Tehran's International Conference on US Interventions in Iran received a certain notoriety in the United States owing largely to the controversy surrounding the participation in it by ten Americans, including former Attorney General Ramsey Clark. The danger is that this controversy will obscure the real significance of the event.
The June conference -- on US "interventions" not "crimes of America" as so many in the US press falsely reported -- was planned by Iranian government officials for both domestic and international reasons. Domestically, such a forum responded to the almost desperate need of the people of Iran to have the world acknowledge the sufferings they experienced under the Shah. Internationally, the conference was meant to put the world on notice that Iran will hereafter resist all outside domination with the same determination with which they deposed the Shah.
Addressing the more than 300 delegates, Imam Khomeini said, "If we are given a choice of either going back to ancient times and using donkeys for transport while, at the same time, keeping our freedom or of living a luxurious life while becoming the slaves of one of the superpowers, we prefer the first option."
This theme -- that no sacrifice is too great in defending freedom -- is one which Americans should understand very well, especially as we remember and celebrate our own revolution. It is a theme which we heard repeated many times in our six days in Tehran by everyone from highest government officials to people whom we met on the streets.
Testimony about US involvements in Iran which was presented at the conference was not new to us. It was a clear record of interventions by our government in the politics, government, and economy of another nation; interventions which are questionable legally and unjustifiable morally. Virtually every fact which we heard there is already a part of our own public record in this country.
We know it, and our leaders do not deny it. They claim, instead, that "we have done nothing wrong."
This, then, is the issue for us. What has been our role in other nations' affairs in the past, what is it now, and what should and shall it be in the future? Do our "vital interests" -- economic and military -- in some other part of the world justify our intervening in the internal affairs of that area?
Recent events in Iran and this conference in particular force us to deal with this issue. From our many conversations with Iranians, we came away with the sense that their revolution against outside interventions is a genuine revolution reflecting the people's will. They are united in their opposition to US, Soviet, and all other outside interference. Any further threats of retaliation, of sanctions, of efforts to "destabilize" the current government only serve to strengthen this resolve.
The continued holding of the American hostages, far longer and at far greater internal costs than any Iranian government person expected or desires, is, as we were told by both President Bani-Sadr and Foreign Minister Ghotbzadeh, symbolic of the need to break the domination and involvement of the US in Iran. That there is less unity within Iran as to the kind of society they wish to build should not blind us to this unity to oppose all outside interfeence. The poeple should have the right to continued their internal struggle to find the directions they want to pursue without fear of such intrusion.
Americans must stop reacting with disdain and fear to this message. It is heard, now, from many countries, especially but not limited to those of the third world. Countries are legitimately seeking to define their own governments , societies, and economies on their own terms, without alliances with superpowers. This is a theme we shall hear again and again and one whose validity we must come increasingly to acknowledge. It was, after all, our own rebellious theme in 1776.