Wednesday, 24 June 2009

symbol of rebellion

cross posted

i did a little spot on radio nz's the panel this afternoon (right at the end of the clip). it was regarding a discussion about the killing of neda soltani during the recent protests in iran. her dying moments were caught on camera and put on youtube, and have now been viewed by millions around the world.

i'm not going to link to the clip here, i couldn't bear to watch it myself. i agree with rosemary mcleod's comments that there is something inherently wrong in putting a video of someone's death into the public sphere in this way. there was no question of her consent having been obtained, and there is no doubt that this video is being used as a political tool.

which is not to say that people should remain ignorant of the effects of violence and the suppression of political dissent. and in a way, the current spotlight on the protests has changed the narrative around the iranian people. many in the west are now beginning to identify with them, to see the humanity and the commonalities. they are becoming less and less the evil "other".

in that regard, the reports filed by jason jones on the daily show have been pretty amazing. i've been watching the last two nights as he has gone into an iranian home to do an interview, and he has interviewed iranians who have subesequently been detained by the current regime. while he has generally behaved like an ass, which he usually does, he shows us that these are just people like us but involved in an extremely difficult struggle.

i don't see any great outcome for iran at present. i hope the country doesn't fall into civil war. i have no great faith in mr mousavi, who even mr obama thinks is not too much different from mr ahmedinejad (and the evidence appears to support that view). if he plans to make substantial reforms, he will be behaving quite differently to when he was last in office, and i find it hard to believe that he's offering more than just words.and when he uses the phrase "an alms-based economy", it reminds of national party rhetoric about working for families turning people into beneficiaries. it's so typical of right-wing arguments against any kind of state support for the less well-off, and is just a sham excuse for for inaction on poverty.

on the other hand, there is no doubt that reform is required in iran in many areas. the response of the current regime to the recent protests is appalling. the fact is that they are floundering and don't know how to deal with the situation, so have fallen back on suppression.

and neda soltani got caught in the crossfire. i admire her courage in standing up for what she believed, in a particularly dangerous situation. if there is any silver lining to be gained from her death, it's that she has managed to narrow the gap between east and west. she has ensured that we no longer remain indifferent to th plight of the iranian people. may she rest in peace. inna lillahe wa inna ilaihi raji'oon.


Hugh said...

I'm sorry, did we ever feel that Iranians were all evil fanatics? The idea of Middle Easterners as ordinary people who suffer has been widely accepted -at least- since 2003, with the whole 'we have to invade Iraq to save the Iraqis from Saddam Hussein' thing. I'm pretty sure I could go back to the 90s and easily dig out some references by Clinton et al to how they had no quarrel with Iranians, only their government.

There was a brief period, probably following the hostage crisis, when the American (and maybe general western) image of Iran (and maybe the Middle East in general) was that of a faceless sea of hateful fanatics. But the idea that this remained unchallenged right up until Ms Soltani started appearing on youtube strikes me as a major oversimplification.

I agree that there are all sorts of reasons to be sceptical about Mousavi. But these protests, I think, are less about 'Mousavi must be President because he's awesome', and more about 'we must have the President we voted for'. If Mousavi did indeed win, then presumably Iranians weighed up his pros and cons, and more of them found the pros to outweight the cons than didn't.

The best case scenario is that, if Mousavi comes to power on the basis of these sorts of protests, he'll feel a need to give the protestors some of the concessions they want, and perhaps not govern in the way he would have had he won an undisputed election.

Random Lurker said...

i admire her courage in standing up for what she believed, in a particularly dangerous situation.

According to her fiancee, "She was near the area, a few streets away, from where the main protests were taking place, near the Amir-Abad area. She was with her music teacher, sitting in a car and stuck in traffic. She was feeling very tired and very hot. She got out of the car for just for a few minutes. That's when she was shot dead"

As told to BBC Persian TV.

stargazer said...

hugh, you might not have felt it, but while people were identifying with iraqis due to the illegal invasion, the narrative around iran has been quite different. particularly through 2007 & 2008, and i've personally felt it through viral emails, through constant negative media reports, through speaking engagements etc. there has been (until now) very little differentiation made between the iranian regime and the people of iran. obviously the negativity towards iran started with the revolution and the american hostages, and has been pretty constant ever since. but it certainly seemed that the previous administration was gearing up to attack iran, particularly with the placement of armed forces & with the sharp rhetoric.

and i'd dispute your assertion that "The idea of Middle Easterners as ordinary people who suffer has been widely accepted -at least- since 2003", seeing as how i've been often taken for a middle easterner, i've been to plenty of talks and seminars and had a lot of contact with people across various spectrums, and it certainly didn't feel anything like that in 2003. you'll remember that mr bush was voted back into office after that date, and the disgust with the iraq war was present but not so widely felt until around 2006. but i would say that still didn't apply to iran - remember that mr kerry campaigned on the notion that american foreign policy towards iran was too soft, and only from mr obama's presidential campaign did we start to hear about diplomacy playing a greater role.

so in that context, i think the death of ms soltani has played a role, maybe not a crucial one, but as part of the coverage of the protests, it ceratinly has brought a change to the way many people view iranians.

as for what mr mousavi will be able to do, i suspect that he will be quite hampered not just by the religious leadership. there is also doubt that iranians outside of the major cities are particularly interested in reform, so that might also cause a barrier in what he is able to achieve.

Hugh said...

Sorry stargazer, I obviously didn't make myself clear. I'm not denying that the idea of invading Iran has been popular in the west. I'm simply saying there isn't a direct correlation between the idea that Iranians are unpleasant people and the idea that it's a good idea to attack Iran. Quite the reverse in fact; ever since World War II, the rhetoric of the West has always been 'we need to save these poor, helpless people from their oppressive government by warfare'. So while you're correct about the preponderance of war, I don't think it shows us anything about popular attitudes towards Iranians.

Obviously I can't speak to your personal experience and I don't deny it's possible that official talk about unfortunate Iranians oppressed by their government does actually disguise a more genuine disdain. But that's kind of my point. The idea that Iranians are suffering from their government is not a new one. All Soltani's death does is tells us, again, what we've been told by our political leaders at least since the 90s.

I would say if Mousavi came to power he would do so with a very strong, even overwhelming, mandate to remove a lot of the power of religious bodies. A month ago those religious groups had formal legal power which was seen, if not immensely legitimate, as not illegitimate. If Mousavi comes to power it will probably because their power came to be seen as illegitimate, and that probably means it won't last long.

I think this is why Khatami was basically unsuccessful in attempts to reform the Iranian system between 1997 and 2005. People were prepared to vote him in, but they didn't feel sufficiently threatened by the religious establishment as represented by the Council of Experts and the Supreme Leader to back an attempt by Khatami to remove them. Now, with the Council, the Leader and other groups closely associated with the repression that's happening, they will feel more threatened.

stargazer said...

yeah, hugh, i must have missed "the poor, helpless people" angle completely, because i haven't seen evidence of it until this current election.

actually other people are saying this stuff much better than me, so i'd refer you to tonight's media 7 programme (last segment), as well as the john stewart interview with reza aslan (both of which will be up on the internet somewhere, but i'm too tired to go looking).