What Is the Best Way for Americans to Help Iranians Now?

As we watch the situation in Iran unfold here in the United States, many of us feel a desire to do something to help - the human struggle for freedom is one of the most powerful things we can witness. In the past few days, much has been made of the Iranian opposition's use of Twitter to organize internally and communicate with the outside world. But what is equally remarkable is the response internationally, and particularly in the United States. Many users have made their icons green in a show of solidarity. And as Iranian authorities attempt to block Twitter as well, a cyber-battle has broken out, with activists inside Iran asking people to use simple hacks to overload Iranian government websites. Many Americans are trying to get involved this way, and are also setting up mirror proxies that allow people inside Iran to tweet without being blocked by the government's firewall.

As I said, the desire to help the people of Iran is a natural reaction for anyone observing the situation there. But I'm not really sure that this is the best way to go about it. Today, President Ahmadinejad

... sat side-by-side with world leaders at a summit in Russia, defiantly proclaiming the age of empires had ended and attacking the United States.

In a show of confidence after the worst riots in his country in a decade, Ahmadinejad made no mention of the violence or his hotly disputed reelection victory in his address to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

State-controlled Iranian newspapers are running headlines like "The vote of the Iranian people made U.S. and Israel's work much harder." It's great that Iranians have found a way to help ordinary people fight back online in a distributed fashion, both inside Iran and without, but I also worry that the more we get involved in this, the more Ahmadinejad and his ilk will capitalize on our "interference." 

Citizens here who want to help face the same difficult question that President Obama does - how can we support democracy and justice in Iran without fanning the flames of anti-Americanism? I think he played it just right in his comments today:

"When I see violence directed at peaceful protesters, when I see peaceful dissent being suppressed, wherever that takes place, it is of concern to me and it is of concern to the American people. That is not how governments should interact with their people."

Mr. Obama also said that "something has happened in Iran," leading to "a questioning of the kinds of antagonistic postures towards the international community that have taken place in the past. That there are people who want to see greater openness and greater debate and want to see greater democracy. How that plays out over the next several days and several weeks is something for the Iranian people to decide."

By all means, the rest of the world can and should show solidarity with the people of Iran. But if we are serious about the ideals of democracy and self-determination, we must also remember that in the end, this is Iran's fight, and we cannot fight it for them.