A Conversation with Journalist Lisa Daftari
Introduction: Since the fraudulent June 12th, 2009 Presidential Election in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), an increasingly emboldened opposition, the Green Movement, has arisen to demand the overthrow of the IRI. The Green Movement refuses to desist from launching massive street protests in Tehran, and other major Iranian cities. All this is occurring despite violence wreaked upon thousands of valiant regime opponents by the ruling Mullahs and President Ahmadinejad.
To explore these emerging revolutionary prospects in Iran, I turned to Lisa Daftari, an Iranian-American award-winning journalist with expertise in counterterrorism and the Middle East, particularly in Iranian affairs. Daftari has been in the forefront of communicating the important views of the Iranian opposition via her brilliant writing and commentary, as well as facilitating communications from within Iran to the world media.
Born in a suburb of New York City, she moved to Los Angeles, where she received a Masters degree in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Southern California.
Lisa has a gift for spotting an intriguing human story, luring the reader in, then gradually revealing her passion for the written word in lucid displays of prose. She is highly professional in her line of work. Lisa is a multifaceted, multitalented artist. She is a phenomenally gifted pianist who has the same control over the keyboard and the range of dynamics and finesse of touch as she has with written word. She is also a trained vocalist and has perfect pitch, which is the rare ability of a person to identify or re-create a given musical note without the benefit of an external reference.
Lisa recognizes the importance of keeping people informed. "Democracy does not work without a truly vibrant press. We, as journalists, have an obligation to sort it all out and supply quality news. Although many of the MSM report some stories well, like hurricanes and sporting events, thousands of exposés never get written because of the lack of investigative journalism. I feel this deprives the public of critical information they need to be intelligently informed," says Lisa.
Her extensive stories have appeared on CBS, NBC, PBS, NPR, the Washington Post and Voice of America. Lisa is a syndicated columnist and frequently appears on numerous radio and television programs. She has her own column in Front Page Magazine where she serves as the publication's Iran analyst. Currently, Lisa is a Middle East commentator on the Fox News Channel.
Imani: The opposition Green Movement emerged spontaneously two years ago to challenge the results of the disputed 2009 presidential election. With the Green Movement in Iran, which began before the uprising in Tunisia at the beginning of this year, how is the so-called Arab Spring, the revolutions in Syria and elsewhere, impacting the freedom movement in Iran?
Daftari: The Freedom Movement was then, as it is now, an enduring democratic movement that started long before the 2009 Presidential Election in Iran. It was only triggered by the Election. According to most Middle East experts, Iran's Green (Freedom) Movement inspired and triggered the Arab Spring. Iran has had the distinction of resisting assimilation by Arab invaders for over 14-centuries. Iran is the pacesetter in the region and radical Islam is only a passing aberration in its history. The millions who bravely filled the streets all over Iran protesting what they were convinced was the mullahs' fraudulent re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are still determined to defeat the Islamists and once again make Iran a beacon of democracy for other nations to emulate. The regime is rapidly collapsing and the Freedom Movement is distancing itself from any religious connections. Far from being defeated or dispirited, the secularists of Iran are battling on every front and by all means at their disposal to dislodge the mullahs from power.
Imani: Based on your contacts inside Iran, in what ways do you see the regime losing its grip on power?
Daftari: The mullahs' government is not about governing through Islam. On the contrary, it is about usurping unlimited funds and regional power in the name of Islam, Shiite Islam to be exact. But the seeds for the auto-destruction of the Islamic system were implanted within from its very inception. The system is a hybrid concoction of fanatic religionists who aimed to establish a fantasized Caliphate-like society. To begin with, there never was an ideal Caliphate society to be reborn. Even at Muhammad's deathbed the various contenders for power began their infighting. The envisioned system is part democratic and part authoritarian. The two are like water and oil and do not mix. Therefore, the Islamic Republic's system leaves considerable fissures that are bound to bring the entire structure down. At a practical level, the various factions within the system vie for a greater and greater share of power and resources. And this infighting, coupled with inner greed, corruption and incompetence assure the system's demise.
Imani: How might the U.S. jump-start a successful grassroots revolution in Iran?
Daftari: The Obama administration has been completely unhelpful to the grassroots revolution in Iran. The administration, and Obama in particular, failed to speak in support of the Movement, much less aid it in any significant material way. I have repeatedly proposed ways and means of supporting the Iranian people to remove the Islamists and their influence. I firmly believe that the valiant Iranian secularists will eventually prevail over the mullahs' regime. What the U.S. can do is to strongly side with them to expedite the mullahs' demise. It is indeed in the U.S.'s best and vital interests to come to the aid of the Iranian people who can be of the best friends they can have in the region.
Imani: What are your thoughts about the recent overture by Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton regarding extending multi-entry visas to Iranian students?
Daftari: I hope this is an indication that the Obama administration is finally waking up to the existing reality in Iran. Regretfully, there has been only a partial awakening of our government concerning international diplomacy, particularly where the Middle East and counterterrorism are involved. Instead of befriending and supporting the people of Iran, President Obama finds himself on the losing side with the Islamists. The people of Iran question Obama's quick and zealous public support of the people of Egypt yet appeared untouched by the valiant attempt the Iranians made in 2009 to overthrow their government. Recall that it was the Iranian people's massive movement against the re-election of Ahmadinejad that inspired the "Arab Spring."
So, in essence, extending multi-entry visas may be a feeble attempt by the Obama Administration to placate the Iranian people. This token action, although long overdue, is welcome. It shouldn't stop here. The Obama administration needs to abandon its heavily pro-Islamic policy that is buy the Islamic regime ample time to further develop its nuclear weapons and will assuredly bring disaster to America. If we are to stand and defend American ideals, we must align ourselves as great champions of democracy and human rights with the freedom-seeking secular forces of the Middle East.
It would behoove all freedom-loving individuals to call on President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to proclaim unequivocal support for the Iranian people and to back that claim with concrete effective peaceful actions. It is the best investment that the U.S. can make in attracting the powerful nation of Iran as a vital ally.
Imani: Do you think the deadly confrontation between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic of Iran is inevitable if the mullahs are allowed to make the bomb?
Daftari: For the past 32-years, thousands of dissident students, intellectuals and journalists have been systematically arrested, imprisoned and tortured for the sole crime of speaking up against repressive rule. Many are still languishing in prisons, some have died, and some have simply vanished with no record of what happened to them. Not only has the regime terrorized its own people, but they have also demonstrated a high priority for supporting global terrorism. Their support of extremist terrorist groups has extended far beyond neighboring countries but also as far away as Latin America. Hezb'allah in Lebanon has been generously nurtured with funds, weapons and training. Hamas and the Islamic Jihad were assisted in numerous ways, and a professional army of Shiite Iraqis was trained and armed to be used in the present Iraqi theatre. Separately, Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia -- the Mahdi Army -- is directly funded, armed and controlled by the present Islamic regime, a gift of the former president Khatami to his successor -- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Stealth work on the nuclear program, in clear and defiant violation of the non-proliferation treaty to which the Islamic Republic is a signatory, proceeded ahead at full speed and with generous funding. It is obvious that the intention of the mullahs is not and has never been to protect the Iranian people or their nationalist interests. The mullahs have proved that their most critical objective is to spread terrorism and radical Islam, at the cost of the Iranian people and the rest of humanity.
At the moment, I would not count on the U.S. Administration to do anything. We have a musical chairs type of government. Democrats out, Republicans in. Republicans in, Democrats out. They are more intent on fighting each other than taking on radical ideologies, and that will cost Americans and the people of the Middle East in the long run. The American public won't support a war either. They have been burned by the misadventure in Iraq and they are plenty upset about being bogged down in Afghanistan.
Imani: Recently, the former president of the Islamic Republic, President Mohammad Khatami, asked for national reconciliation. What are your thoughts about the former president?
Daftari: Well, it was on Khatami's watch that many students' lives were extinguished solely for speaking out against the regime. Shamelessly, during the July 9, 1999 university uprising in Tehran, Khatami called the students, "A bunch of hooligans," while his guards and police brutally attacked students in their dormitories, even throwing some students out of third floor windows. I find it very ironic that he was welcomed at Harvard University to lecture students of the same age and faculty on practicing tolerance. It was during President Khatami's term that prisoners of conscience were routinely tortured to extract confessions about the crimes they did not commit. Some of the victims were permanently incapacitated while others died under brutal torture. Regretfully, no human rights organizations were allowed to inspect the prisons.
Imani: What are your final thoughts about where is Iran headed?
Daftari: Despite everything, I am rather optimistic about the future of Iran. This is indeed the dawn of a new day. There are many factors that point to an imminent coming of age for the Iranian people and the end of a bloody and brutal era for the regime. A nation of 70 million, an overwhelming, zealous youth population, a distancing from and despising of oppressive Islam and a multitude of educated, savvy, technologically advanced Iranians will not tolerate or endure the yolk of this repressive regime much longer. The conditions for a perfect storm are in place. It is up to the international community, and in particular, the American administration, who has been the hesitant, halfhearted, unconvincing leader of the free world, to nurture, support and encourage significant changes in Iran and the region.