Last Friday, March 20, President Barack Obama sent the leaders of Iran a warm message of greetings on the occasion of Nowuz, the Iranian New Year. He said, "We know that you are a great civilization, and your accomplishments have earned the respect of the United States and the world. "
Two days earlier, Iranian blogger Omid-Reza Mirsayafi died in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison. In the Wall Street Journal online yesterday, Bret Stephens observed that the death of Mr. Mirsayafi probably was not one of the accomplishments that President Obama had in mind.
Mr. Stephens writes:
The most telling indicator of what we can expect from Mr. Obama's overture is Mirsayafi's death, a fitting emblem of everything the Islamic Revolution stands for on its 30th anniversary.
What was a blogger doing in prison in the first place? Ask 26-year-old Kianoosh Sanjari [pictured above right--picture credit Zina Saunders in the Wall Street Journal], another Iranian blogger and Evin Prison alumnus who fled the country in 2007 and is now in the U.S. seeking asylum.
Mr. Sanjari was first arrested at 17 for joining a procession commemorating the first anniversary of the violently suppressed 1999 student protests at Tehran University. Over the next seven years he was arrested nine times, imprisoned six, flipped between "official" and secret prisons, surveilled and harassed by the secret police, subjected to endless interrogations, held both in overcrowded cells and incommunicado in solitary confinement (for a total of nine months), beaten while blindfolded and subjected to extreme sensory deprivation.
"When you express your dissatisfaction in a civil way and you're faced with physical violence and cruelty, you realize the baseness of the equation," Mr. Sanjari tells me, explaining the impulses that animated his dissent. "The moment you go to prison is when you realize you are in the right. And when you see what nefarious people the regime has to break you is when you feel the need to fight back."
Between prison terms Mr. Sanjari headed the Association of Political Prisoners, which follows more than 500 known cases in Iran.
On March 18, 1983, President Ronald Reagan, speaking to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida, famously described the Soviet Union as an "evil empire." For his remarks, the President was ferociously attacked by press elites and diplomats in the United States and Western Europe, and pilloried, in the style later employed against President George W. Bush, as a primitive cowboy.
However, a very special audience, with much in common with Mr. Sanjari and the late Mr. Mirsayafi, of blessed memory, reacted very differently. Here is how Natan Sharansky, then a prisoner in the Siberian gulags, described the reaction of his fellow prisoners of conscience to news of President Reagan's speech:
It was the great brilliant moment when we learned that Ronald Reagan had proclaimed the Soviet Union an Evil Empire before the entire world. There was a long list of all the Western leaders who had lined up to condemn the evil Reagan for daring to call the great Soviet Union an evil empire right next to the front-page story about this dangerous, terrible man who wanted to take the world back to the dark days of the Cold War. This was the moment. It was the brightest, most glorious day. Finally a spade had been called a spade. Finally, Orwell's Newspeak was dead. President Reagan had from that moment made it impossible for anyone in the West to continue closing their eyes to the real nature of the Soviet Union. [The Weekly Standard, "The View From the Gulag," June 21, 2004]
President Obama, please read Sharansky's account of the hope and encouragement that President Reagan's words gave him and his fellow prisoners of conscience in the Soviet gulag on that "brightest, most glorious day." Then think about how your own words of engagement with Tehran's Mullahs will affect those prisoners of conscience still languishing in Evian Prison and other hell holes in Iran. For shame, Mr. President, for shame!