Wednesday, December 13

The generals outwit Iran’s democracy activists

TEHRAN, December 12 ... Iranian students staged a rare demonstration yesterday against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, lighting a firecracker and burning his photograph in the audience as he delivered a speech at their university ...The outspoken leader responded calmly when the students at Amir Kabir Technical University started chanting, "Death to the dictator" … Ahmadinejad supporters in the audience began to chant in response, silencing the protesters. The president then continued his speech. There was no report of the authorities arresting any of the protesters.(*)
"Don't quit your day job Pundita. And since you know absolutely nothing about Iran, I would shut my gob if I were you. We Iranians are SICK to death of you arrogant, bloviating airhead westerners offering your opinions about which you know ZILCH. So sod off because Madam, no one gives a rodent's posterior about your blog.
Catyoun in Cambridge, MA"

What you mean “we,” kemosabe? You talk like a Brit who’s watched The Sopranos too many times. Your address suggests you attend Harvard. The surname you provided is Dutch. And you think you speak for the Iranian people?

It’s a safe bet that the only Iranians you speak for are the segment known as university student, whether or not you’re an Iranian expat who has spent time in Europe.

The students’ delusion that they speak for all Iranians is just what allowed Iran’s generals to outmaneuver Iran’s most visible democracy activists.

Iran’s generals knew that the university students had no rear guard and that their flanks were unprotected: the students didn’t have Iran’s poor and the villagers behind them. All they had behind them was the Western press, the CIA and MI6. So the generals devised a simple strategy.

First, they gave the students enough rope to hang themselves with. In the year running up to Iran’s presidential election they allowed the students to take more liberties with their dress, protesting in public, and promoting democracy. Then the generals asked conservative Iranians, "Is this what you want running your country? A bunch of city libertines trying to impose godless Western culture on our land?"

Next, they fielded a candidate –- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad –- who presented himself as a champion of the poor and spoke in the language of simple religious faith, which resonated with the villagers.

Sure, the generals bought insurance through the usual means: arrests, torture, and stuffing ballot boxes, but their strategy worked. When Western observers protested the vote count, the generals could dredge up many Iranians who told the press in all sincerity that Ahmadinejad was the man for the job.

Iran’s democracy activists –- the nonviolent ones -- were set up. I note that’s pretty easy to do, when military strategists run a county.

I appreciate your frustration over the fact that few Westerners know your country. But one doesn’t need to know Iran, to know the military mind. One doesn’t need to know Iran, to know how things work in a military dictatorship. And one doesn’t need to know Iran, to know what happens to the thinking of people when they spend years in a golden cage.

In essence, Iran’s military built a golden cage with oil wealth for Iran’s city youth and for the war veterans after Iran’s war with Iraq. The beneficiaries could attend university and get jobs with government, and live in peace -- as long as they didn’t bite the hand that fed them.

Yet it’s simply the nature of the human brain –- not cultural conditioning -- as to what happens to people who live in a golden cage: after a time, they have trouble seeing the bars.

So I didn’t need to know Iran, in order to be alarmed when I learned that many of Iran’s democracy activists were using the kind of protest strategies deployed in the American Civil Rights movement. For heaven’s sake, America isn’t a military dictatorship!

Also alarming was that the Iranian democracy activists I heard speak in the media didn’t seem to acknowledge that Iranians were living under a military dictatorship. They railed against Iran’s corrupt religious leaders, but those leaders are window dressing. They live at the pleasure of the military. They, too, live in a golden cage.

The truth is that Americans have no choice but to form an opinion about Iran. That’s because your country and mine are at war, and have been for a long time. You can split a hair and call it “hostilities” but it is a cold war, nonetheless.

Also, Iranian democracy activists have been fundraising in the USA. Americans have a habit of opening their checkbook to any foreigner who says “I’m fighting oppression” and “I want democracy” in the same sentence. How to tell which democracy activists are genuine, and which ones work for Iran’s military?

So, no matter how imperfect the intel on Iran, Americans must make decisions based on it. But now tell me, just where have Americans –- including the CIA -- gotten most of their information about Iran’s political situation? They’ve gotten it from Iranians who fit your profile: well-educated, English-speaking, and familiar with Western culture.

Much of the intelligence that Americans have taken about Iran has come from urbanized, educated, democracy advocates in the Iranian expat communities who are in close contact with university student activists in Iran.

If you’re simply trying to distance yourself from the Libertine Western label that Iran’s generals cleverly slapped on the university students, that’s understandable since Ahmadinejad’s victory. But writing huffy letters to American bloggers is not the way to convince Iran’s poor and the villagers that you’re their new best friend.

* From Iran Conference hosts doubters of Holocaust, The Washington Times

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