Will July ninth be Iran's July Fourth?

Posted: Jul 07, 2003 12:00 AM

On July Fourth, most Americans saw only an abundance of red, white and blue.

It was up to the brave men and women of the thin blue line to differentiate between shades of code yellow and orange on this second Independence Day since the war on Islamist terror began.

Such a spectrum takes its toll. The Wall Street Journal has described the burden local police departments now carry since the post-9/11 redeployment of nearly 700 federal agents from bank robbery, drug smuggling and white-collar crime investigations to the counter-terrorism beat.

While we may take comfort in the "recruiting bonanza" the FBI has reaped -- according to the New York Daily News, 82,000 Americans have applied to serve as special agents since the 2001 attacks -- counter-terrorism is never easy, particularly when the FBI's force of 11,649 employs only 73 agents who speak Arabic.

Still, the grills smoked and the fireworks shimmered as Americans celebrated their liberation from the relatively gentle tyranny of King George III for the 227th year in a row, many not considering the overall price of that freedom. Even with tens of thousands of American troops serving overseas, such is the complaisance of liberty two-and-a-quarter centuries old.

But what of new liberty? While this July Fourth commemorates freedom no longer young, this coming July ninth could well mark the beginnings of freedom not yet born. This is the day Iranian dissidents, following nearly two weeks in June of embattled pro-democracy protests in every major Iranian city, have called for a general strike. Demonstrators plan to protest Iran's Islamic dictatorship -- which also happens to be the longtime patron-government and terrorist-haven of Hezbollah, Hamas, and other anti-Western terrorists, including Al Qaeda leaders responsible for the latest terror attack in Saudi Arabia.

Whether this effort will lead to an ultimate showdown with the mullahs, or result in a crackdown on pro-democracy activists like the one that took place on July 9, 1999, nobody knows. But as terrorism expert Michael Ledeen has pointed out on the National Review's Web site, the mullahs, having arrested 4,000 demonstrators last month, are taking this tense situation very seriously. The regime itself admitted that just a quarter of its arrests were students. "The rest came from other walks of life," Ledeen writes. "In other words, the demonstrations were not restricted to a single sector of Iranian society, but were, for the first time, a truly national protest, both sociologically and geographically."

Iranian-born author and journalist Amir Taheri has recently elaborated on the democracy movement's varied nature. Writing on Townhall.com, he reports that democratic sympathies in Iran extend from the working class to the intellectual elite, and include the nearly two-thirds of the Iranian parliament (Majlis) that have petitioned "to transform Iran from a despotic-theocratic regime into a democratic one."

There's more. "Over the past six months," Mr. Taheri writes, "Iran has witnessed dozens of industrial strikes in which urban workers have come out with exactly the same demands as the students. ... There have been a series of strikes by teachers, including one last month that closed 50 per cent of the schools for several days. In the past three weeks, sections of the traditional bazaars in Tabriz, Rasht, Isfahan and Shiraz have also organized one-day shutdowns in solidarity with the students."

Even more stunning is this: According to Mr. Taheri, "the Shiite clerical establishment is broadly supportive of the pro-democracy movement." In addition to lesser clerics and theology students, Mr. Taheri reports that three Grand Ayatollahs -- Hassan Tabatabi Qomi, Hussein-Ali Montazeri and Muhammad Sadeq Ruhani -- have publicly called for an end to what Mr. Taheri labels the "Khomeinist tyranny." "So strong is the clerical opposition," he writes, "that the 'Supreme Guide' Ali Khamenehi has been unable to visit Qom, the theological center of Shiism for almost a year."

Little wonder, then, that Ali Khamenehi's goons (also Shiite) still troll the campuses, as Mr. Ledeen reports, "arresting and imprisoning all those believed capable of mobilizing a national uprising against the failed regime." And little wonder government authorities have ordered Tehran University's main campus to close from July 7 to 14 to shut down further anti-regime protests.

Will it work? "I appreciate those courageous souls who speak out for freedom in Iran," President Bush said last month. "They need to know America stands squarely by their side. And I would urge the Iranian administration to treat them with the utmost of respect."

Iranian president Muhammad Khatami maintains that Mr. Bush's praise for the dissidents has only united Iranians behind the country's theocratic dictatorship. If so, you'd think Mr. Khatami would call for more of the same, and louder, from the White House. Of course, he won't. But the rest of us should. Maybe then it would be easier, in the end, to remember the Ninth of July.