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Iran: Human Revolution

I’ve been following the events in Iran as closely as I could this week amidst all of my other business. Each morning during breakfast I’d read the latest from Nico Pitney’s outstanding liveblog on the Huffington Post, and each evening I’d get some analysis from guests on Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow. My perception of the events has been shaped almost exclusively by these sources, so I can’t claim to have any special insight. Even my usual style of taking a step back and looking at an issue in the broadest, “what does this mean for humanity as a whole?” context is to a large degree undermined by my ignorance of Iranian history and of my unfamiliarity with other uprisings of this kind. All I can really do is write about my own impressions and what I think it all means.

There are three things I’d like to address, those being 1- the affect this will have on Iran and on the Middle East, 2- the reaction to these events on the part of the United States government, and 3- the unprecedented role played by new technology in this situation and how it might be a sign of the fundamental paradigm shift I’ve been waiting for in the unfolding of world history, a concept I’ve called the Human Revolution.

The last major event to have happened in Iran at the time of this writing was the speech given yesterday by Ayatollah Khamenei, in which he insisted—in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary—that the results of the election were not fraudulent and that everyone protesting in the streets must go home or risk violent reprisal. I believe this was a terrible mistake on his part, but it doesn’t surprise me. The more I hear about Khamenei’s actions in this situation, the more of a tremendous idiot he appears to be. After all, it was he who shot himself in the foot by making sure the election was rigged in the first place and going about it so carelessly that any intelligent Iranian would have no doubt that the results were fixed. He thought that by giving Ahmedenijad a 30-point margin of victory he’d be able to deny any claims of tampering—he said in his speech that you can’t switch 11 million votes—when in fact the absurd margin had quite the opposite effect. It wasn’t that they switched 11 million people’s Mousavi votes to Ahmedenijad—it was clear that they didn’t even count the votes and just announced the numbers that had already been decided on beforehand. The absolute stupidest part of the whole thing is Ahmedenijad had the same margin of victory everywhere in Iran, including Mousavi’s hometown, his strongest base of support. A third party candidate, who actually beat Ahmedenijad in his hometown four years ago, was completely crushed this time around. Because he got about 1% nationally they gave him 1% in his own district—the most blatant piece of evidence that the results weren’t based on any kind of reality at all. You’d think someone involved in this would have been smart enough to think about this beforehand, but either they were genuinely too stupid or they just fatally underestimated how much value the Iranian people actually placed on democracy.

Which is why it was so interesting, in reading the transcript of Khamenei’s speech, that he spends so much time extolling the virtues of democracy, boasting about the 85% turnout and how the people in the streets ought to accept the will of the people. When I read that all I could think was, “Is this guy serious?” He wants to spin this to say that the overwhelming majority of Iranians have spoken and they want Ahmedenijad, and it’s just a few hooligans taking to the street because they have no respect for democracy? The will of the people? What does the fact that two million Iranians are marching in the street tell you about the will of the people? Apparently he knows what the Iranian people want better than the Iranian people. And as for the idea that these 2 million “hooligans” just have no respect for democracy, that’s like saying anti-abortion protesters hold up pictures of dead fetuses because they want to encourage more killing of fetuses. The people are angry because you have no respect for democracy, Mr. Khamenei. And it turns out that if you want to be a leader of a Middle Eastern country, no matter how Holy and infallible the clerics have deemed you to be, it’s becoming increasingly necessary to abide by democratic principles.

And that’s one of the most important things we’re seeing as a result of this fiasco. Had Khamenei simply let the votes be counted and put up with Mousavi as his underling rather than Ahmedenijad, nothing really significant would have changed. The tone of relations with the West might have been slightly less hostile, but Mousavi isn’t all that different than Ahmedenijad in terms of substance, and the republic would have stayed intact. But because he didn’t want to work with Mousavi, a former colleague of his who might not have been as easy to control as Ahmedenijad, he did what he thought he had to do to keep the president he wanted, subverting the will of the majority of people to the will of one man—his own. Iranians instantly recognised that the voice they thought they had in controlling their own destiny was only an illusion, and now they’re making their voices heard more directly. They want openness in government, broader international cooperation, and a more secular politics. Now even if Khamenei manages to squash this uprising before it becomes a revolution and Ahmedenijad does indeed stay in power for the next four years, he will no longer be seen as a legitimate leader and his sabre-rattling against the West will no longer be taken seriously. The best argument they had against the West is that we’ve meddled in their affairs and undermined their democracy. Now that their own president has undermined their democracy he won’t have a shred of credibility in terms of denouncing the Western world. The era of Us vs. Them in Iran with respect to foreign governments is over. Western governments are no longer the enemy of the Iranian people—the Iranian government is the enemy of the Iranian people. Finally, this will serve as an important lesson for other hard-line leaders of Middle Eastern countries. If you want to keep your power you have to listen to the people—just blaming everything on the West will no longer work.

That is, unless those in the West continue to play right into the hands of these governments, as the Republicans in congress and even some moronic Democrats want to do. I knew from the very beginning that the right-wing would use the events in Iran to criticise Obama, because that’s all they do and the only consequences they care about are their own poll numbers. I assumed they’d blame him for the uprising itself, but apparently they took a different approach and sided firmly with the Iranian opposition, attacking Obama for not being as vocal as they are in their support. This tactic is even stupider and more reckless. Every single person who knows anything about diplomacy and about the politics of the Middle East knows that the fastest way to undermine the opposition is for the United States to express its strong support for it. As soon as Obama says, “I support the opposition,” the government of Iran has all the ammunition it needs to put a stop to it. That’s when it’s no longer an issue of the Iranian people vs. their own government, but of the Iranian government versus the people on the side of the United States. Popular support for the opposition would dry up instantly, and those still out on the streets would be arrested, beaten or murdered under the auspices of crushing a foreign-backed insurgency. This is the most obvious thing in the world.

Of course, republicans don’t give one shit about the Iranian people or even about democracy in the Middle East. They only care about winning elections, and it sounds good to the morons who keep voting for them when they get on their high horses about how America needs to support democracy and human rights everywhere and why won’t Obama come out and say so? It must be because he’s a secret Muslim terrorist sympathiser, right? That’s what their constituents will think anyway, because for the most part, their constituents don’t think. Rush Limbaugh does their thinking for them. And he’s not saying the obvious truth—that the best thing America can do for the Iranian people is to stay the fuck out of it. He and his legions of followers still live in a fantasy world where America has magical powers to make whatever it wants to happen in the world happen, and all we need to do to bring democracy to the Middle East is for the president to endorse the opposition and thus force Khamenei to bend his will in deference to the Great and Mighty America, to step down and let the people take control so that they can get to work on building those McDonalds and Starbucks.

One thing that has not been given much attention is the fact that John McCain, the republican presidential candidate, is one of those reckless idiots calling for the president to more forcefully meddle in Iran’s affairs. This, I believe, is the clearest indication we have so far that had McCain actually won the election, it would have been a complete disaster. Unless he’s just mouthing off now because he doesn’t have to worry about real-world consequences and would have done exactly what Obama’s doing were he in that position, we’re seeing the approach McCain would have taken and it’s the most blatantly wrong approach possible. Had McCain been president, the uprising would have been crushed days ago and the sabre-rattling would be going on louder than ever. Clips of the American president singing “Bomb bomb Iran” would have been broadcasted over the Iranian airwaves ad nauseum, and tension between our two countries would be at an all-time high. I think these kinds of things should be pointed out repeatedly, as most Americans still don’t seem to understand that elections have serious consequences. The most clear moment indicating that a McCain presidency would have been the worst disaster in the history of the United States is yet to come—that will happen if McCain dies within the next four years and we’ll know for sure that had he been elected we would have ended up with President Sarah Palin. She’d almost definitely take us to war with Iran just to score some political points with the hawkish base.

Now war with Iran seems more unlikely than ever, and Obama should be given some credit for how he’s handled the situation up to now. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating that Obama may be kind of a shitty president when it comes to domestic issues, but in terms of foreign affairs he’s the best possible person we could have had for the job.

The final point I want to make is much deeper, and it has to do with the way in which we’re learning about this situation as it happens. When the Iranian government saw they had a potential uprising on their hands, they went to the standard anti-uprising playbook and cut off all satellite communication and cell-phone service to prevent news from getting in or out of Iran. That kind of thing worked very well back in 1989, and it even might have worked as recently as 1999. But today, communications technology has advanced beyond the point where it can be controlled by any government, and this might just be the most encouraging thing I’ve ever witnessed in regards to the hope for a Human Revolution.

As much as I hate Twitter (I’ve been meaning to rant about it in a blog post for awhile now) it has been invaluable for the Iranians both in terms of organising their protests and getting the word out to the rest of the world about what’s been happening. Cell-phone videos and pictures can be taken and posted online. Thousands of clips of the protests and the violence against protesters have been uploaded to Youtube and seen around the world. It’s the worst possible thing for the Iranian government—they don’t want anyone to know how massive this uprising is and they certainly don’t want anyone seeing police forces beating up on citizens, particularly women. But whatever they do to try and stop the information-flow, the tech-savvy youth in Iran find a way around it. The government has put a dam in place, but the internet has poked millions of tiny holes in that dam and information is pouring out far faster than the government can plug up the holes. For the first time in the history of mankind, people around the world can follow a revolution as it’s happening—we hear the voices of the people actually out there in the street and describing what’s going on, we see the pictures and watch the videos, privileged to witness this historic event from the perspective of the people themselves—not the government or the state-controlled media. It is a revolution within a revolution, and with any luck it will lead to more revolutions by serving as an example of what can actually be accomplished when the people not only take to the streets to stand up to their oppressive government, but can actually broadcast what’s happening as it happens to people all over the world.

We have yet to see the ultimate results of this development, but some of the immediate results are already apparent. Khamenei wants to portray these protests as nothing more than a few hooligans causing trouble and violently lashing out. Instead we see clips of hundreds of thousands of people of all ages marching silently through the streets and when the police confront them, they all sit down quietly to give them no excuse to attack. Khamenei accuses the West of having incited these protests in the first place in order to undermine Iranian democracy, but we read tweets from thousands of actual Iranians expressing their genuine frustration over the outcome of the election and their deep desire for peace and for a government that honours the will of the people.

The most important effect of this is that it finally shatters the perception of the outside world that all Iranians are warmongering religious fundamentalists. Anyone who actually reads the messages coming from the people can’t avoid the basic truth that they’re not very different from us at all. A government, especially a despotic one, does not actually represent the people, and no matter how fucked up and evil a government may be, people are the same everywhere—no matter where you are in the world there will be millions who are ignorant assholes and millions who are kind and compassionate. When you bomb a country…say, Iraq for instance…you may kill a few ignorant people but you won’t be able to avoid also killing many who are not only innocent, not only genuinely good and decent people, but people that you might have been very good friends with if you actually met them face to face. That’s why I opposed the Iraq war before it even started, even when everyone believed it was a threat to the U.S. That’s why I oppose all war, all the time, unless it’s truly for self-preservation.

And if enough people can be brought to the same understanding I had, even as a relatively naïve teenage kid, if enough people understand that war leads to the death of good and innocent people not very different from you, than maybe people won’t be so quick to call for war in the future. It wasn’t too long ago that many in the U.S. wanted to bomb Iran. Now we’re hearing the voices of the Iranian people, these people they wanted to kill, and it turns out they’re not evil at all—that they in fact share the same values as we do—values of liberty, peace, and democracy.

I’ve been saying for years that the internet and modern communications technology has the potential to bring mankind together like never before, in a way that just might lead to our developing the ability to save ourselves from self-destruction and to achieve a sustainable, peaceful existence on this planet for countless generations. This is the first real indication that this might not just be a wild starry-eyed liberal fantasy, but that there actually is a chance that such a dream might be realised. The revolution I’ve been waiting for might have already begun.

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