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EDITORIAL

Iran protesters merit more than a Trump tweet

At a time when this administration should be reaching out to Iranian citizens, it is doubling down on its travel ban.

Anti-government protesters attended a demonstration at the Tehran University campus in Tehran, Iran on Tuesday, blaming the government for the delayed announcement of the unintentional downing of a Ukrainian plane last week.
Anti-government protesters attended a demonstration at the Tehran University campus in Tehran, Iran on Tuesday, blaming the government for the delayed announcement of the unintentional downing of a Ukrainian plane last week.Vahid Salemi/Associated Press

Tweets are cheap and easy; it’s policy that counts. And when it comes to the current street protests in Iran, President Trump continues to get the policy wrong, putting up travel barriers to Iranian youth even as he praises their courage.

Thousands of anti-government protesters, many of them students, have once again taken to the streets of Tehran and more than a dozen other Iranian cities in the wake of the acknowledged military shoot-down of a civilian aircraft. The demonstrators are being met with the usual government thuggery — tear gas, rubber bullets, and Internet shutdowns.

A US administration with a moral core would know how to deal with this precarious and yet unique moment in time — and it wouldn’t be with merely a tweet.

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“We are following your protests closely and are inspired by your courage,” President Trump told the demonstrators via Twitter — in Farsi no less. He also tweeted over the weekend, “There can not be another massacre of peaceful protesters. . . . The world is watching.”

Indeed the world is — and has been — watching even as this president has banned Iranian immigrants from these shores and as he contemplates an expansion of that travel ban beyond its current seven nations — five of them majority Muslim nations.

Iran’s citizens have been voicing their anger at the downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing all 176 onboard. Many of those on the flight to Toronto via Kyiv were Iranian students returning to their studies and their research work in Canada.

Those brilliant young minds are now lost to the world forever. But many were lost to the United States much earlier — in fact, the minute Donald Trump slammed the door on Iranian immigrants as part of his ill-advised travel ban.

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That many of Iran’s citizens are able to look beyond the policies of this particular administration and understand that there are values that most Americans still hold dear is a tribute to those enduring values and to the hopes of Iranians under the yoke of one of the world’s most repressive theocracies.

And even while General Hossein Salami, head of the Revolutionary Guard, was both apologizing for the attack on the jetliner and attempting to deflect some blame for the elevation of tensions to the United States, demonstrators were chanting, “Our enemy is right here. They lie to us that it’s America.”

The photographs of demonstrators intentionally walking around the American and Israeli flags painted on a Tehran Street — put there by a government so that its people might show contempt for both — was a sight surely even the Trump White House could not fail to be moved by.

An administration with integrity would indeed try to capture the moment, to reach out to those risking so much to demonstrate and to get the word out of those protests under incredibly difficult circumstances.

An administration with integrity would at the very least not take this opportunity to harass Iranian-Americans, returning home from holiday visits to Canada, as many reported at the Blaine, Wash., border crossing a week ago.

An administration with integrity, moreover, wouldn’t double-down on its travel ban. And yet that’s exactly the message being leaked out of the White House — that more nations will be added as Trump’s unique way of marking the third anniversary of the ban later this month.

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Meanwhile, the travel ban continues to separate families and loved ones, to deprive US universities of valued scholars, and to rob our nation of an opportunity to educate a new generation of Iranians who are so obviously and painfully looking for a better life.

At a time when this administration should be reaching out, it is once again reiterating the message that those who are born in the “wrong” country or observe the “wrong” faith simply aren’t welcome here. It was the wrong message in 2017; it still is.