I just got off a conference call with Natan Sharanksy. More accurately, I think I was bumped off of it (or bumped myself off while trying to ask a question) before it ended, but I think I caught most of it.
Some thoughts from Sharanksy and then Q&A with bloggers:
On the Internet:
"Imagine how different the world would have been if when I was a dissident there was Internet...we had to got to great risk to have meetings with just one journalist...It was so difficult to communicate with citizens in Soviet Union...That you can have from your home, free access behind the Iron Curtain...it's a great, great power."
On the Bush doctrine/success of spreading freedom:
"The problem is we're not really consistent in trying...here the problem is...if you're not consistent in this policy, it will not work."
He cited three kinds of people in an oppressive regime-- true believers, dissidents, and double-thinkers (those who are no longer true believers, but are scared to be dissidents). The job of the Bush administration and the free West is to encourage those double-thinkers to become dissidents by convincing them that the West is behind them. Negotiating with Iran is not sending that message, he said.
Sharansky pointed to the Polish dissidents during the Cold War, saying, "they became the heroes of the free world...they were the biggest heroes of the time."
He said the Bush administration was giving such attention and support to Iranian dissidents, but had backtracked.
"Presdint bush has made some very revolutionary steps...The same administration has made it clear that their aim is to make an agreement with the Ayatollahs."
"What is the reason that there is kind of backtracking?...I think that President Bush is alone...He has few allies over the seas..and that's unfortunate. What's more unfortunate is he has so few allies in Washington...You have to mobilize people from different camps...When it is not a personal crusade by George Bush [there will be more success]."
"When the people of Iran are ready to do this job...those dissidents will not be alone and, in the eyes of people in Iran, it will be clear that the dissidents have the support of the West...If you want politicians to support one cause, you have to show them the people behind this cause."
Q: How do you reconcile the Islamic idea of freedom with the West's idea of freedom? They seem to be polar opposites. I'm a strong believer in your book and the Bush doctrine, but they are intellectually juxtaposed.
"I want to remind you the idea of freedom and human rights is very different in Japanese culture...in Japanese language, idea of human rights didn't exist...People thought you couldn't really bring the idea of Western freedom to Japan."
"But when people, whatever their philosophies...when people can choose whether to continue living under the fear...or to live without this fear, they prefer to live without this fear...Freedom is for everyone."
"Moderate, Muslim intellectuals...feel very comfortable living in the modern world."
Q: Fatah and Hamas have been taking potshots at each other. Will there be a civil war and what are the implications of that?
"I don't think the word civil war is appropriate...None of them is ready to encourage any democratic changes in society and the Palestinians are victims of this."
"I hope that the free world...will understand who are those people who really want democratic change."
"As long as Israel will remain the only democratic island in the region, there will not be peace...or there will be peace, only ensured by our military strength."
"I believe if the Middle East will be changed the way Eastern Europe will be changed...it will not happen in a day."
"There are more and more voices of people who want to have normal, free, democratic lives."
"If there will become more and more free societies...even if they keep hating Israel and hating Jews...democratic societies have different priorities (such as the well-being of their own citizens, not killing the citizens of other countries)."
Q: Iran seems like a very special case, different from the USSR, because it's a regime that doesn't care about the world and what it has to say about its actions. Who should we to support and how can we expect citizens to revolt before the time on the nuke clock is out?
"To give them incentives is impossible because there are no incentives...They have a paradise next life, from that point, and if they make any concessions, they will lose it."
"Iran is a unique example of a country where in one generation-- overwhelming majority went from being true believers to an overwhelming majority being double-thinkers."
"(In the USSR) majority of people were not accepting of this ideology, but they were afraid of the KGB."
"How quickly does it happen depends on how strong they will feel the support of the West, how clear it is to them that the West is behind them."
"They will find that they are surprisingly unafraid of the regime."