Conflicting Views on Iran

I’ve been doing my best to follow the Iranian elections, results, and aftermath as closely and accurately as possible for almost a week now, but it seems that the more I read, the more confused and conflicted I feel about the whole situation.  There are many bloggers/writers/journalists out there who are doing an incredible job keeping us updated on what’s going on in Iran and they surely deserve a lot more attention than I do.  I don’t really feel like I can offer some “new insight” on this, but if you’re interested in what my thoughts are, please read on and let me know what you think.

Prior to the election results, I read about Ahmadinejad’s opposing reform candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, and my general impression was that he was going to win the election.  One article in particular by Robert Dreyfuss stated that Ahmadinejad supporters were “hard to find” (in Tehran, at least, which ended up going to Mousavi).  It really seemed like Mousavi was going to be the victor until, a day before the election results, I noticed a message that an Iranian friend of mine on Facebook wrote on her status: “If Ahmadinejad wins, Mousavi supporters will say, ‘it was rigged.'”  When the results were announced, that is exactly what happened.

Perhaps it was rigged.  There’s a strong possibility of it, sure.  I mean, if the elections can be rigged in a democracy like the United States, then it could certainly happen anywhere else.  But then I started hearing an alternative side of the story; something we’re not hearing a lot in the media:  What if Ahmadinejad really won?  All over CNN and other mainstream western media outlets, we’re seeing images of young Mousavi supporters protesting in the streets of Tehran, holding up signs that read, “Where is my vote?” and resisting against riot police.  No doubt, these demonstrations are really powerful and inspiring, but what irks me a lot is the way the Western media is presenting the story.

First off, we hardly see anything about Ahmadinejad’s supporters.  Their voices and presence seem conspicuously absent in most western media.  I’ve heard people tell me, “no one voted for Ahmadinejad” or “the majority of Iran hates him,” but in actuality, he has a lot of supporters.  Even if you believe the election was rigged, I think people need to be honest enough to admit that Ahmadinejad has a significantly large number of supporters.  Secondly, the western media seems to present the current struggle as something like “secular reformists” versus “religious fundamentalism.”  This is absolutely false and sheer misrepresentation of facts.  Mousavi may be a reformist, but he is not a secular reformist.  Contrary to what many westerners may think at first glance, Mousavi would not abolish the Islamic Republic, but rather bring forth a new and different interpretation of Islam.  Even if you watch the video clips of Mousavi supporters, you’ll hear them chanting, “Allahu Akbar!” (God is Great).  Furthermore, there are religious clerics and mullahs expressing full support for Mouasvi.  In fact, a couple of days ago, Grand Ayatollah Husayn ‘Ali Montazeri questioned the election results and issued a statement in support of peaceful protests to “claim rights.”  Presenting these protests as “anti-religion” is not only irresponsible, but also very misleading and counter-productive.

Thirdly, the mainstream western media neglects to inform us that many of the same people who said, “Bomb Iran” are now expressing their concern for the country.  It’s worded much better in Glenn Greenwald’s article, “The ‘Bomb Iran’ contingent’s newfound concern for The Iranian People.” Here’s an excerpt:

Much of the same faction now claiming such concern for the welfare of The Iranian People are the same people who have long been advocating a military attack on Iran and the dropping of large numbers of bombs on their country — actions which would result in the slaughter of many of those very same Iranian People.  During the presidential campaign, John McCain infamously sang about Bomb, Bomb, Bomb-ing Iran.  The Wall St. Journal published a war screed from Commentary‘s Norman Podhoretz entitled “The Case for Bombing Iran,” and following that, Podhoretz said in an interview that he “hopes and prays” that the U.S. “bombs the Iranians”… Imagine how many of the people protesting this week would be dead if any of these bombing advocates had their way — just as those who paraded around (and still parade around) under the banner of Liberating the Iraqi People caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of them, at least.

I attended a rally for Iran yesterday and I felt really uncomfortable that some of the White non-Muslim supporters didn’t know what they were talking about (to put it bluntly).  “Why do you support Mousavi?” I asked them.  “I don’t really know much about him,” said one person.  “I just know that he’s more moderate,” said another.  A third person said, “I just hate Ahmadinejad.”   I followed up with the question, “Why do you hate Ahmadinejad?”  The response, “Because he ruined Iran’s image.”  I followed up again, “How so?”  The response was short and brief, “The comments he made about the holocaust, they completely ruined Iran’s image in the world.”  A White man rode by on his bicycle and expressed his support by shouting, “Down with dictators!”  Another White non-Muslim told me that she was showing her support because Iran is “so oppressive.”  An Iranian-American (who didn’t want to be video-taped) told me that even if Ahmadinejad had more supporters, the protesting is good because it’s what Iran needs right now.

Ok, can I call time-out?  I know there are a lot of passionate arguments going back and forth about this and I really don’t want to be censored from some of my favorite blogs in the blogosphere for speaking my mind about this, but hear me out for a minute or two.  Remember during the Bush administration, many democrats, liberals, Iranians and/or Muslims alike would argue that Bush was over-exaggerating immensely about the “existential threat” of Iran?  Do you remember Ahmadinejad’s “wipe Israel off the map” comment, which turned out to be a mistranslation and George W. Bush just pounding on his war drum?  Do you remember Reza Aslan saying “Ahmadinejad is no Hitler” on Anderson Cooper? Many of us said that even though Ahmadinejad is not very popular in Iran, he is essentially a powerless figure (according to Aslan’s recent appearance on MSNBC, he doesn’t even have “the national security clearance to even look at Iran’s nuclear portfolio, let alone make any decisions about it”).

Now, suddenly, Ahmadinejad has transformed into this “tyrant” and “Hitler-esque” figure that many of us were rejecting during the Bush Administration.  Ok, he made an idiotic statement about the Holocaust, but does that mean he’s a tyrant, oppressor, dictator, or Hitler reincarnate?  I do not support Ahmadinejad, on the contrary, I would have liked to see Mousavi as President, but I am simply against misrepresentation of facts.  Put this in perspective:  Ahmadinejad released those British sailors, didn’t he?  He also released Roxana Saberi even though she was a Fox News propagandist, and  he even called for an extension on Delara Darabi’s trial, but sadly, she was secretly executed (an order that was carried out by an unfair court).  It’s one thing to protest Ahmadinejad, but it’s another thing to misrepresent him and completely mistaken the amount of power he actually has in the country, which belongs to the Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  Jasmin Ramsey at Pulse Media has a great piece on the western media’s biased coverage (and misrepresentation of Ahmadinejad) in which she writes:

If one dares to go beyond (though not necessarily against) expressing support for the protestors in favor of taking a more analytical approach to this extremely complex situation, they are almost immediately defamed or written off as someone who supports Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ”the bad,” as Robert Fisk of The Independent has recently referred to him.

Anyway, as Ali A. Rizvi writes in his article, the election results are pretty much irrelevant now.  The protests represent the larger picture and the fact that seven people have been killed so far is very troubling.  Mousavi called for a day of mourning for his followers to observe in memory of those killed in the protests and I think this is strengthening his position even more.  I hope that there’s a positive resolution to all of this and I pray that no one else is killed.  It could very well be that Ahmadinejad won the election and it could also be possible that it was rigged, but regardless, the demonstrations right now show us that both candidates have thousands of supporters.  Like I said before, there is a lot of information to absorb and there are passionate arguments on both sides, which can make it a bit difficult to sift through, but it’s clear that Iran is making history right now and that the people will decide the future of their country.

I’ve noticed that the arguments can get quite heated and sometimes we concern ourselves too much with one-upping the opposing argument that we forget what this is about in the first place.  I am inspired by the energy  and persistence of the Iranian people, I have always had deep affection for Iranian culture, history, music, art, and language, and I pray that whatever the turnout is, it is best for the people.

7 thoughts on “Conflicting Views on Iran

  1. Excellent post, Mast Qalander.
    As someone who pretends to be some sort of expert on the Middle East (as a grad student in History, that is), I’ve found myself being queried on my thoughts on Iran this past week, and my reactions have been very much like yours, though much less articulately expressed.
    I find it beyond strange that the same people who used to sneer when they discussed anything Middle East now suddenly care about the Iranians. I asked a few folks I know to explain their about-face. The responses were telling: almost all of them had equated Ahmadinejad with some little understood definition of “Islamic fundamentalism,” and Mousavi with democratic secularism. Many of those I spoke with don’t have any basic knowledge of the country, and support Mousavi because they are nostalgic for images of youthful protesters taking to the streets…. an image that comes from America’s own recent history and one successfully used by the Obama campaign in 2008.
    I find it ironic that you feel such ambivalence about the subject, but I am certain that many Americans who are “so certain” they can yell about this topic know absolutely nothing about Iran, and until last week didn’t care. They ought to close their mouths and pick up a book. It is, after all, a special kind of racism that allows white Americans to speak for “oppressed peoples” all over the world with authority without regard for their own ignorance. In my opinion (and this is only an opinion) these people feel as though their own daily lives lack authenticity and meaning, and they seek to consume the authenticity of others in some sick neocolonial nostalgia.
    Anyway, excellent post. I hope the readers will stop and consider their motivations, examining both deed and intent. After all, to do the right thing for the wrong reason will not yield a positive outcome.

  2. When asked if this was another “revolution,” some guy on BBC said supposedly Mousavi was himself a candidate appointed by Khomeini, so these are not protests against the government structure itself. I guess you said that already tho…

    It is amazing what people can say about a country like Iran, and then see what they say when you ask them, well, have you ever MET someone from Iran?

    I caught a couple CNN clips while on vaca of people sending in videos of protests and fire and car-flipping, and just repulsed by the visually-driven coverage. And of course viewers will buy into it as an “authentic” source because the videos are from people in Iran, but it’s still meaningless. No one will ask, but what are they really thinking? Just wanted to throw in my typical CNN rants…

  3. Mast Qalander, your thoughts are great. Thanks for sharing them. You have a wonderful and balanced (even if it’s difficult to balance!) view of what’s going on. 🙂

  4. Great post! I agree with you the situation in Iran is not that simple to understand. I’m annoyed but not surprised that Americans are taking such a simplistic approach to what’s happening in Iran (you’d think after eight years of Bush people here would be more into studying and understanding the world better). Mousavi is also a staunch supporter of Iran’s nuclear program so it doesn’t matter really who winds up leading Iran in the end. Some neo-cons here (can you believe such folks are still around and not in hiding somewhere) actually don’t want Mousavi in power because then they have the audacity to claim it would be harder to “bomb” Iran for its nuclear program if Mousavi took the lead!

  5. I had the great privilege to be invited to speak at an international conference in Teheran, and only wish I had spent more time in a wonderful country, with such a rich heritage, and so many wonderful people in a warm culture.

    For me the key issues in the recent events are that 1) the presidential position is not a powerful one, but still a figurehead and the face of the nation to the outside world; 2) the elections had no UN observers; 3) the response to the request for a recount or new elections has been one of repression, rather than legal procedure; 4) Khamenei’s speech seemed more designed to give licence to violent repression of the protesters; 5) it is easy for agents provocateurs acting for the current government to create situations that will justify further political oppression.

    I agree Western knowledge is poor, and the media largely uninformed and uninformative. Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust and homosexual statements have been mistranslated and misconstrued. The conference he held on the Holocaust was a legitimate academic exercise, with the unfortuate presence of Dr. David Duke (proving anyone can get a PhD), but a number of legitimate scholars, and the art exhibit of the Holocaust cartoons included very insightful ones.

    Still, better a more moderate person from within the Iranian establishment, like Mousavi, than anyone more conservative. Reform is more likely to happen when legitimized both by legitimate election by the people, and having the impeccable revolutionary credentials Mousavi has.

    My understanding is that the demonstrators are shouting “Allahu Akbar” to be clear this is not a religious issue, and have been restrained from making statements against the regime. That it happened today makes one wonder about agents provocateurs, or a loss of hope and patience.

  6. Salam
    I’m the one that Chiara has introduced up there, thanks for the link Chiara!

    I also appreciate your balanced view.
    A few thing that come to my mind:

    – ironically, since i despise AN, I have explained to quite a few ppl along with sending youtube links and everything how AN was mistranslated about his various statements, particularly on “wiping israel off the map”.
    I gave Reza Aslan a “right on!” when he made the statement about him not being hitler, BUT now he is in a totally different level, he is acting completely like a dictator, no doubt about it. the range of the crackdowns and arrests of those who were up to now completely considered “insiders” of the islamic republic shows that it is turning into a completely totalitarian regime that can tolerate no amount of freedom. i would definitely call it a political coup de’etat, and they are now showing that they are not shy of turning it into a military one too. they will uproot any remains of democracy in Iran if they get away with this. it is why we are making a big deal about, it IS a very big deal.
    I too cringe at how the western media tries to portray this, partly out of their ignorance on iranian politics and partly because of their various agendas. but this is first and foremost the iranian regime’s fault, there is no hint of even vaguely free media left in the country right now, foreign reporters are restricted and thrown out of the country, there is no way of getting anything out except for citizen journalists, the iranian state tv is brainwashing their ppl to an extent that i get physically ill whenever i watch it for a few moments. they have asked for it, i hate nothing more than having foreigners interfere in my country, but if sth like that happens (god forbid) it is the IRI’s fault.

    – You are completely right that Mousavi is no way secular, he is actually an embodiment of the values of the islamic revolution and one of those closest to khomeini, you can see how he looks at his position in his own words here:
    but i think we have to take something else into account here. in this particular movement [we can call it the green movement ] is to stop this particular situation and to get a re-election. for this means we have united behind slogans that a maximum number of us believe in, we do not want to overthrow the regime or supreme leader (although his statements on friday seems to indicate that he is willing to tie his fate ti AN’s ..). so among this movement there are people who are anywhere from irreligious and secular to those who completely believe in the system but only oppose the elections. what has been seen in all of our protests were that even when some ppl wanted to direct them towards nti-regime slogans, they were quietened and did not succeed. i think that this is remarkable and shows that the iranian people have matured enough to unite behind a common goal so intelligently and for the first time know what they do want, not only what they don’t (like the revolution for instance). anyway this is not a movement against religion, but we should respect that there are ppl in it that may oppose religion (i have atheist friends who are shouting “allah-u akbar”), and there are also ppl like me who are observant muslims but think that mixing up religion and the state is just bad idea …

    hehe, sorry for the long comment i somehow can’t stop when i start talking about this sort of stuff, particularly these days …

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