STUDENT PROTESTS Monday against the Iranian regime, and against the vicious representation captured in cellphone videos, bear one message for Iran’s leaders and another for President Obama. The regime - which has come to resemble a military junta more than a clerical theocracy - continues to deny the import of the protesters’ resistance. President Obama need not do the same.
Despite beatings and arrests, students in Tehran and many other Iranian cities showed that they will not be intimidated. They no longer define their movement simply as a rejection of the fraudulent reelection over the summer of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They are also repudiating Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and the entire system of the Islamic Republic.
The protesters have transformed the official commemoration of Students’ Day on Dec. 7. Originally, the day was used to remind people of a date in 1953 when three students were killed protesting against a visit by then-Vice President Richard Nixon, shortly after a CIA-backed coup had installed Shah Reza Pahlavi in place of the elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh.
The slogans that students shouted Monday deliberately evoked what their forebearers shouted against the shah’s regime: “God is great!’’ and “Death to the dictator!’’ In other words, they are as determined to shake off the current dictatorship as their parents and grandparents were to rid Iran of the shah.
The regime can use all the levers of coercion at its disposal, but nobody should be fooled when its leaders pretend to be assured of their legitimacy - or their permanence. There are 3.5 million university students out of a population of 70 million in Iran, and they have always been the nation’s conscience, the source for revolution. So the Islamic Republic has a debilitating weakness: It has lost the allegiance of the vanguard of the Iranian people.
Even while continuing to pursue a negotiated resolution of the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program, Obama ought to express Americans’ solidarity with the democratic movement in Iran. The students there, playing on the meaning of Obama’s name in Persian (“he’s with us’’), have been chanting to him: Either you are with us or you are with them. The right choice could not be more obvious.