June 19, 2009, OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
A Different Iranian Revolution, By SHANE M. – This article was written by a student in Iran who, for reasons of safety, did not want to be identified by his full name.
Tehran WE look over this wall of marching people to see what our friends in the United States are saying about us. We cannot help it — 30 years of struggle against the Enemy has had the curious effect of making us intrigued. To our great dismay, what we find is that in important sectors of the American press a disturbing counternarrative is emerging: That perhaps this election wasn’t a fraud after all. That the United States shouldn’t rush in with complaints of democracy denied, and that perhaps Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the president the Iranian people truly want (and, by extension, deserve). Do not believe it. Those so-called experts warning Americans to be leery of claims of fraud by the opposition are basing their arguments on an outdated understanding of Iran that has little to do with the reality of what we here are experiencing during these singular days. For instance, some American analysts assert that the demonstrations are taking place only in the sections of Tehran — in the north, around the university and Azadi Square — where the educated and well-off reside. Of course, those neighborhoods were home to the well-to-do … 30 years ago. The notion that these areas represent “the nice part of town” will come as a surprise to their residents, who endure the noise, congestion and pollution of living in the center of a megalopolis. People who haven’t visited a city in decades are bound to give out bad directions. But their descriptions of where the protests are taking place, and why, also draw on pernicious myths of an iron correlation between religion and class, between location and voting tendency, in Iran. This false geography imagines South Tehran and the countryside as home only to the poor, those natural allies of political Islam, while North Tehran embodies unbridled gharbzadegi (translated as “Weststruckness” or “Westernitis”) and is populated by people addicted to the Internet and vacations in Paris. It is as if political Islam withers north of Vanak Square and the only residents to be found are “liberals” who voted for the opposition leader, Mir Hussein Moussavi. We must not assume that the engagement of members of society with their religion is uniform or that religious devotion equals automatic loyalty to a particular brand of politics. To do so is certainly to deny Iran’s poor the capacity to think for themselves, to deny that the politics of the past four years may have made their lives worse — and plays right into Mr. Ahmadinejad’s dubious claim to be the most authentic representative of the 1979 revolution. Mr. Moussavi was, let’s not forget, a favored son of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and a member of Iran’s original cohort of revolutionaries, and he remains a firm believer in the revolution and the framework of the Islamic Republic. But the United States seems able to view our country only through anxieties left over from the 1979 revolution. In the “how did we lose Iran?” assessments after the overthrow of the shah, many American intelligence agents and policy makers decided that their great mistake was to spend too much time canoodling with the royal family and intellectual elites of the capital. Commentators now are worried that, by siding with the opposition today, the United States will once again fall into the trap of backing the losing side. But the fact is, Tehran is not the Iranian anomaly it was 30 years ago. It has become more like the rest of the country. Internal migration, not just to Tehran but to other major cities, has accelerated, driven in part by the growth of universities in places like Isfahan, Tabriz, Mashad and Shiraz, and now nearly 70 percent of Iranians live in cities. The much vaunted rural vote represents not a decisive bloc for Mr. Ahmadinejad but a minimum, one that was easily swamped by the increased turnout of city dwellers, who normally sit elections out. And, of course, Iran in 2009 — better yet, Iran on June 12, 2009 — is not the same as Iran in 1979. Just as Tehran’s neighborhoods cannot be fixed in time, the cultural lives of Iranians have greatly changed in the past 30 years. The postrevolutionary period has seen the expansion of education, the entry of women into the work force in large numbers, and changing patterns of marriage and even of divorce. These have all shaped Iranian society. The pseudo-sociology peddled by so many in the West would easily dissolve with a week’s visit. Let’s also forget the polls, carried out in May by Terror Free Tomorrow: The Center for Public Opinion, that have been making the rounds this past week, with numbers that showed Mr. Ahmadinejad well ahead in the election, even in Mr. Moussavi’s hometown, Tabriz. Maybe last month Mr. Ahmadinejad was indeed on his way to victory. But then came the debates. Starting on June 1, the country was treated to an experience without precedent in the 30 years of the Islamic Republic of Iran: six back-to-back live and unscripted debates among the four presidential candidates. Iranians everywhere were riveted, and the poll numbers began to move. By the Wednesday before the election, Mr. Moussavi was backed by about 44 percent of respondents, while Mr. Ahmadinejad was favored by around 38 percent. So let’s not cloud the results with numbers that were, like bagels, stale a week later. (And let’s ignore the claim that polling by Iranians in Iran is “notoriously untrustworthy.” A consortium of pollsters and social scientists working for a diverse range of political and social organizations systematically measured public opinion for months before the election.) Such a major shift has happened before. A month before the 1997 elections, the establishment candidate, Ali Akbar Nategh-Nouri, was trouncing his opponents in surveys. Then, a week before the vote, the tide changed, bringing to power a reformer, Mohammad Khatami. The reason for this fluidity in voter preference is simple. Iran has no real political parties that can command a fixed number of predictable votes. With elections driven primarily by personality politics, Iranians are always swing voters. So Mr. Moussavi, hampered by a lack of access to state-run news media and allowed only two months to campaign, began to make inroads into Mr. Ahmadinejad’s lead only during the final days leading into the election, his poll numbers rising with his visits to provincial cities and the debate appearances. One final note: the election does reveal a paradox. There is strong evidence that Iranians across the board want a better relationship with the United States. But if Mr. Moussavi were to become president and carry out his campaign promise of seeking improved relations with America, we would probably see a good 30 percent of the Iranian population protesting that he is “selling out” to the enemy. By contrast, support for Mr. Ahmadinejad’s campaign was rooted in part in his supposed defense of the homeland and national honor in the face of United States aggression. Americans too-long familiar with the boorish antics of the Iranian president will no doubt be surprised to learn that the best chance for improved relations with the United States perhaps lies with Mr. Ahmadinejad. But Mr. Ahmadinejad is perceived here as being uniquely able to play the part of an Iranian Nixon by “traveling to the United States” and bringing along with him his supporters — and they are not few. In other words, Iranians believe they face a daunting choice: a disastrous domestic political situation with Mr. Ahmadinejad but an improved foreign policy, or improved domestic leadership under Mr. Moussavi but near impossible challenges in making relations with the United States better. The truth is, it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. The open-air parties that, for one week, turned Tehran at night into a large-scale civic disco, were an accident. People gathered by the tens of thousands in public squares, circling around one another on foot, on motorcycle, in their cars. They showed up around 4 or 5 in the afternoon and stayed together well into the next day, at least 3 or 4 in the morning, laughing, cheering, breaking off to debate, then returning to the fray. A girl hung off the edge of a car window “Dukes of Hazzard” style. Four boys parked their cars in a circle, the headlights illuminating an impromptu dance floor for them to show off their moves. Everyone watched everyone else and we wondered how all of this could be happening. Who were all of these people? Where did they come from? These were the same people we pass by unknowingly every day. We saw one another, it feels, for the first time. Now in the second week, we continue to look at one another as we walk together, in marches and in silent gatherings, toward our common goal of having our vote respected. No one knew that it would come to this. Iran is this way. Anything is possible because very little in politics or social life has been made systematic. We used to joke that if you leave Tehran for three months you’ll come back to a new city. A friend left for France for a few days last week and when he returned the entire capital had turned green. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Until last week, Mr. Moussavi was a nondescript, if competent, politician — as one of his campaign advisers put it to me, he was meant only to be an instrument for making Iran a tiny bit better, nothing more. Iranians knew that’s what they were getting when they cast their votes for him. Now, like us, Mr. Moussavi finds himself caught up in events that were unimaginable, each day’s march and protest more unthinkable than the one that came before.
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company
Please pass the word on about tomorrow, June 21st, candlelight vigil at civic center in SF, CA from 7:30pm-9pm.
Iran Election June 20, 2009: A girl shot by a basij member in Kargar Ave, Tehran Iran (Please be warned – THIS IS GRAPHIC, and devastating.)
Watch this video of the Iranian election protest in San Francisco, California on June 16, 2009. Thousands including supervisor Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi gathered in San Francisco’s Union Square to protest the false election results in Iran.
Watch this video of the Iranian election protest in Berkeley, California on Sunday June 14, 2009.
Photo From Feminist School Website
Banner:” we vote for women’s demands”
By Haideh Moghissi: Feminist theorist and author; Professor of sociology, York University.
Iranian voters will soon cast their
ballots for one of the four candidates who have passed the Guardianship Council’s ideological screening. Few people in Iran and even fewer outside believe that the election of a new president would bring meaningful changes to the Islamic regime’s policies. The country’s cleverly designed and forcefully safeguarded political system makes effective challenges from outside virtually impossible. The rule by intimidation and terror, the cancerous corruption of the ruling clerics and their clans, the widening gap between the rich and poor, and the horrifying signs of the profound despair of youth as reflected in growing drug addiction and prostitution, have dashed hopes for the possibility of the Islamic regime reforming itself. Why then has the pending presidential election renewed much excitement, generating debate and rejuvenating activism? While election campaigns always involve the exposure of previous misconduct, incompetency, and outright corruption within the regime, the public is of course not privy to these debates due to the absence of a free press and lack of government transparency. However, elections relieve the tension of day-to-day life in Iran by temporarily putting coercive apparatuses on (shorter) leashes. Also, the relative opening of the political space during elections energizes the opposition to show discontent and push for reforms. The remarkable mobilization of women and youth in the 1997 election of Mohamad Khatami was widely understood as a vote against the more conservative candidate, with a hope to halt Islamists’ further advances against women’s social and political rights. Eight years of Khatami’s inaction and conformist presidency, followed by four year of Ahmadinejad’s military-security-based administration, have more clearly shown the futility of hopes placed on any candidate from within the Islamic political and cultural system. This reality drove many Khatami enthusiasts into despair and admissions of defeat. Not the Iranian feminist activists though. In fact, this round of Iran’s pre-election politics is marked by the full-force entry of the Iranian women’s movement onto the political scene with a well-thought-out strategy that has mobilized many change-seeking individuals and groups within civil society. Without supporting any presidential candidate, Iranian women, under the banner of “women’s coalition movement” (jonbesh-e Hamgerai’i), have proclaimed two major demands: 1) Joining the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); 2) A constitutional amendment to eliminate discriminatory articles that deprive women of equal rights with men. This ingenious strategy has so far drawn support from over 35 women’s and social justice groups and 600 activists and intellectuals, some of whom may not actually cast their votes in favour of any candidate. The campaign has forced all four candidates to spell out their views on the plight of women in Iran and what they would do to improve it. For instance, two candidates, Karrubi and Rezaee, have committed themselves to including a woman in their cabinet. Others have articulated their opposition to restrictions on women’s legal rights and public participation. Obviously, election promises are not to be taken too seriously, as the electorate in Iran, as elsewhere, knows only too well. While the intent of women’s entry into Iranian electoral politics is more modest, it has longer-term objectives. They do not ignore or deny the legitimizing impact of women’s participation in the elections, particularly at a time when the Islamic regime is increasingly losing its legitimacy. With much confidence and political maturity, they have expanded their consciousness-raising activities, reaching out to the broadest sections of the population, distributing thousands of pamphlets outlining why they have entered into electoral politics and their immediate and long-term goals. They want to seize the relatively free political space – which will only last until the elections are over – in order to publicize women’s demands, to strengthen contact with the general population, to rebuild relations, and create solidarity between women’s groups and other social justice and human rights activists. In other words, they have entered into election politics with a clear vision of what is possible to achieve and what is not, and are determined not to let go of what is possible because of what is not. Starting with their defiance against wearing the head scarf ordered by Khomeini only three weeks after the 1979 Revolution, Iranian women have remained at the forefront of the struggle for democracy and justice, exposing and pushing back the Islamists’ offensive inch by inch. But at no time has the political influence of women and women’s issues been so profoundly visible as at present.
Palestine c/o Venice
53rd International Art Exhibition –
La Biennale di Venezia
June 7th – Sept. 30th, 2009
Opening reception June 6th at 5 pm
Convento Ss. Cosma & Damiano,
Campo S. Cosmo,
Palestine c/o Venice marks the first Palestinian participation at the Venice Biennale. Rather than adopt one theme, the exhibition takes on a conceptual framework that embraces the Palestinian people questioning the disproportionate use of the media image of nameless faces and voiceless people. Two of the art projects are collaborative interventions with diverse Palestinian communities whose members will travel to Venice to participate in the art performance and/or the Symposium.
The Huffington Post asked me to write an Op-Ed regarding Obama’s visit…
Right before he took off from DC, on what the media has been depicting as some “odyssey,” to address the Muslim World from Cairo, President Obama had described the 81-year-old Egyptian President Mubarak as a “force for stability.” This week Cairo and its twin city Giza have been a showcase of what this “stability” cost.
The capital is under occupation. Security troops are deployed in the main public squares and metro stations. Citizens were detained en masse and shops were told to close down in Bein el-Sarayat area, neighboring Cairo University, where Obama will be speaking. In Al-Azhar University, the co-host of the “historical speech,” State Security police raided and detained at least 200 foreign students, held them without charges in unknown locations. Exams were postponed in the major universities fearing demonstrations, and students were told to stay at home. And in several areas in Cairo and Giza, there will be in effect a curfew, where shops won’t be allowed to open, citizens instructed not to open their windows. Almost everyone I know will be staying home tomorrow watching Obama’s speech, not necessarily because they are keen on knowing what the freshly-elected US leader has to say to the Muslim world, but because they know it will be virtually impossible to move anywhere in the city on Thursday thanks to Obama’s force-for-stability host.
Those few dozens, who dared in this atmosphere to call for a peaceful protest against the visit on Wednesday evening, were met by hundreds of plainclothes police informers in Tahrir Square, Cairo’s biggest, together with thousands of riot police conscripts in their armored trucks. Police cracked down rounding up several figures from the opposition, and chasing the rest of the protesters in the side streets of downtown Cairo.
“Republicans screw the Arabs. Democrats screw the Arabs, but with a smile,” is a popular saying among the dissidents’ circles in Egypt. President Obama’s choice of our country as his next destination from where to address the Muslim World only validates the saying. Even before his “historical speech” is delivered, Obama’s “mini-historical speeches” have been nothing but one slap after the other on the faces of human rights campaigners in the region. After conversing with the Saudi monarch, “yes we can” changed to “I’m struck by his majesty’s wisdom.” Will the next step be praising the public beheadings in the kingdom as an example of ideal justice?
Hosni Mubarak has ruled Egypt since 1981 with an iron fist, detention facilities, and a fearful security aparatus which is engaged in systematic torture of dissidents and ordinary Egyptian citizens, as documented by local and international rights watchdogs. He has always managed to get away with good coverage in the Western press, however, that tended to focus on his “moderate” (read: obedient to US foreign policy) role as “peacemaker” in the region, besides the archeological discoverings of the I-so-wanna-be-Indiana-Jones, also known as Mr. Zahi Hawas.
Despite the repression of street politics in the 1980s and 1990s, dissidents got the courage to start mobilizing in the streets ever since the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000. From December 2006, the country has been embracing the strongest wave of labor strike action since WWII. The Egyptian workers are striking and organizing under very difficult conditions, with draconian anti-strike laws and state-dominated unions. But what started as a struggle for bread and butter issues is increasing becoming political, with an expanding layer of new strike leaders raising demands for regime change. And in an unprecedented move, thefirst free trade union in the history of Egypt was declared last December, by theproperty tax collectors who already went on a three month strike in 2007 bringing down tax collection by 90%. By the domino effect, a wave of free unions is brewing. The formation of free unions have always been in the heart of democratization like we’ve seen in Poland and South Korea for example.
The Egyptian striking workers will most probably not feature in Obama’s speech Thursday, but they together with the pro-democracy movement are seeking allies in the West. Allies that could not be found in the White House or 10 Downing Street. They are non-governmental actors like human rights NGOs, labor and trade unions, which we urge to extend their solidarity to their Egyptian brothers and sisters, and to pressure the US administration into severing all ties and funding to the Mubarak’s dictatorship, the second largest recipient of US foreign aid after Israel.