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What To Iran Is the Fourth of July?

Iran's youth fight for their own freedom.

By Petrarch  |  July 3, 2009

A few weeks back, Mr. Obama invited Iranian diplomats to join their American counterparts at U.S. embassies all over the world for our annual Independence Day celebrations.  This outstretched hand of friendship to a totalitarian theocracy could hardly have been more ill-timed: shortly thereafter, the reigning Ayatollah Khamenei blatantly stole an election for his puppet, the odious anti-Semite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Since then, we've seen mass protests in the streets of Iran, followed by brutal repression and slaughter.

Our government was no doubt relieved that not a single Iranian diplomat found the prospect of attending our weenie roast appealing; they all declined.  For the State Department to withdraw invitations that had already been rejected cost nothing and looked good.  It took Mr. Obama a strangely long time even to condemn Iran's oppression; it would have been jarring to see Iranian bigwigs grilling hamburgers on American turf while their stooges back home shot down freedom-loving students.

The Fourth of July is a time to celebrate our American freedoms, for sure.  Equally, it is a time to remember that not everyone can enjoy those freedoms.  We must also remember that freedom is not just a gift from Heaven: it must be bought at a very steep price.

Freedom Isn't Free

In 1852, escaped slave Frederick Douglass was invited to address an antislavery assembly celebrating the Fourth of July, although the actual celebration was held on the 5th.

Back then, there were still some alive who remembered the trials and tribulations of the Revolution and the debate surrounding the adoption of the Constitution; the cost of freedom had not yet been forgotten, so the celebrations were even more exuberant and all-encompassing than we have today.  Not just an opportunity for a long weekend, was a nineteenth-century Fourth!

Into this time of joy and revelry, Mr. Douglass threw a rotting skunk.

I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?

His white audience celebrated freedom in safety and security; Mr. Douglass threw in their faces the fact that his brethren suffered under slavery's lash, and thanks to the recent Fugitive Slave Act, he himself was liable to summary arrest and return to enslavement at any time.  There was no freedom for him; he had nothing to celebrate yet.

An occasion for rejoicing to a free man was nothing more than a bitter taste to the unfree.  What to the slave was the Fourth of July?  The opposite of what it is to the free man.

What to Iran Will Become the 4th of July?

So it is with Iran.  The people of Iran may not exactly be slaves in the way American blacks were, but they certainly are liable to be thrown chained into a dungeon at any time they are thought to be about to cross the ruling mullahs.

In another parallel with American slaves, Iran's young have found a powerfully subversive voice in religion.  The sounds of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" once flowed over darkened slave huts, sending two completely different messages to listeners of two colors: to the white master comfort that his slaves were following the Christian faith instead of African idolatry, but to the slaves a reminder that an all-powerful God would one day free them from their bondage, in death if not in life.

In Iran, the protesters have seized the call of "Allahu akbar", "God is great!" - a slogan familiar to every Muslim and which no mullah would dare oppose - and harnessed it to their movement.

When cries of "Allahu akbar" echo over Tehran at midnight, members of the resistance know that they are not alone - and they also know that they can't easily be arrested for saying so.  After all, how can you be punished for saying "God is great," a doctrine and commandment of the Holy Koran that every mullah from the Ayatollah on down says every day?

America's slaves were not freed until Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionist movement were prepared to enforce blacks' human rights by force of arms; then, when given the opportunity, blacks took up arms themselves to fight for their own liberty.  We are in no position to directly help the Iranian protesters militarily; history shows that it's best for nations to free themselves from inside if at all possible.

Nevertheless, there is something we can do.  Just as the abolitionists showed solidarity with black slaves even before the Civil War in calling for their freedom, we can give Iran's youth whatever rhetorical and diplomatic "aid and comfort" we can.  President Reagan boldly did this for the East Europeans and the world saw a great triumph of liberty.

Iran's youth has been watering the tree of liberty with their own blood.  More blood must be shed before their land is free.

We may not be able to help with this; but on this Fourth of July, let us wish them every success.  Let us also pray that on some future Fourth of July, the diplomats of Iran will be right at home celebrating freedom around an American embassy grill, as representatives of a free and equal democracy.

Hot dogs, anyone?  But hold the ketchup, please, until Iran is free.