Countering Iran, one meme at a time

As we enter Passover, the Festival of Freedom, we would do well to recall the Iranian people and remember that setting them free is not 'just' a matter of human rights -- it's a strategic necessity

The amazing thing about our world today is that anyone can capture a meme and run with it. A meme, of course, is an idea that spreads like a gene, only much faster.

The original 'Israel Loves Iran' campaign poster, featuring Ronny Edry and his daughter
The original ‘Israel Loves Iran’ campaign poster, featuring Ronny Edry and his daughter

A great example is the “Israel Loves Iran” campaign started by Ronny Edri, a 41-year-old Israeli graphic designer. On March 19 he posted on Facebook a picture of himself holding his daughter above the message: “Iranians: we will never bomb your country, we love you.”

Edri’s page has received 55,000 “likes,” and his video has been viewed over 600,000 times on YouTube. Someone has also created an “Iran Loves Israel” page that attracted about 15,000 “likes”. It is worth scratching a bit deeper, especially on the Iranian page.

Look, for example, at these photos. They are all from the “Green Revolution,” the Iranian popular uprising in the wake of the stolen 2009 election in Iran. The photos, showing violent scenes from the protests, predictably produced puzzled comments from Western peaceniks.

“No good. I would encourage Iranians to protest in peaceful ways,” wrote one commenter with a Scandanavian-sounding name in response to a picture of an Iranian protester throwing something at the regime’s goons. The Green Movement “was a peaceful movement!!!” an Iranian replied. “This is a usual picture from peaceful movements when the government suppresses the people by guns and tear gas.”

These Green Movement Iranians are trying to take the meme to a new place. Their message is, yes, we are a peace movement. They are right. If the Iranian people win, there will be peace: real peace; not the “peace” that comes from nuclear terror.

These brave Iranians are sticking their necks out in ways that are hard for Israelis, Americans or any other free people to comprehend. They are on to what should be the real meme: free Iran. The way to love Iran, and Israel — and Palestine — for that matter, is to support the struggle of the Iranian people for their freedom.

In the face of the pathos of this real struggle, the loose thinking of the original “Israel Loves Iran” campaign unravels. It is not a symmetrical struggle of evil leaders racing to war against the will of their peoples. An Israeli military strike, if there were one, would not be against the Iranian people, but against underground nuclear facilities. An Iranian strike against Israel, if there were one, would be aimed at slaughtering thousands of Israelis like Edry and his family, living in cities.

Israeli leaders do not want to wipe Iran off the map; the Iranian regime does want to wipe Israel off this map. This is not a subtle distinction. Is it really so hard to comprehend?

One person who does seem to understand is President Shimon Peres. Speaking in Persian on an Israeli radio that is broadcast into Iran, Peres sent new year’s greetings to the Iranian people:

It’s not too late to change the corrupt regime and return to your glorious Persian heritage of culture and values, rather than bombs and rockets.

Now was the time for freedom, he said. Just like young Arabs were ousting their sclerotic regimes, Iranians should get rid of theirs.

This is a meme that deserves to be spread — not just by Israelis and Iranians on Facebook, but by leaders like Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. What our leaders generally do not seem to understand is that this little meme could be more effective and powerful than sanctions or military action.

More than economic sanctions, more even than a military strike, the regime fears its own people. This is shown by the desperate Iranian attempt to help the Syrian regime massacre its own people. The mullahs rightly fear that the fall of Assad’s regime could trigger another national wave of unrest against them.

Even the Arab League has become a staunch supporter of the Syrian people. This newfound passion for democracy from one of the world’s least democratic groups of nations can only be explained as a dagger directed at Tehran.

But if the cynical Arab League can understand that the mullahs are vulnerable to people power, why can’t President Obama?

Let the Iranian people go

Obama recently told AIPAC “the only way to truly solve [the] problem is for the Iranian government to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons. That’s what history tells us.” He was referring to countries that gave up their nuclear programs, like Libya and North Korea did under extreme duress, and South Africa and Argentina following changes in government.

What history is telling us is that rogue countries ditch nuclear programs that have become an existential threat to the regime, or when the regime is replaced by a government that is no longer threatened by its own people. Neither goal is served by engaging with the regime, as opposed to simply saying, “you must go.”

It is time for the West to stop talking about engagement and start siding with the Iranian people. It is time for the West to say to the mullahs the same thing it said to the leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria – “you must go.”

Today, the Jewish world begins the holiday of Passover, an annual celebration of freedom. Every year, we reenact our liberation from Egypt over 3,000 years ago. It is not so easy to imagine our own liberation when freedom has become something we take for granted. This story, however, should not be seen as something abstract and far removed from our lives.

Today in Syria, people are sacrificing their lives every day for freedom. Iranians, too, desperately yearn to be free. As it happens, supporting them is not “just” a matter of human rights, but a strategic necessity. It is the greatest hope that soon we will be living in a world with more freedom, prosperity, and security.

About the Author
Saul Singer is co-author, with Dan Senor, of The Genius of Israel: The Surprising Resilience of a Divided Nation in a Turbulent World.
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