For the love of Iran, keep the sanctions

Iranian President Rouhani stands next to a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran on 13 June 2015. There are still "many differences over details" of a nuclear deal Iran and world powers are trying to conclude by 30 June 30, Rouhani said. (AFP/Behrouz Mehri)

With guidance and support from the White House, Tehran’s lobby in Washington shames those who speak against the impending nuclear agreement with Iran, often accusing them of warmongering or of being hateful of Iran. Meanwhile, the ayatollah’s lobby praises supporters of the deal, often promising them lucrative rewards once ratified.

Absent from this dichotomy are those who, because of their love of Iran and the Iranians, want the sanctions to stay in place.

Iran is a beautiful country with a long history of a great civilization. Unlike what most history books teach, Iran’s role in producing and shaping events, especially the rise and dominance of Islam, has been underestimated.

Also underestimated are regions that were once part of Perso-Islamic culture. Mary, the capital of Turkmenistan and part of the historic eastern Iranian province of Khorasan, once served as the capital of the Islamic Abbasid Empire at its zenith. Balkh, in northern Afghanistan, produced leaders like the Barmakids, who shaped Islamic history and presided over the famous boom in sciences and humanities that later made the European Renaissance possible. When Christopher Columbus sailed west, he expected to reach India based on an estimated circumference of the Earth measured by Arabic-speaking Perso-Muslim scientists.

To understand how interconnected the history and faith of the Arabs and Iranians have been, think that the famous 8th-century Abbasid Caliph Haroun al-Rashid was born in Tehran and buried in Mashhad.

But Iran is not about history alone. It is a vast and resourceful country. Its people are smart, funny, generous and loyal. Its tasty cuisine has won international acclaim.

The problem, however, is that instead of helping Iran restore its glory, the world looks at the country from a security prism only. And because a group of ayatollahs with crazy, messianic perspectives have dominated the country since 1979, and because they have been stirring up trouble around the world since then, containing Iran’s despots has become the world’s top priority. Iran’s nuclear program has further aggravated the world’s security fears.

But Iran’s antiquated nuclear program should not have become the world’s obsession. Crazy as they are, Iran’s ayatollahs know that nukes are not toys. They know that the first nuclear missile that leaves Iran will spell the nation’s end as the world responds with force that will leave the country devastated.

Iran’s problem is that — despite its long history and superb potential — it lingers near the bottom of every human rights and freedom index. And, unsurprisingly, Iran’s nepotistic and corrupt despots drove the economy into the ground, placing Iran near the bottom of all kinds of economic and human developments indexes.

For Iran to restore its past glory and live up to its potential, it is imperative that the country replace its current Islamic government with a more inclusive, secular, tolerant and transparent one.

There is no shortcut to change in Iran — it will be long and laborious. Change in Iran requires domestic will and international support, but this must include maintaining the sanctions currently leveraged against the regime.

The current sanctions on Iran are crippling for its despotic government. With some aid to dissidents inside and outside the country, a process of gradual change might give Iranians hope of a better and more representative government.

The Iraq War and the Arab Spring have given change a bad reputation. Yet that should not mean despair or succumbing to autocratic rulers. Democracy, freedom and human rights — not the number of centrifuges — remain ideals that the free world should support anywhere, anytime.

Those who want the sanctions on Iran to remain are not warmongers or Iran-haters. On the contrary, they are supporters of a free and democratic Iran; an Iran worthy of its great history and lovely people. Supporters of the sanctions on Iran want to see change happen the old-fashioned way, rather than change engineered in hotel lobbies in Geneva that gives Iran’s oppressive regime a new lease on life.

Those who oppose the removal of sanctions on Iran are enemies of the Iranian government, but friends of the Iranian people. When the deal with nuclear Iran is signed, opponents of the deal would rather have their names recorded as the ones who supported the right thing, rather than those who want what is pragmatic and realistic. History usually remembers those who say and do the right things, not those who cheat for immediate gains.

Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Kuwaiti newspaper Alrai. He tweets @hahussain