Raymond Tanter

Will President Obama show courage and save Iranians who seek a soft revolution in Iran?

With the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s assassination on November 22, words from Profiles in Courage, cross paths with past, current, and future upheavals. They include a soft revolution in America, Arab revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, and a prospective revolution in Iran.

Iranian dissidents held in prison-like conditions in Iraq are the true profiles in courage. Just like few dreamed that freedom riders and sit-in demonstrators would ignite the civil rights movement, it seems inconceivable that suffering of a few might ignite a chain of events that brings down leaders of the Iranian regime—Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his satrap in Iraq—Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.

Despite strong reservations of Dr. Martin Luther King, freedom riders and sit-in protestors risked their safety and created a soft revolution, first in the deep south and then throughout America. Iranians jeopardizing their lives in Camp Liberty, Iraq, do so despite advice of the leadership of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and former American military advisors who now stand on the side of the Iranian dissenters in Camp Liberty. While few take notice, hunger strikers are laying down a moral marker for the rest of us.

It may appear as if the leadership of the NCRI is using hunger strikes as a strategic tool to wrest concessions from the United States; but my interviews with Iranians engaged in hunger strikes in Geneva indicate they are on their own, and the NCRI strongly discourages them from taking these actions.

On the date commemorating the JFK assassination, November 22, hunger strikers will enter their eightieth day going without food so their brothers and sisters can be resettled safely outside of Iraq. Although most of the strikers are dying in silence, one poet sings a song that reminds me of JFK’s statement, “The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened,” which is reminiscent of Dr. King’s declaration in his letter from a Birmingham jail during JFK’s presidency that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Raymond Tanter

Raymond Tanter served on the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration and is Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan. His latest book is "Arab Rebels and Iranian Dissidents."