dream dream dream

Wednesday, 24 June 2009 18:54
extemporally: (iranian election)
Why are Iranians dreaming again?

[The following is a guest post from Ali Alizadeh, Researcher at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Middlesex University who has asked bloggers to post this to their blogs.]

This piece is copyright-free. Please distribute widely.

Iran is currently in the grip of a new and strong political movement. While this movement proves that Ahmadinejad’s populist techniques of deception no longer work inside Iran, it seems they are still effective outside the country. This is mainly due to thirty years of isolation and mutual mistrust between Iran and the West which has turned my country into a mysterious phenomenon for outsiders. In this piece I will try to confront some of the mystifications and misunderstandings produced by the international media in the last week.

In the first scenario the international media, claiming impartiality, insisted that the reformists provide hard objective evidence in support of their claim that the June 12 election has been rigged. But despite their empiricist attitude, the media missed obvious facts due to their lack of familiarity with the socio-historical context. Although the reformists could not possibly offer any figures or documents, because the whole show was single-handedly run by Ahmadinejad’s ministry of interior, anyone familiar with Iran’s recent history could easily see what was wrong with this picture.

It was the government who reversed the conventional and logical procedure by announcing a fictitious total figure first – in four stages – and then fabricating figures for each polling station, something that is still going on. This led to many absurdities: Musavi got less votes in his hometown (Tabriz) than Ahmadinejad; Karroubi’s total vote was less than the number of people active in his campaign; Rezaee’s votes were reduced by a hundred thousand between the third and fourth stages of announcement; blank votes were totally forgotten and only hastily added to the count when reformists pointed this out; and finally the ratio between all candidates’ votes remained almost constant in all these four stages of announcement (63, 33, 2 and 1 percent respectively).

Moreover, as in any other country, the increase in turnout in Iran’s elections has always benefitted the opposition and not the incumbent, because it is rational to assume that those who usually don’t vote, i.e. the silent majority, only come out when they want to change the status quo. Yet in this election Ahmadinejad, the representative of the status quo, allegedly received 10 million votes more than what he got in the previous election.

Finally, Ahmadinejad’s nervous reaction after his so-called victory is the best proof for rigging: closing down SMS network and the whole of country’s mobile phone network, arresting more than 100 leading political activists, blocking access to Musavi’s and many other reformists’ websites and unleashing violence in the streets…But if all this is not enough, the bodies of more than 17 people who were shot dead and immediately buried in unknown graves should persuade all those “objective-minded” observers.

In the second scenario, gradually unfolding in the last few days, the international media implicitly shifted its attention to the role of internet and its social networking (twitter, facebook, youtube, etc). This implied that millions of illiterate conservative villagers have voted for Ahmadinejad and the political movement is mostly limited to educated middle classes in North Tehran. While this simplified image is more compatible with media’s comfortable position towards Iran in the last 30 years, it is far from reality. The recent political history of Iran does not confirm this image. For example, Khatami’s victory in 1997, despite his absolute lack of any economic promises and his focus instead on liberal civic demands, was made possible by the polarization of society into people and state. Khatami could win only by embracing people from all different classes and groups, villagers and urban people alike.

There is no doubt that new media and technologies have been playing an important role in the movement, but it seems that the cause and the effect are being reversed in the picture painted by the media. First of all, it is the existence of a strong political determination, combined with people becoming deprived of basic means of communication, which has led the movement to creatively test every other channel and method. Musavi’s paper was shut down on the night of election, his frequent request to talk to people on the state TV has been rejected, his official website is often blocked and his physical contact with his supporters has been kept minimum by keeping him in house arrest (with the exception of his appearance on the over a million march on June 15).

Second, due to the heavy pressure on foreign journalists inside Iran, these technological tools have come to play a significant role in sending the messages and images of the movement to the outside world. However, the creative self-organization of the movement is using a manifold of methods and channels, many of them simple and traditional, depending on their availability: shouting ‘death to dictator’ from rooftops, calling landlines, at the end of one rally chanting the time and place of the next one, and by jeopardizing oneself by physically standing on streets and distributing news to every passing car. The appearance of the movement which is being sold by the media to the western gaze – the cyber-fantasy of the western societies which has already labelled our movement a twitter revolution, seems to have completely missed the reality of those bodies which are shot dead, injured or ready to be endangered by non-virtual bullets.

What is more surprising in the midst of this media frenzy is the blindness of the western left to the political dynamism and energy of our movement. The causes of this blindness oscillate between the misgivings about Islam (or the Islamophobia of hyper-secular left) and the confusion made by Ahmadinjead’s fake anti-imperialist rhetoric (his alliance with Chavez perhaps, who after all was the first to congratulate him). It needs to be emphasized that Ahmadinejad’s economic policies are to the right of the IMF: cutting subsidies in a radical way, more privatization than any other post-79 government (by selling the country to the Revolutionary Guards) and an inflation and unemployment rate which have brought the low-income sections of the society to their knees. It is in this regard that Musavi’s politics needs to be understood in contradistinction from both Ahmadinejad and also the other reformist candidate, i.e. Karroubi.

While Karroubi went for the liberal option of differentiating people into identity groups with different demands (women, students, intellectuals, ethnicities, religious minorities, etc), Musavi emphasized the universal demands of ‘people’ who wanted to be heard and counted as political subjects. This subjectivity, emphasized by Musavi during his campaign and fully incarnated in the rallies of the past few days, is constituted by political intuition, creativity and recollection of the ‘79 revolution (no wonder that people so quickly reached an unexpected maturity, best manifested in the abstention from violence in their silent demonstrations). Musavi’s ‘people’ is also easily, but strongly, distinguished from Ahmadinejad’s anonymous masses dependent on state charity. Musavi’s people, as the collective appearing in the rallies, is made of religious women covered in chador walking hand in hand with westernized young women who are usually prosecuted for their appearance; veterans of war in wheelchairs next to young boys for whom the Iran-Iraq war is only an anecdote; and working class who have sacrificed their daily salary to participate in the rally next to the middle classes. This story is not limited to Tehran. Shiraz (two confirmed dead), Isfahan (one confirmed dead), Tabriz, Oroomiye are also part of this movement and other cities are joining with a predictable delay (as it was the case in 79 revolution).

History will prove who the real participants of this movement are but once again we are faced with a new, non-classical and unfamiliar radical politics. Will the Western left get it right this time?

* The title is a reference to Michel Foucault’s 1978 writing on Iran’s revolution: “What are the Iranians dreaming about?”

From http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2009/06/22/why-are-iranians-dreaming-again/

(no subject)

Thursday, 18 June 2009 18:48
extemporally: (politics)
Shit, you guys. Shit.

I don't understand how things like this can happen, although of course I can understand - just.

My two cents' worth.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009 20:50
extemporally: (iranian election)
I'd like to talk a little about Iran, if I may.

If you didn't/don't know, Iran recently held an election. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, incumbent president, was strongly suspected to have been voted out by a populace in favour of Hossein Mousavi, an independent reformist in favour of a better relationship with the West, freedom of information and reviewing discriminatory laws against women. However, the official election results were released in favour of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - a result that is has probably been highly distorted.

(I'm linking these posts: here is what happened and here is what you can do. Even if you don't read the rest of this post, please spend a couple of seconds on these links.)

As a result, wide-scale protests have been taking place - are taking place - amongst the populace. These protests have grown increasingly violent, two (officially; who knows what the actual numbers are) people have been killed by gunshots fired by the police. The protests have been described as the "greatest unrest in Iran since the 1979 Revolution".

Please note that Iran has not always been ruled by an religiously conservative/fundamentalist government. Although the events taking place have made me alternatively sad and angry and helpless, I feel that it is a mistake to conflate fundamentalist with oppressive. From 1941 to 1979, Iran was ruled by a Shah both Western in his sensibilities and heavily, heavily corrupt. Propped up by Western support, his reign was heavily resented by the general population who grew more Islamic in their sensibilities (wearing headscarves were initially a form of protest by the women) until he was eventually deposed by the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Eventually, Ayatollah Khomeini took over and instituted an Islamic fundamentalist government both essentially convoluted and fundamentalist in nature. The Iranian President, for example, is not vested with all of the power in the Iranian government - there's also the Supreme Leader, the Parliament, the Guardian Council and so on. (One of Hossein Mousavi's presidential goals was to transfer the control of law enforcement to the President, for example.) The traditional Iranian (and in general, Middle-Eastern) antipathy towards all things Western is founded in historical basis.

However. I should make it clear at this point that I am not excusing or in any way defending the current government of Iran and their oppressive behaviour. Rather, I am trying to say that at this point in history, a new generation of voters has arrived, one more open to the West in their ideals and eager for political and social change. They have done this peacefully, by voting in a president they feel addresses their needs and the direction that Iran needs to take in order to sustain a peaceful and open relationship with the rest of the world. And the police is gunning them down.

(Alternatively, try to imagine this having happened in the 2008 US election. All that hope for change, the anticipation of a victory - bang, gone. Even that doesn't cover how huge a disappointment this is to the Iranian voters, what a big fucking tragedy this is, because George Bush, awful as he is, was no Ahmadinejad.)

What I am trying to say, essentially, is that the population of Iran is trying to bring about change and they are being treated inhumanely. They have a real chance at pulling this off, and this shift in their outlook is something that they chose to bring about. This election has been no coup d'etat engineered by the West. (Also, guys - Mousavi being voted in did not and never meant that the entire government would have been utterly changed due to its currently convoluted distribution of power. What the election did signify, however, was a step in the right direction, and the voters are being denied that.)

Ending the suffering, violence and unrest they are experiencing now doesn't mean that we should sit down and shut up in hopes that the gunfire will stop. It means that we should support them (futile as it seems), publicise this, and not forget about it.

Although the Internet tends to have a notoriously short memory wrt political causes like this, we also tend to be deeply passionate about these things, things that matter. Internet? Let's try to follow this through - the news has broken that Iran's Guardian Council has promised an election recount (yes!), which is a promising start. It doesn't mean that everything's going to be okay, but it means that with a lot of effort and pressure (mostly on the Iranians' side - again, see helpless), that it just might.

P.S. From this post on [livejournal.com profile] ontd_political:

Statements FROM IRAN: "Its better that the American people make a lot of noise & Obama doesn't. We don't want to give Ahmadenijad any chance to say that the US govt meddled" the people in Iran are risking their lives after 30 years of brutality and the least that the outside world could do is to spread the word about what's happening, to make sure the people are not risking life and limb without it going unnoticed.

We don't want US/Western military intervention because
1) We don't want our country to turn into another Afghanistan or Iraq, any type of real change has to come from the people and the people have to fight for it.
2) Ahmadenijad and the hardliners would benefit from it, because he would claim that the resistance is not coming from outside of the country, but rather from western nations. They would say that the West/Israel/etc. are doing this in order to take over Iran, etc. and would use those claims to crush the resistance.


This might serve to reinforce the feeling of helplessness here (it is imperative that other governments do not intervene), but at the same time? They can do it, you guys. We just have to continue doing the little pushing that we, as citizens of freer states, can; to help them.

Here are a couple of links:
Pretty is Sometimes the Protest - the role of women in this election
Twitter Reschedules Maintenance Around #IranElection Controversy
Set up a proxy for Iranian citizens - so they can get around censorship

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