more thoughts on Iran

Things are getting worse over there. More violent, as the basiji and the riot police and the Revolutionary Guard crack down, dispersing crowds, attacking protestors, hauling people away to jail. Which isn’t good — but in the end, this may be what takes Khamenei down. I honestly don’t expect him to survive (politically speaking) past the end of this. Rafsanjani is almost certainly in Qom, and it sounds like he’s gathering enough support to either replace Khamenei with a new Supreme Leader, or ditch that structure entirely for something else (though still a theocratic something else). It’s possible Khamenei will muster enough armed force to survive the complete loss of legitimacy for his regime; he could potentially pull off naked military dictatorship. For a while. But I’ll be surprised if he does.

If you’re looking for a one-stop shop for Iranian updates, you could do worse than to go with Andrew Sullivan; he might drown you under the sheer flood of updates, but he’s staying on top of things.

I bring him up because he made a point the other day that’s really stuck in my head, regarding the way these events have changed American perception of the Iranian people. Not long ago, they were one pillar of the Axis of Evil: unknown, unknowable, the frightening horde who might destroy our way of life because they are Not Like Us. I think that’s changed, at least for anyone who’s been following this news. They may be anonymous, but they aren’t Other. How can they be, when they use Twitter and Facebook and Youtube, like any American might do? It isn’t just the familiar service names, either; it’s the way they connect us directly to Iranian voices. You can read their thoughts in 140 characters or less — broken, misspelled, sometimes mangled by Google Translate’s newly-instituted Persian capability, but it’s like they’re speaking in your ear. You can cheer the protestors on as they make riot police break and run; you can look through the eyes of the man filming a group of basiji arresting and carting away one of his neighbors, the camera perched on the windowsill, the man himself probably crouching out of sight so the basiji don’t spot him and arrest him, too, and hear his whispered curses. You can listen to a young woman speaking in darkness, while around her Tehran chants “Allahu Akbar” into the night sky.

You see people. You hear people. Foreign, but not alien. Men, and a lot of women; some old, but many young. Maybe they don’t speak English, or don’t speak it well, and maybe their ideas of what kind of freedom they want aren’t the same as yours, but that’s the Iranian people, right there on your computer, half a world away.

Bad journalism turns events into empty words, events without faces or meaning. Good journalism weaves it into a narrative, trying to create the reality in your mind, but even then it’s mediated and polished and tidied up. This is raw, fragmentary, chaotic, and immediate. This is a peephole through which you can glimpse a very large whole.

And when it’s over — whatever the outcome — there will be a lot of Americans who see people where the Axis of Evil used to be.

0 Responses to “more thoughts on Iran”

  1. sizztheseed

    It’s extremely gratifying to see the Internet finally living up to its potential as an opener of societies. Granted, it’s happening in a sophisticated country with an increasingly dissatisfied and thick demographic of young folk. It is not entirely without irony, since this large body of disaffected youth were born during a time when the fundamentalist government was letting birth control and family planning policy wither away if not actively suppressing it.

    My hope is that it gets people in open societies more interested in activism of this kind when they realize that the hidden society they face as “other” is made up of people just like them with the same hearts and minds.

    But what I fear is that, in reaction to how this may well play out, we will see more repressive regimes controlling the media completely, as in Burma where an unlicensed fax machine is still a serious felony, and connecting to the Internet is illegal. While our eyes are on Iran, the Myanmar junta there is closing off every legal channel for dissent after suppressing nearly every human right we take for granted, as they have done for nearly as long as the regime in Iran has stood. Few young folk know that the regional powers (ASEAN) are tacitly complicit in a regime where the government actively uses slavery, child prostitution, rampant ecological destruction, and genocidal elimination of indigenous populations to provide a thin elite with an obscenely opulent lifestyle.

    But taking on Iran is simpler, because Iran has failed to secure a UN veto-capable ally. To take on Burma is to take on China is to run against the very fabric of the economy of the U.S. and all the countries that rely on that economic powerhouse to support our ability to use twitter and facebook. Pardon the tone. I didn’t mean for that to sound so bitter, but I don’t know of a better way of saying it.

    Nevertheless, I hope you are right. I don’t have much faith in Rafsanjani to effect real change, but I hope the aspirations of the young it can be realized without outright civil war. It’s already taken thirty years to recover from the revolution and the war with Iraq. Iran deserves a chance for peace and prosperity for a change.

    • Marie Brennan

      The other thing I wanted to say, but it didn’t fit into the flow of this post, is that I like the way in which we aren’t “taking on” Iran. I’ve seen lots of quotes from neocon hawks who obviously want to make what’s going on over there all about us, sending in U.S. military or economic force to attempt to remake Iran in the image of a Western democracy. We wouldn’t run into a China equivalent there, but we would feed the poisoned image of America that exists among a lot of Islamic countries, especially in the Middle East, and while not quite as bad as pissing off China, it wouldn’t be good. I’m far happier seeing it play out as it has so far, where American involvement consists of technological services that the Iranian people can use to further their own goals. It means that if we do get a more liberal Iran on the far side of all of this, it’s one that might actually show a degree of stability, because it was built from within.

      Of course, you’re right about places like Burma; Twitter is not some magic bullet for fixing everything everywhere. And I suspect most people over here are profoundly ignorant of what’s happening there (I don’t know more than the barest outline). But we can hope that the fall of a few dominoes on one side of the globe might help shift one or two elsewhere.

      At the very least, maybe a few people will stop to think that yes, not only are Iranians people, so are the Burmese and everybody else out there.

  2. matociquala

    Seeing people. If we did more of that, at home and abroad….

    • Marie Brennan


      It’s such a wacky idea, that if Iranians Are People, Too, then maybe so are the Iraqis and the North Koreans and the brown people closer to home.

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