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Build connections to oppose tyranny

I attended a lecture recently in which Cornel West, a longtime champion for the civil rights movement, offered a compelling definition of courage: "The great enabling virtue that allows one tot realize other virtues like love, hope and faith." He continued to say that courage is the ability to "muster the will to overcome the fear … so that fear does not have the last word or so that fear pushes one into conformity, complacency or cowardice."

Since the recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, my colleagues and I have been enthusiastically discussing the latest news of protests in Bahrain, Libya, Algeria and the rest of the Arab states. Every day, I wake up to new Tweets with the "#freedom" hashtag and a Facebook newsfeed containing closely followed posts from the Middle Eastern blogosphere. As I listen to the voices of these activists, I admire their sense of inclusiveness in discussing the recent events. Just a few days ago, a dear friend said to me, "Iranians and Arabs must embrace and support each others' struggles … that despite our linguistic, historical, cultural differences, we can connect and love one another." Her remarkable words on "difference" bring me back to my understanding of West's thoughts — we must end fear and suspicion of one another and actively extend our curiosities and understanding to every democratic aspiration.

What exactly are these arbitrary divisions of which we, as human beings, must be unhesitatingly wary? By connecting the realities of struggle that embrace a common universal demand for human rights, activists must engage in sifting through propaganda and misconceptions.

Individuals distance themselves from recognizing the Green Movement and Iranian struggles for democracy or are simply unaware of the severity of political oppression under which Iranians live. The belief that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) give life to disenfranchised voices in the Middle East is a far cry from the reality that exists within Iran's borders and extends beyond them.

A "mukhbir," or informer, knocking on doors in Cairo, Egypt is the same as the "etelaati" in the neighborhoods of Tehran, Iran. The Supreme Leader and his supporters are the same as those in Saudi Arabia, who use Wahabi rhetoric to marginalize secular, religious and ethnic minorities. Like the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who uses force against protesters, the leaders of the IRI have no issue in exercising violence against peaceful dissenters, political prisoners, students or labor unions. Every day, hundreds of tortured prisoners of conscience rot in Evin Prison, similar to prisoners in the American-run Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay detention center. Just as the Israeli military oppresses Palestinian political prisoners, the IRI denies access to legal counsel and uses emotional blackmail, torture and murderous tactics on the opposition. We must recognize that the IRI is the essence of an oppressive, militant dictatorship, which sustains itself through its systemized spread of lies, violence and hatred. It debases the image of Islam and subverts the cause of global freedom struggles in Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and elsewhere.

The 13th century Persian poet Saadi wrote, "The Children of Adam are limbs of each other. Having been created of one essence. When the calamity of time afflicts one limb. The other limbs cannot remain at rest." We cannot remain at rest when any political system victimizes dissenting voices, be it in Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Algeria, Jordan, Syria, Israel or the United States. We must build bridges of dialogue and cooperation between activists in Iran and Arab states and speak out for Iranian activists in the same way we do for the peoples' movements in Tunisia, Egypt, etc. To return to the incredible words of West, courage is that ability to "love across borders, across races, across gender, across sexual orientation, across national boundary … [to] never allow that despair to have the last word." No tyrannical force can overcome the power and patience of shared struggle. Only through building connections and reminding all peoples they are not alone or forgotten will we overcome fear and despair.

Farah Hussain is a Rutgers College senior majoring in Middle Eastern studies and comparative literature.

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