Wednesday, March 08, 2006

We Need an Islamic John Paul!

Needed: An Islamic John Paul
By Dave Cloud

In the current standoff between Iran and the civilized world over the frenetic efforts by the mad mullahs to develop or acquire nuclear weapons, precious little attention has been paid to other, more hopeful developments inside Iran. One of these was the subject of a March 2 Wall Street Journal editorial by Roya Hakakian.

Hakakian, who witnessed the Iranian Revolution as a teenager and was eventually forced to flee the country with her Jewish family, sheds light on the little known strike by the workers of the United Bus Company. The parallels between the Iranian unionists and Poland’s Solidarity shipbuilders’ union of a generation ago are striking.

The Union of Workers of the United Bus Company of Tehran has faced constant intimidation and outright brutality at the hands of the Iranian authorities. Club-wielding government hoodlums broke up the first meeting of the union’s executive committee. Everyone in attendance was beaten, the office was burned and, according to Hakakian, the assailants used a knife to shave off part of the tongue of the union’s leader, Mansour Ossanloo. This was a warning that further acts of speaking out against the interests of the regime would result in the removal of his tongue.

Ossanloo has been held in prison since December 2005. Six other union leaders were arrested for calling an illegal strike in late January of this year. None are allowed contact with the outside world. Union leaders have emphasized from the start that their union is apolitical, but, as was the case in Poland, only government-approved unions are allowed. Another similarity to the Poland of old: Iranian workers know that the government unions are powerless. Such harsh repression by the regime risks turning apolitical labor union activity into a political movement. History may indeed repeat itself.

Public response to the strikers in Iran has been underwhelming thus far. Most citizens seem not to even have noticed, as Iranian newspapers have been filled with vitriolic stories about street demonstrations over Danish cartoons or the West’s interference with Iran’s “peaceful” nuclear program. The timing of such “spontaneous” demonstrations has kept the strike and the fate of its leaders out of the public spotlight—just as the government surely planned.

Hakakian laments the lack of attention from the outside world, especially that of the press. She is correct in her indictment. The free world’s newspapers and electronic media outlets have given scant attention to the union’s brave challenge to government authority. But something else is missing from this story.

What the Poles had that the Iranians do not is Pope John Paul II. John Paul’s visit to Poland lent legitimacy to the fledgling democracy movement in Poland. It drew massive media coverage and was the tipping point for the end of Communism not only in Poland, but also in all of Eastern Europe. The communists were onto the danger he posed right away: He struck such fear into them that they attempted to assassinate him. As former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher put it, “His was the moral force behind victory in the Cold War.”

Where is the Islamic John Paul? Who among the world’s Muslim leaders will step forward to demand that Iran grant its workers the rights guaranteed to them in their own constitution? Can Islam produce a leader with sufficient moral authority to command the attention of the international media? If Islam is truly a great religion, then it is time for a truly great Islamic leader to emerge to challenge the Iranian theocrats, bin Laden, Zarqawi, and the others who have hijacked Islam for their own perverse uses. While the world waits, countless millions suffer.

Dave Cloud is a frequent contributor to The American Enterprise Online.

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