For the families lucky enough, there are still cemetery plots. But even grieving is different now, one Iranian says soberly. Not even flowers are allowed on the rows of fresh dirt. "People are dying left and right here," a medic shook her head. "It's the same way in all of our hospitals." Signs of the country's suffering are everywhere -- even from space, where the trenches of mass graves are so big that satellites can't help but notice. Like so many nations rocked by the virus, the scene feels the same -- and yet, in the closed and punishing society of Iran, nothing is.
Some stories sound familiar -- the reports of heroic doctors, of chaotic hospitals, of families shocked by the suddenness of their loss. But in a nation where this crisis is just one piece of a larger picture of hardship, the despair has taken on a darkness all its own. For Iranians, trapped under an oppressive regime and cut off from the rest of the world, the virus has taken the fight out of many of them. One widow says her husband was almost relieved to be infected. He was, as she said, already "hopeless."
Long before this tragedy, the Iranian people were drowning in misery and neglect. Threats of war and starvation have hung over their heads for years, and the people endured it -- having long ago lost their voice. Now, with an astonishing coronavirus death toll -- the largest in the Middle East -- anguish is heaped on anguish. And instead of turning its eye to the hurting, for once, the government is stoking the world's anger with new threats. And last week's military missile launch, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fears, is just the beginning.
"[This] is real," he said on "Washington Watch." "The United States Government has had its eyes on [this program] for a period of time, but Iran has denied [it] to the world. They have said that their missile program was purely peaceful, that they were working on satellites for the sole purpose of commercial activity and then this past week announced that their [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] leadership team had launched a military satellite into orbit." This, he points out, from the "largest sponsor of terrorism and the most anti-Semitic nation on the world stage."
Of course, the United States has done its best to pressure the Iranian regime to back off its nuclear and long-range weapons systems. But unfortunately, Secretary Pompeo points out, "the money that was given to them under [Barack Obama's] previous agreement has enabled them make significant advances. We've been doing our best with our pressure campaign, our diplomatic effort, to deter its effort, our economic effort to make the Iranian regime less capable, less well resourced. But they're still there. And in spite of the fact that they're having all these internal challenges from the virus, they continue to chip away, showing that they have the real intention of continuing to develop the systems to threaten America, threaten the world."
Even now, with deaths upwards of 5,800, government officials are refusing to manage the crisis. Probably, Pompeo argued, because they've been too busy working on a disinformation campaign alongside the Chinese Communist Party, "suggesting that somehow the United States might be responsible for the virus... Those are the kind of things that regimes that don't value human life do, whether it's the Iranians or [another]." Their leaders would rather carry on rogue military programs than provide relief and protection to their own population. Close to 100,000 people are infected inside their borders -- desperately in need of food, emergency supplies, and medicine. And what are the Iranians doing? Funneling hundreds of billions of dollars into programs that "foment terror."
U.S. sanctions aren't the problem. The government is. "Which is why we make very clear we are wholly supportive of the Iranian people, and we're simply asking that the regime change the nature of its behavior and begin to comport with the norms of civilized society."
For more on how you can pray for the Iranian people during this horrible time, check out this FRC column, "Iran's Imprisoned Christians Face a New Danger: COVID-19."