Totally Different: A Democracy in the West & One in the Islamic World

Marzieh Hashemi, Orinoco Tribune, March 2, 2024 —

Some first time voters in Iran got a treat on Wednesday when they were invited to spend part of their morning with the Leader of the Islamic Revolution. Imam Khamenei wanted to speak to some of the first time voters and talk about the upcoming Majles and Expediency Council elections which will take place this Friday, March 1, 2024.

I was lucky enough to be there to observe and talk to some of these young people. I have always like to engage with the youth in the Islamic Republic. This is especially true after last year when the young people of the Islamic Republic were targeted by a hybrid war. There was an attempt to make the people of Iran feel hopeless. And this was especially true of the young people who were the main targets last year. I like to hear their concerns while at the same time encourage them to look at the glass being half filled, not half empty!

Young people usually have a lot of energy and enthusiasm and that is exactly where the Leader, while addressing them, started his speech. Channeling the enthusiasm and energy is really important he said and he pointed to the Islamic month of Sha’baan as being the time to get closer to Allah. He also talked about this being the month for forgiveness. Both concepts, getting closer to Allah and tawba (forgiveness) helping to enhance hope.

Many of the young people at the meeting expressed their sense of responsibility in voting and deciding for whom to vote. Even though I had grown up on the other side of the world, I could really relate to these young people and having this sense of responsibility towards their country. I had grown up in a Black American family in the United States whose parents lived in the south and had to fight for their right to vote. Black people were not considered equal as Whites and not worthy of being able to vote. Many Black people gave their lives, in order for others to vote. So when Blacks got the right to vote, it was very important for them and this was taught to their kids the importance of going to the polls. However as time passed, instead of race being the determining factor for who could run for office in the US, money became the criteria. No longer was there necessarily a Black candidate working to improve the rights of Black Americans or a person from a rural area, really working on the rights of farmers. What happened is that people from rural and urban areas, Black and White started to represent special interests group—the one percent. It became a system totally hijacked and controlled by big money.

The reality now is that Senate or House of Representative candidates in the United States will only win an election if they are wealthy or backed by a lot of money. The majority members of Congress are themselves millionaires. And in 2022, the average candidate for Senate had to raise 13.5 million dollars to run and the average cost for the US House was 1.9 million dollars! I had learned early on about the reality of American politics and that those elected were unfortunately loyal to the highest bidder, the special interests groups which had funded their campaigns.

I remembered how excited I was when I was coming to the Islamic Republic and as an Iranian citizen, due to marriage, I was privilege to be able to vote. It was a different experience. This was a country in which a regular teacher, Mohammad Ali Rajai, had become president. That would not happen in my country. Iran, after the Revolution had become a country where ordinary people felt that they could make a difference in the political process, either by becoming candidates for various offices or by voting. Most Americans no longer feel that way.

And we can see in this current election, that in order to become a candidate, the criteria is not money and all candidates have equal access to promoting themselves and their agenda on Iran national TV and radio.

At the meeting of these first time voters, Imam Khamenei talked about the qualifications that these new voters should look for when choosing for whom to vote. He said the person should be religious and the country’s independence should be important to this potential Majles representative. He said that national interests should be more important than any personal interests for one who represents the people. And they must counter corruption. What a breath of fresh air for me to hear that it is not about the amount of money one has access to but the priorities one sets. And this means putting the people first, not slogans but in reality.

The Leader talked about the important role elections have played in the Islamic Republic from the very beginning. He said the victory of the Revolution took place on the 22nd of Bahman and by the 12th of Farvardeen, the first referendum was held to determine whether to establish an Islamic Republic or not. This reiterates the importance of people’s participation from the very beginning in elections in the Islamic Republic and deciding the future of the country. He added that earning this right to vote, did not come easy and many gave their lives so that we can vote. Thus, this right should not be ignored. He added that turning out for the vote is a national and religious responsibility.

And many of the young people I talked to echoed his sentiments. They were filled with determination and a desire to improve their society. Zahra from Tehran said she has a responsibility in deciding the future of her country. She said there have been a lot of martyrs who have given their lives for her to be able to have this opportunity and she will not let it go to waste. And she said if voting was so unimportant, why is it that the enemies of Iran continue to make a big deal about it. 18 year old Zainab from Tehran said she felt that it is her national and religious duty to vote.

I talked to another young lady Bita who said she did not come from a religious family and she had decided not to participate in any elections. However, she actually started going to a Quranic Tafsir class and she learned so much about individual and social responsibility. She said the class had changed her life and her perspective. She gained an appreciation for the Islamic Republic and the reason she should vote to help determine its future. She said that she was able to change the minds of the majority of her classmates at school on voting and being able to make a difference.

Hanna from Ardabil said how being in the presence of the Leader had affected her and that it had been her dream since she was a child to attend one of these meetings and she couldn’t believe that she had finally gotten the opportunity and had seen him. She was overwhelmed and inspired to vote and to tell others that they should vote too.

The Leader emphasized the importance in playing a role in determining the future of the country. He said voting is an easy task with important results. And for those he said who think voting won’t make a difference, he would tell them that for sure NOT voting cannot change policy, but with voting, as least there is a chance of being able to make a difference. He said that voting is a sign of national power and it determines the security of the nation.

And speaking about security, the Leader touched on the genocide in Gaza and what the Palestinian people are going through. He said the people there have taught the world about Islam and determination. He said despite all the suffering, they will not give up and that has attracted people from all over the world. And the other side of this is how the west has exposed its true face. All these years they have talked about human rights and now the reality can be seen by all. They are arrogant and inhumane. They may use nice words, he said, but actions speak louder than words. And once again the United States has used its veto at the UNSC to not prevent a ceasefire and to continue to allow the Zionist regime to kill more Palestinian kids and women.

And one of the young women who I talked to, Zohre said this is the reason we all must vote to let the world know that we will not let anyone decide our future. We must be united so that no enemy would ever think of attacking Iran in anyway. She said she would definitely vote and like the Leader said, her vote will be like a missile deterring the enemy.


The above is Marzieh Hashemi’s personal account of her participation in Imam Khamenei’s meeting with Iranian first-time voters and the honorable families of martyrs, which was held on February 28, 2024.

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