Putting the pressure on Iran

During her visit Monday, Christiane Amanpour spent a good deal of time discussing Iran and advocating a stronger, more committed policy of engagement toward Iran, specifically something greater than the Obama administration has tried. This issue was lightly touched upon in the News (“Journalist asks for U.S. foreign policy change,” Feb. 7), and I would like to elaborate on it.

As an Iranian American, I was rather concerned by Amanpour’s rhetoric. So during the question and answer part of the talk, I asked her, “Wouldn’t engaging the Iranian regime strengthen the oppression of 70 million people [in Iran]?”

Her response was upsetting. She justified her stance equating oppression with the economic impact caused by western sanctions on the Iranian people, arguing that sanctions oppress people by preventing them from finding jobs or prospering—a talking point mirrored by the Iranian regime. She proceeded by comparing Iran with Cuba, claiming that isolating Iranian, like isolating Cuban, would be fruitless and not lead to any positive change.

Now, of course, neither of us can predict the future, but that comparison was disingenuous and rather surprising coming from Amanpour. I’m sure she knows well that Iran cannot be compared with Cuba without a very significant stretch of the imagination. Western principles of freedom and liberty are fundamental among the Iranian people. They are, ironically, what drove Iranians to overthrow the Shah. Iran also has a very young, educated demography that has repeatedly showed its inspirational willingness to fight oppression in the face of imprisonment, torture and execution.

It is no coincidence that the massive 2009 Iranian protests were the start of the Arab Spring. To accept the humanitarian repercussions of engagement with Iran, as Amanpour did, is, frankly, insulting to the millions of Iranians who have selflessly put their lives on the line to fight the regime and bring freedom to their people. The Iranian people may have been forcibly silenced by their oppressors, but we have a moral responsibility to echo their voice in the diplomatic decisions we make.

I have a great deal of respect for Amanpour, and I am very thankful that she came to Yale, generously spent time with students and carefully and honestly answered their questions, but I hope she considers this point more carefully, especially given her interesting contrasting support for fighting regimes in other oppressive nations.

Sometimes I wonder whether the United States would support and strengthen North Korea if tomorrow it became very pro-western but quietly continued its atrocious humanitarian violations. I really would hope not. The United States’ interests, while important, should not have a humanitarian price tag.

Sharif Vakili

Feb. 10, 2012

The writer is a junior in Silliman College.