Obviously I’ve had my share of run-ins with the peace movement, which tends to minimalize the evils of any particular enemy with the rationalization that the war propaganda is so pervasive and so misleading that any criticism of “the enemy” is seen as contributing to the war climate. The idea has been taken to extremes where activists begin to accept traditions they’d slam as reactionary in our culture – even to the point of organizations called “Women in Black” which romanticizes the very burkas the women of Kandahar threw into the streets and burned once the mandatory laws were lifted. I’m hearing so much from activists calling Islam a “beautiful religion” while not granting Christianity the same status. The farther something is, the easier to romanticize.
At minimum, progressives lose credibility. Where they’re successful, they become instruments of oppression they’d never stand for in their own countries.
But I do understand the desire to avoid marching in cadence with the war drum beat, and the question becomes how to strike a balance between opposition to a war and support for transformation in the country in question. This blogger, Ali Eteraz, is making a serious attempt to reach such a balance with regard to Iran. He starts with seven points, and then in “part 2″ suggests a program of which I’m not entirely in agreement. But the basic idea is sound.
One problem with the peace movement is that it tends to be so fixated on its own message, it fails to confront and deal with opposing views, sometimes unfortunately because activists have their own dogma and would just as soon avoid having to integrate any significant nuance into their perspective. Unfortunately, this often means their political opponents have free reign. Eteraz grabs the bull by the horns.
The Right has a narrative on Iran: bombs away. The Left has a critique of that position as enunciated by Unclaimed Territory. What the Left doesn’t have is its own narrative on Iran. This is where I can be of help.
Point 1: The Right’s information on Iran comes from very dubious sources. One of the foremost Right authorities on Iran is Amir Taheri, who, as a reader informed me, was once referred to as the Emissary of the Apparatus. This post also discuses how Taheri lied about a story about Iranian Jews being forced to wear yellow stars and even though Juan Cole called him on it he refused to recant.
Not only that, but Taheri has a history of misrepresentation. In his article written after Nejad’s letter to the White House, Taheri stated that the Iranians leaked their letter after the White House’s dismissive attitude, when, in fact, Wiki had a copy of the letter hours after Nejad wrote it. This was the first time I started becoming reticent about Taheri’s work.
I’m going to jump around as the article in its entirety is linked above. But the next salient point in my mind is that for its shallowness, the depth of the peace movement’s analysis of Iran tends to be better than the opposition.
The Left’s coverage of Iran has been immeasurably better and broader. In this post I looked at two case studies of discussions about Iran and found that both times the Right picked up a story about Iranian reformists and then dropped it, neither time questioning its bombs away strategy. Not only that, but it actually picked up the stories from the Left. As such, the Right overlooked the fact that there is a Velvet Revolution afoot in Iran (yes, we have been hearing that since 1996 but ten years is a very short time if you consider how long it took the Central Europeans to get out of Soviet control).
Then we get to the key point. The peace movement ought to be alligned with the dissent in Iran, just as it should have been with the dissent in Iraq under Hussein.
Iran, domestically, and internationally, is rife with activists and dissidents who are well aware of the evils of the Theocrats and doing something about it. My point is showing this group is that people are doing something about Iran’s evils without dropping bombs. In this post (scroll down) we heard about Amir Fakhravar who has written an important collection of writings called “The Prison Papers.” In this post we saw an Iranian dissident publicizing a letter by a man whose mother was stoned to death. In this post we heard about Rahim Jahanbegloo, the Iranian Gandhi. In this post we saw an Iranian-American anti-stoning activist take the Iranian regime to task.
Point 5: The most important point. Iranian dissidents do not need or want bombs backing their activism. In Der Speigel, Iranian nobel prize winner Shirin Ebadi stated this very clearly…
On the other hand, it’s not enough to argue that Iran should be allowed to determine its own history. The left has to be actively engaged with reform efforts, and not come across as isolationist or even as “appeasors.
The Left has to understand and promote the fact that there are ways for dealing with problems in Iran — and that the Left does have to do something about these problems because when the Left remains silent the Right starts screaming for bombs. Email and letter writing campaigns like this one — the kind of stuff that the Left excels in — help get activists involved at the global level. In fact, when I launched that initiative, close to 90 different left blogs linked to it (and one Right one). It isn’t just stoning where such pressure can be exacted. Working with Muslim and Persian ethnicity groups is another way for the Left to seek positive change in Iran. Working with Muslims will not immediately make you any less secular humanist; you can still make plenty of critiques of the perversions of religiosity in Iran. There are many opportunities for pro-active initiatives in Iran. For example, after an important cleric imposed a death fatwa on a journalist, we at Eteraz.org were able to write a pointed letter directed at the cleric. Why wasn’t this picked up by the big boys on the Left? My guess is because the Left does not have a narrative on Iran.
But it should.
No magic formulas. Just some thoughts. There would certainly be no harm in encouraging activists to become familiar with the Iranian reform movement and its players.