Promoting the cause of democracy and human rights in Iran should be a pillar of any U.S. national security strategy.

by Masih Alinejad

Outside of the United States, few peoples in the world are more impacted by the results of the U.S. presidential election than the citizens of Iran. President Donald Trump has subjected Iranians to the most punishing sanctions regime in the world, while also making clear his desire to make a deal that will make Iran “very rich, very quickly.” While Vice President Joe Biden has been critical of Trump’s Iran strategy, his own strategy views Iran—and its 80 million inhabitants—primarily through the prism of another nuclear deal. Both miss the point.

For years, U.S. administrations have sought to address the symptoms of Iranian malignancy—its nuclear ambitions and regional extremism—while ignoring the underlying cause, the nature of the Iranian regime. The reality is that as long as Iran is led by a small clique of unaccountable men who rule with an iron fist, America’s four decades of hostility with Iran will never be resolved. For this reason, promoting the cause of democracy and human rights in Iran should be a pillar of any U.S. national security strategy.

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Vahid Yucesoy

A woman walking along a busy street. A total stranger accosting her, insulting her, and threatening to get her arrested, all because of not “properly” observing her compulsory hijab. These scenes have become commonplace in Iran since the revolution that has imposed a compulsory dress code on women. But increasingly, women have been defying their harassers with a simple tool: Their cameras.

Lately, authorities in the Islamic Republic have intensified their witch-hunt against unveiled women or those that they deem to be “badly-veiled” in a bid to assert their fraying control over society. Countless videos coming Iran report on a spike in street harassment by authorities directed at women. Many of these women take enormous risks to film their harassers, some of whom are affiliated with the regime. That they’re willing to take such risks to film is testimony to how fed up they are with incessant government interference in their private lives.

Despite such a drive from authorities, they have admitted to their weakness in the face of rising tide of civil disobedience amongst Iranian women: the police clearly have a difficulty to police women’s hijab in Iran.

Iranian women have been resisting compulsory dress code ever since it became a law in the early years of the revolution. Such resistance has taken various forms. From starting to exchange chadors with ‘manteaux’, to challenging the government’s color restrictions by wearing bright colors, to challenging the Islamic interpretation of hijab’s forms and dark colors.

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Imagine that you are a woman leading a relatively normal life. You take the metro or bus to work or university. You socialize with friends. You may be able to afford a smartphone and enjoy posting selfies on social media. You may sometimes be lucky enough to take walks on the beach and feel the sea air in your hair.

Now imagine that before you step foot outside your front door to do any of those things, you must stop and check that your hair is properly covered with a headscarf and that you have covered up your arms and legs.

This may seem extreme but failing to do so could carry serious consequences for you. You know that, as soon as you leave your home, your body and clothing will be assessed by strangers. You will face “morality checkpoints” where state agents will decide if you have failed to comply with the state’s strict dress code for women. If you “fail” their test, you may be arrested and, in some cases, even tortured and sentenced to a prison term or flogging.

So, every day, before you leave your home, you must decide the level of risk you are willing to take. Do you want to exercise your freedom today and wear what you want, or will you play it safe to avoid arrest, assault and being denied entry to your work place or university?

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In the forty years since Iran’s 1979 revolution, no aspect of U.S. policy toward Tehran has produced more heat—and less light—than the question of external efforts to advance political change in Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stepped squarely into that contested terrain with his speech last year to an audience of Iranian-Americans at the Reagan Library, coming down forcefully in favor of strenuous American and international advocacy but offering little in the way of specific fresh ideas. “While it is ultimately up to the Iranian people to determine the direction of their country,” Pompeo said, “the United States, in the spirit of our own freedoms, will support the long-ignored voice of the Iranian people. Our hope is that ultimately the regime will make meaningful changes in its behavior both inside of Iran and globally.”

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