iranian election, tardy and fearful as they were, nobody expects Barack Obama to cancel his next apology tour of the exotic East in response to a little election fraud or even a lot of it -- after all, he's from Chicago -- but he could have made it clear that America is still on the side of freedom in the world. Especially when ordinary people are showing extraordinary courage as they speak up for it in Teheran itself.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


 


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