For nearly a decade, United States (US) policymakers and analysts have been debating whether military action against Iran, particularly in response to its nuclear program, would be legal, necessary and feasible. Currently, it seems that most US officials have concluded that use of military force would be “ill advised” and such action seems unlikely. But while calls for a military strike against Iran have receded in recent years, they remain a palpable undercurrent in US and international policy circles and are very much a factor in Iranian domestic politics.

These policy debates have, in general, not reflected or taken into consideration the voices of Iranian civil society—that is, the population who would be most affected by a military conflict and who have the clearest insights into its likely consequences on the ground. How would Iranians receive a military strike? What would it mean for the political development of Iran? How would an attack affect the human rights situation in Iran? What would be the likely long-term effects of such a conflict on Iran-US relations?

The answers to these questions would help Western policymakers and analysts understand the impact and utility of a strike on Iran in a more comprehensive way. Iranians, especially those outside the ruling elite and those who are not supportive of the current government, have key insights to share regarding the consequences of a military attack with respect to the short- and long-term stability of Iran and the region, the protection of human rights, and the future of US-Iran relations.

This report by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran gives voice to 35 of the most prominent members of Iranian civil society, a diverse array of human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, writers, cultural leaders, student activists, academics and members of the political opposition. All currently live and work in Iran and are among the most accomplished, renowned, and legendary members of Iranian civil society. Many of these people are critical of the government and have faced persecution, arrest and imprisonment.

With this report the Campaign aims to support human rights advocates and members of civil society in Iran by conveying their views to the international community on an issue that has profound implications for the protection of human rights in the country. This report is arguably the first collection of leading indigenous Iranian perspectives on the use of military force against Iran in any language. Publicizing these perspectives is particularly important in view of the relative isolation of Iran from the outside world during recent decades, which has prevented all but a handful of Western analysts from having first-hand contact with local experts.

The responses of these civil society leaders overwhelmingly reflect the opinion that an attack on Iran, no matter how limited in scope, would have ruinous consequences for Iranian society by entrenching the authoritarian regime, intensifying human rights abuses and likely thwarting the democratic aspirations of a
large portion of the populace. With a military attack, the United States risks provoking the ire and distrust of the segment of Iranian society most open, and least adverse, to the United States and its allies. The United States would lose much of its ability to influence human rights developments in Iran, while prolonging US-Iranian hostilities for another generation. As theater director Behrouz Gharibpour put it, “The United States caused many negative consequences with its support of the 1953 military coup and an attack today would have a lasting negative impact for decades to come.”

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