Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

What’s happening in Iran?

June 15, 2009

I want to weigh in briefly on this topic, since I am by no means what a newspaper like the New York Times would call “an expert in the field” (in fact, most of my information on the subject pretty much comes directly from the reporting of the New York Times). But I feel strongly that something is underway of massive significance in Iran – particularly Tehran and other large urban centers – that resists the hasty attempts at marginalization already offered within 24 hours of the election by some right-wing commentators and mainstream U.S. media outlets.

For example, one op-ed piece published by the New York Times (by Elliot Abrams, a “deputy national security advisor in the George W. Bush administration”) contrasted the recent elections in Lebanon with those in Iran, suggested that the former, while not to be idealized, were fair (in effect, “legitimate” elections), while effectively dismissing the latter as meaningless: “a contrivance for settling certain policy disputes and personal rivalries within the ruling elite.” He rightly points out that Iran’s highest political office – that of the supreme leader, currently held by Ayatollah Khamanei, is not subject to elections. Yet Abrams’ viewpoint unjustifiably disregards the reality of the democratic process, the significance of that practice for Iranian individuals, and the power of the sentiment now being expressed by millions of Iranians, who feel cheated; in effect, the only sphere of public discourse in which personal choice is absolutely foundational has been exposed as a sham. Abrams is correct in his assessment of this fact, but wrong (or rather misguided) in his conclusions.

Democratic discourse, by its very nature, undermines the stasis of political structures and the mechanisms through which ruling bodies express and manifest authority. In short, it is correct to state that Iranians are not being bestowed with the choice to determine who should rule in the office of president, but it might be wrong to write off democracy in Iran quite as readily. Democracy, after all, literally means “rule by the people” – and the people in Iran are letting their voices be heard, despite the elaborate mechanisms of control, repression, and silence being put in place to stop them.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khameini, has now called for an investigation of the election by the Council of Guardians. One could interpret this as a tactical move calculated to gain time, to restore order. But the fact that the most powerful man in Iran is on the defensive should offer food for thought. Many Iranians are raising their voices in protest, despite the violence, repression, and reprisals with which they are being targeted, and many of those voices are being heard around the world.

Despite the very different society in which I live, I identify with the anger, the outrage, and the aspirations that I sense are being expressed now in Iran. What many of these voices are calling for is justice and freedom: freedom from the repression and retaliation with which they are faced when they voice dissent, and justice: that elections be real elections, that democracy be real democracy. These sentiments are not far removed from the sentiments that I think almost any human being might face after the horrible reality of a system that holds the freedom and humanity of individuals in contempt is unmasked. Indeed, shouldn’t those of us who have lived for the past ten years in the United States have a familiar feeling about all this? I’d challenge Elliot Abrams – and anyone else who think their point of view is well-informed and insightful enough that it is deserving of publication – not to be quite so hasty. In my view, one should hesitate a bit longer before dismissing the case of Iran and its questionable democracy…at least long enough to consider closely the evidence for election fraud in the 2000 and 2004 elections in the U.S..

In any case, this blog wasn’t intended as political analysis, but just a personal comment on something that is unfolding. Those of you who identify with the left in some sense will probably be far more likely to agree with me that what is unfolding now in Tehran and other Iranian cities – while it is very unlikely to lead to the dethroning of Ahmadinejad next week or next month – is nothing less than history in the making; it is almost certainly the beginning of a new-found respect emerging for the individual and for dissent within Iranian discourse, and it is extremely likely to permanently shift the fault lines of Iranian politics. The social media technologies being employed in the struggle are pointing out the degree to which communication between individuals inevitably evade the grasp of autocratic modes of control, and the increasingly decentralized form such (political) communication is taking, via the Internet, is proof positive of the changing ground of politics in the contemporary era.

And of course, all of this is definitely making the ruling elite in Iran very ill at ease.

And it is one more chapter in the history of individuals standing up to the impersonal mechanisms of power and raising their voices in dissent, even in the face of violence and death.

How ironic that the same Americans who spoke so loudly about spreading democracy around the world can now be silent? Is it possible they don’t recognize democracy when they see it?

Advertisements