Victor Hugo once said: “When dictatorship is a fact, revolution becomes a right.” Throughout history, this has been the story of all great revolutions: the American Revolutionary Wars and the French Revolution in the late 18th century, the Arab Spring in 2011, and the current revolution in the making in Iran.
When the American patriots and the French tasted the bitter and harsh fact of dictatorships with bone and flesh, they exercised their right to revolution and toppled the corrupt regime at any cost.
Thousands laid down their lives and overcame obstacles to achieve freedom and independence. The oppressed nations in the world chose to use their right to self-determination and, most importantly, their right to self-defense.
The right to self-defense is a general principle of law recognized by nations under international law. It could be found in the natural law conceptions of the world’s major religious, philosophical, and cultural traditions. It is consequently a universally shared feature of the world’s foremost legal systems.
According to Oxford Academic, “The right to personal self-defense can already be discerned in a number of areas of international law, including international humanitarian law, international criminal law, the law of the sea, the law of diplomatic relations.”
A modern-day example of a nation using its right to self-defense is the Ukrainian people’s resistance against Russia’s war of aggression. The pictures of young Ukrainians bidding farewell to their loved ones to join the battlefield for their country moved the entire world and revived the value of “resistance” in Europe.
One might argue that what happened in Ukraine was a legal response to a foreign invasion. But shouldn’t we also consider tyrannies that usurped people’s sovereignty as real invaders of a country?
History of humanity is filled with examples of oppressed nations not just using their right to self-defense but also using what many describe as the “right to rebel against tyranny.” Thomas Jefferson, one of the American founding fathers, said that it was not only the people’s right but their duty to overthrow a repressive government.
These laws and theories are not limited to a specific nation or people of a particular race. They are universal. So why wouldn’t Iranian people, who have been suffering immensely at the hand of the totalitarian regime use these rights?
Since usurping power in 1979, the clerics ruling Iran have been using violence to quell a society that rejected their backward ruling from day one. In June 1981, the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ruhollah Khomeini, ordered the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) to open fire on a peaceful protest rally in Tehran, killing and arresting thousands. That night, many Iranian teenagers were sent to the gallows, and the torturers didn’t bother themselves to identify the victims. The pictures of young girls hanged on June 20, 1981, were published in the newspapers on the day after; the Judiciary called on their parents to identify them.
In the summer of 1988, over 30,000 political prisoners were hanged in a matter of a few months. They were sentenced to death in minutes-long kangaroo trials because they wanted freedom and democracy. During the November 2019 uprising in Iran, the IRGC forces killed over 1500 protesters in a few of days.
Since the new protests erupted in Iran in September, Iranian authorities have resorted to violence, beating protesters to death on streets, torturing and raping others in prisons or safe houses. The regime’s brutality has shocked the world.
After decades of witnessing crimes against humanity and being deprived of their basic rights, what is the Iranian people’s choice but to overthrow a vicious dictatorship? Are they not entitled to practice their right to self-defense in the face of the regime?
The Iranian people have not asked for violence. They deem their God-given rights of freedom and dignity. They have asked for change, but authorities have responded with bullets. John F. Kennedy once said: “Those who make a peaceful change (reform) impossible make a violent change (revolution) inevitable.”
The Iranian people are using the right to rebel against tyranny by paying a heavy price. The world applauded Ukrainians and Arab nations when they took up arms and fought for their legitimate rights. History is proud of the revolutions in France and the United States.
As the Europeans are moving forward with designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization, Western powers should also recognize the Iranian people’s right to self-defense against the terrorist regime.
The international community should recognize and allow Iranians to determine their future after a century of dictatorial rule under the Pahlavi and Khomeini regimes. Acknowledging the Iranian people’s right to self-defense against a warmongering regime that is a threat to world peace and security and putting maximum pressure on it strengthens order and stability.