Misreading Tehran
June 8, 2010 5:00 PM   Subscribe

Misreading Tehran: Leading Iranian-American writers revisit a year of dreams and discouragement. "With a full 12 months now between us and the election, the time is ripe to start revisiting the hype and hope in a year of writing: which stories were overblown, what stories were missed entirely, and what can be gleaned about Iran's annus horribilis from a more thorough understanding. FP asked seven prominent Iranian-Americans, deeply immersed in both the English- and Persian-language media, to look through the fog of journalism at what actually happened in Tehran -- and why so many of us got it so wrong." [Via]
posted by homunculus (29 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Green Movement at One Year
posted by homunculus at 5:02 PM on June 8, 2010


It's hard to get mad at Iran over a stolen election when we basically gave them a blueprint in 2000.
posted by mullingitover at 5:16 PM on June 8, 2010


Great post; it's nice to see some knowledgeable rethinking and some little-known information. Here's one nugget from the Milani piece:
The Iranian government has reportedly deployed 10,000 members of the Basij, its thuggish militia, in service of this [cyber-]"jihad." Western companies like Nokia Siemens have been selling Iran the technologies and the know-how needed to censor and control the Internet.
posted by languagehat at 5:17 PM on June 8, 2010


Successful revolutions are actually historically pretty rare. During the height of the "Green Revolution" I had some hopes, but those where tempered by the thoughts of all those overthrows that just never happen. We all love the story of people overthrowing the oppressive government, but the overwhelming weight of the State trumps it time and time again.
posted by edgeways at 5:17 PM on June 8, 2010


I guess. Except things didn't go down in Iran anything like they did in the US. There were giant protests on the street, which I'm pretty sure continue to this day. There was also a pretty serious and violent crack down by the government.

Mind you, I agree the 2000 election was a giant sham.
posted by chunking express at 5:18 PM on June 8, 2010


Great post, homunculus. Very informative.
posted by VikingSword at 5:28 PM on June 8, 2010


I don't see how the US having had an election stolen in 2000 makes it harder to get mad about a stolen election in Iran in 2009. I mean, a stolen election is a stolen election, and it sucks.
posted by Aizkolari at 5:32 PM on June 8, 2010


Oh yeah, I totally remember all those Gore supporters who were shot and Al being arrested and the Republicans keeping an iron lock on the presidency forever. Clearly we're just as bad as Iran.
posted by kmz at 5:35 PM on June 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


"I mean, a stolen election is a stolen election, and it sucks."

Oh and I agree, just pointing out that we don't have any kind of moral authority there anymore. Although I guess the US has enough of a history of overthrowing democratically elected governments that it's debatable whether we ever had the moral authority in the first place.
posted by mullingitover at 5:38 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't see how the US having had an election stolen in 2000 makes it harder to get mad about a stolen election in Iran in 2009. I mean, a stolen election is a stolen election, and it sucks.

Of course. Two wrongs don't make a right. What is at issue however, is the sense of moral superiority and arrogance that's often displayed when our officials lecture the Iranians on the flaws in their "democracy". Ideally, you'd like not to be guilty of the same, when finger wagging, otherwise it doesn't have the same moral weight and becomes merely the kettle and the pot. Is the Iranian "democracy" deeply flawed? Well, of course. But so is ours. One of the things that pisses off Iranians (and many other developing nations) is this very propensity we have for hypocritical lectures, and our arrogance in presuming to scold other nations while not only being ignorant of their culture and history, but being guilty of the same crimes ourselves. Every time Bush would start lecturing other nations, I'd grow furious at the hypocrisy - and I live here. I can only imagine how angry it makes those who are targeted by such idiotic attacks. A dose of humility goes a long way. And informing oneself first, before mouthing off.
posted by VikingSword at 5:41 PM on June 8, 2010


Primo post. Thank you so much.

Also, I question the proposition that we shouldn't "get mad" at Iran over a stolen election based on our own 2000 experience. Assuming the 2000 election was stolen, it wasn't then followed in Florida or the US as a whole by the sequelae of repression, murder, torture and rape, all discussed in the links associated with this post.

As Aizkolari points out, you also have to wonder about the proposition that wrongful behavior by one country or government makes even worse conduct by another country or government OK.
posted by bearwife at 5:42 PM on June 8, 2010


kmz: "Oh yeah, I totally remember all those Gore supporters who were shot and Al being arrested and the Republicans keeping an iron lock on the presidency forever. Clearly we're just as bad as Iran."

I lol'd. As if the mortgage-paying people of the US are principled enough to put everything on the line over something as silly as who's in charge of one of the branches of government. We could never have a violent revolution in this country, not only because the second amendment doesn't give the population true arms parity with the military, but also because the government wouldn't hesitate to turn the military on the populace to ruthlessly crush a revolt. The 2000 election wasn't followed by violent repression because it wasn't necessary. It was a race to fall in line with the newly appointed leadership from Gore on down, notwithstanding the occasional harmless keyboard commandos on some forums.
posted by mullingitover at 5:46 PM on June 8, 2010


Also from Abbas Milani, The Mousavi Mission and Standing Eight, Is the Green Revolution Still Tenable?
posted by netbros at 5:52 PM on June 8, 2010


The other part of this is the outrage of our officials lecturing the Iranians, while at the very same time being deeply engaged in overthrowing the Iranian government. Which we've done consistently since the 50's. For years and years now, it's been our official position, and we've officially allocated funds to the overthrow of the Iranian government. We train and finance groups which then explode murderous bombs in Iran. We actually operate special forces on Iranian soil. We are engaged full time in a propaganda war with Iran. And we are lecturing them on how to conduct their political affairs? Fuck. That. Shit.

In this case (as frankly in most cases), I advocate radical non-intervention. Let nations govern themselves as they see fit. Even if they have oil. And even if Israel (or some other country like France: Vietnam) would like us to go to war in their place.
posted by VikingSword at 5:54 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Life And Death Of Neda, Translated To Film

I posted some links about this documentary a few days ago, in case anyone missed it.
posted by homunculus at 5:54 PM on June 8, 2010


Music Stirs the Embers of Protest in Iran
posted by homunculus at 5:56 PM on June 8, 2010


We're great fans of "democracy", unless we don't like the results of an actual democratic election (see: Hamas). At that point, all talk of democracy vanishes. It's exactly the same with the hypocrisy vs Iran and democracy.
posted by VikingSword at 5:57 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


What is at issue however, is the sense of moral superiority and arrogance that's often displayed when our officials lecture the Iranians on the flaws in their "democracy".

This is true. But you're talking a lot about elected officials in this thread. What about the responsibility of private citizens to respond to human rights abuses? Should we just say "oh, well our government fucks up too. Since we're not perfect, we shouldn't do anything about it?" That seems like an enormous cop-out.
posted by lunasol at 6:05 PM on June 8, 2010


What about the responsibility of private citizens to respond to human rights abuses? Should we just say "oh, well our government fucks up too. Since we're not perfect, we shouldn't do anything about it?" That seems like an enormous cop-out.

What should we do about it? These officials are working for us. We've elected them, or we've elected people who hired them. So we can start right there. Quit electing people who like invading other countries, or interfering with their affairs, or overthrowing democratically elected governments around the world, or starting wars overt or covert. That by itself, would do wonders - then we wouldn't be in the position of utter hypocrisy I've outlined. Then our voice would actually gain some moral authority. It won't happen overnight, but you gotta start somewhere. The other thing we must do is inform ourselves - don't accept what Israel or Jordan or whoever says, about f.ex. Hamas. If Hamas was democratically elected, we owe it to ourselves and to them, to accept it as the will of their people, and interact with them only based upon some familiarity with their culture and the issues. This goes for both our officials (Bush didn't even know there were Shias and Sunnis), and our public... if as you suggest "private citizens" are to involve themselves, they ought to educate themselves first. Once we understand the issues, we are finally in a position to decide what if anything we should do to assist another nation.
posted by VikingSword at 6:16 PM on June 8, 2010


VikingSword: OK, again, I agree that our first responsibility to hold our own leaders accountable. I trust you do that on a regular basis by calling and writing your elected officials and by contributing volunteer time to organizations that organize people to do so. And I trust that you work to elect people who will interact with the rest of the world in an intelligent, respectful way.

But what about the people who are currently being held in prisons in Iran? What about the families of students who were murdered in the streets? They deserve the attention and outrage and solidarity of the world. They deserve to be supported in whatever way will be helpful.

What will be helpful? To be honest, I'm not sure. The divestment campaigns of the 80s played a big role in the ending of South African apartheid. What if Americans had just said "well, we're not perfect either?" The divestment campaign would not have been nearly as successful. Iran is not South Africa, but I'm pretty certain I will never buy a Nokia phone if they're providing supplies to the basij.

Also, I think you're setting up a false dichotomy in your argument. You say people should get educated and hold their own leaders accountable instead of taking action to show solidarity with people in other nations. But I'd be willing to bet that most people who are trying to support the democracy movement in Iran are also educated and active in politics here at home. I really don't think it's a matter of either/or. I think it's both.
posted by lunasol at 6:32 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


We could never have a violent revolution in this country, not only because the second amendment doesn't give the population true arms parity with the military, but also because the government wouldn't hesitate to turn the military on the populace to ruthlessly crush a revolt. The 2000 election wasn't followed by violent repression because it wasn't necessary. It was a race to fall in line with the newly appointed leadership from Gore on down, notwithstanding the occasional harmless keyboard commandos on some forums.

First, the Green Revolution wasn't a violent revolution, so I'm not even sure where you're going with that. The crackdown of the movement was violent, but that's a vastly different thing.

And yes, the 2000 election was a shitty shitty thing, but I consider it a feature, not a bug, that violent revolution is not deployed as the answer to an incredibly close election result.

In international politics, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" is absolutely bullshit. No country is an angel. If we all had to clean our own houses first, nothing would ever get done.
posted by kmz at 6:42 PM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


lunasol, you deserve a comprehensive and truthful answer, but I'm not sure I'm in a position to provide it: it would derail this thread. So, I'm going to give a thumbnail answer, necessarily much lacking in detail.

I have come to the conclusion, carefully considered over a long period of time, that the circumstances under which an intervention is warranted are few and far between. Basically, I think a country should consider intervention - even military intervention - if one nation invades another. So, Iraq I - at least open to discussion. Iraq II - absolutely not. Balkans are more tricky, but still, a good case for intervention. But purely internal wars - extremely difficult to decide - exceptions being genocide like in the case of Rwanda or mass murder like in the case of Pol Pot. And of course if we are attacked directly.

But Iran? Or Iraq II? Merely being a very bad dictatorship - even as extreme as North Korea? I have concluded that we should not interfere. I believe that the nations themselves must find their own freedom and their own way to freedom. Like the Russians did with the Soviet Union falling apart. A nation must evolve socially and politically. Intervention is counterproductive, and short-circuits the internal political and social development of the nation. If we pick a side, as we would like to in the case of Iran (and obviously I sympathize with those who seek freedom there), and take any measures to influence developments there, we poison the well, with ultimately bad consequences down the road. It's a long argument, and it's taken me a long time to reach this conclusion, but there you have it.
posted by VikingSword at 6:46 PM on June 8, 2010


Vikingsword, it's clear you have thought a lot about this. It probably is something of a derail, so I'll keep this short, but: I do think there is a really big difference between military/diplomatic intervention and grassroots solidarity movements. I think it's on the latter that we disagree.
posted by lunasol at 6:58 PM on June 8, 2010


Shirin Ebadi: The brutal crackdowns only make Iran's women stronger
posted by homunculus at 11:40 PM on June 8, 2010


the thing that bothered me most was how the whole episode became a reason to advertise Twitter on CNN.

New Toaster Oven bring Peace to North Korea!
posted by lslelel at 7:35 AM on June 9, 2010


Amnesty International: Iran's crackdown on dissent widens with hundreds unjustly imprisoned
posted by homunculus at 8:21 AM on June 9, 2010


U.N. Security Council approves Iran sanctions on 12 to 2 vote
posted by homunculus at 10:03 AM on June 9, 2010


Iran election anniversary protests face severe crackdown
posted by homunculus at 4:42 PM on June 9, 2010


Iran’s Green Movement: One Year Later. How Israel’s Gaza Blockade and Washington’s Sanctions Policy Helped Keep the Hardliners in Power
posted by homunculus at 1:03 PM on June 10, 2010


« Older Compassion Fatigue. In addition to not being equip...  |  A perfectly cromulent new word... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments