Iran and Leftist Confusion
When I returned from covering the Iranian elections recently, I was surprised to find my email box filled with progressive authors, academics and bloggers bending themselves into knots about the current crisis in
That comes as quite a shock to those risking their lives daily on the streets of major Iranian cities fighting for political, social and economic justice.
Some of these authors have even cited my book, The Iran Agenda, as a source to prove
The large majority of American people, particularly leftists and progressives, are sympathetic to the demonstrators in
They mostly argue by analogy. They correctly cite numerous examples of CIA efforts to overthrow governments, sometimes by manipulating mass demonstrations. But past practice is no proof that it's happening in this particular case. Frankly, the multi-class character of the most recent demonstrations, which arose quickly and spontaneously, were beyond the control of the reformist leaders in
Let's assume for the moment that the
Let's take a look. But first a quick note.
As far as I can tell none of these leftist critics have actually visited
The left-wing Doubting Thomas arguments fall into three broad categories.
1. Assertion: President Mahmood Ahmadinejad won the election, or at a minimum, the opposition hasn't proved otherwise.
Michael Veiluva, Counsel at the Western States Legal Foundation (representing his own views) wrote on the Monthly Review website:
Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at
"[N]ot a single shred of evidence in either written or observational form has been presented either before or a week after the vote count. During the entire electoral campaign, no credible (or even dubious) charge of voter tampering was raised." http://petras.lahaine.org/articulo.php?p=1781&more=1&c=1
Actually, Iranians themselves were very worried about election fraud prior to the vote count. When I covered the 2005 elections, Ahmadinejad barely edged out Mehdi Karoubi in the first round of elections. Karoubi raised substantive arguments that he was robbed of his place in the runoff due to vote fraud. But under
On the day of the 2009 election, election officials illegally barred many opposition observers from the polls. The opposition had planned to use text messaging to communicate local vote tallies to a central location. The government shut down SMS messaging! So the vote count was entirely dependent on a government tally by officials sympathetic to the incumbent.
I heard many anecdotal accounts of voting boxes arriving pre-stuffed and of more ballots being printed than are accounted for in the official registration numbers. It seems unlikely that the Iranian government will allow meaningful appeals or investigations into the various allegations about vote rigging.
A study by two professors at Chatham House and the
Keep in mind that Ahmadinejad's victory takes place in the context of a highly rigged system. The Guardian Council determines which candidates may run based on their Islamic qualifications. As a result, no woman has ever been allowed to campaign for president and sitting members of parliament were disqualified because they had somehow become un-Islamic.
The constitution of
2. Assertion: The U.S. has a long history of meddling in Iran, so it must be behind the current unrest.
Jeremy R. Hammond writes in the progressive website Foreign Policy Journal: "[G]iven the record of U.S. interference in the state affairs of Iran and clear policy of regime change, it certainly seems possible, even likely, that the U.S. had a significant role to play in helping to bring about the recent turmoil in an effort to undermine the government of the Islamic Republic.
Eric Margolis, a columnist for Quebecor Media Company in
"While the majority of protests we see in
Both authors cite numerous cases of the
All the arguments are by analogy and implication. Neither the above two authors, nor anyone else of whom I am aware, offers one shred of evidence that the Obama Administration has engineered, or even significantly influenced, the current demonstrations.
Let's look at what actually happened on the ground. Tens of millions of Iranians went to bed on Friday, June 12, convinced that either Mousavi had won the election outright or that there would be runoff between him and Ahmadinejad. They woke up Saturday morning and were stunned. "It was a coup d'etat," several friends told me. The anger cut across class lines and went well beyond Mousavi's core base of students, intellectuals and the well-to-do.
Within two days hundreds of thousands of people were demonstrating peacefully in the streets of
As for the charge that the CIA is providing advanced technology like Twitter, pleaaaaaase. In my commentary carried on Reuters, I point out that the vast majority of Iranians have no access to Twitter and that the demonstrations were mostly organized by cell phone and word of mouth.
Many Iranians do watch foreign TV channels via satellite. A sat dish costs only about $100 with no monthly fees, so they are affordable even to the working class. Iranians watched BBC, VOA and other foreign channels in Farsi, leading to government assertions of foreign instigation of the demonstrations. By that logic, Ayatollah Khomeini received support from
Frankly, based on my observations, no one was leading the demonstrations. During the course of the week after the elections, the mass movement evolved from one protesting vote fraud into one calling for much broader freedoms. You could see it in the changing composition of the marches. There were not only upper middle class kids in tight jeans and designer sun glasses. There were growing numbers of workers and women in very conservative chadors.
Iranian youth particularly resented President Ahmadinejad's support for religious militia attacks on unmarried young men and women walking together and against women not covering enough hair with their hijab. Workers resented the 24 percent annual inflation that robbed them of real wage increases. Independent trade unionists were fighting for decent wages and for the right to organize.
Some demonstrators wanted a more moderate Islamic government. Others advocated a separation of mosque and state, and a return to parliamentary democracy they had before the 1953 coup. But virtually everyone believes that
So if they CIA was manipulating the demonstrators, it was doing a piss poor job.
Of course, the CIA would like to have influence in
3. Assertion: Ahmadinejad is a nationalist-populist who opposes
James Petras wrote: "Ahmadinejad's strong position on defense matters contrasted with the pro-Western and weak defense posture of many of the campaign propagandists of the opposition...."
"Ahmadinejad's electoral success, seen in historical comparative perspective should not be a surprise. In similar electoral contests between nationalist-populists against pro-Western liberals, the populists have won. Past examples include Peron in
"The Bolivarian Government of Venezuela expresses its firm opposition to the vicious and unfounded campaign to discredit the institutions of the Islamic Republic of Iran, unleashed from outside, designed to roil the political climate of our brother country. From
From 1953-1979, the Shah of Iran brutally repressed his own people and aligned himself with the
I have written numerous articles and books criticizing
During his past four years in office, Ahmadinejad has ramped up
But in the real world, Ahmadinejad has done nothing to support the Palestinians other than sending some funds to Hamas. Despite rhetoric from the
So comparing Ahmadinejad with Chavez or Evo Morales is absurd. I have reported from both
As for the position of
But that's no excuse. Chavez has got it exactly backward. The popular movement in the streets will make
This is no academic debate or simply fodder for bored bloggers. Real lives are at stake. A repressive government has killed at least 17 Iranians and injured hundreds. The mass movement may not be strong enough to topple the system today but is sowing the seeds for future struggles.
The leftist critics must answer the question: Whose side are you on?
Freelance foreign correspondent Reese Erlich covered the recent elections in