Monday, May 21, 2007

Iran is Simmering

Civil society in Iran is beginning to boil. Most of my traffic is from searches and I get search inquiries from all over the world. Iran is among the places I see among the referrals from time to time. For some reason a post I put together last year linking to a political joke, a conversation with God by the leaders of France, the US and Iran. Nothing remarkable. Just a garden variety political cartoon in verbal form. It has attracted a couple of obscene comments, partly in Farsi or Arabic, that appear to be full of rage toward (I think) the religious police in Iran. I'm not sure what to make of them, but drilling into several links I came to this well-done piece lifted from the New Republic, April 26. The title says it all:

America's Best Weapon is the Iranian People.

Thinking of the dominant views among American policymakers on Iran, I am reminded of the great Persian poet Jalaledin Rumi's story about a group of people trying to describe an elephant exhibited in a dark room. One felt the elephant's back and claimed that it resembled a great throne. Another, touching its ear, declared it was in fact a huge fan. A third felt its leg and concluded it must be a large pillar.

The Islamic Republic has been with us for almost three decades, yet still it manages to amaze and confuse the experts. In the 1990s, Mohammed Khatami inspired the majority of Western commentators to believe that Iran was on the verge of upheaval. But, while Khatami may have distinguished himself from his predecessors by ushering in a milder version of the Islamic Republic, he was, and remains, very much a part of that system. Today, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has persuaded us that the same system is an imminent menace and must, therefore, be overthrown. Yet, while Ahmadinejad may be more repressive and violent than previous presidents, his reactionary tendencies are fundamentally a sign of the Iranian system's weakness--not its strength.

The problem is that Western pundits are only feeling part of the elephant--the political one--and ignoring the most important part: the Iranian people themselves. If you take the long view of Iranian history and focus on the country's people rather than its rulers, a very different picture emerges: that of an Iranian order in crisis.

Evidence for this proposition is everywhere. A cursory look at Iran's publications and blogs shows that, although some Iranians--for a variety of reasons--support their regime's nuclear ambitions, most are far more interested in trying to redress day-to-day problems like corruption, the struggling economy, rising unemployment, political and social repression, and a general lack of freedom. Few are well-informed about the nuclear program, and most are embarrassed and disturbed by the image of their country in the world. Indeed, Iran's new international isolation and pariah status is deeply unpopular at home, and the fact that the government is emptying its coffers to foment revolution abroad rather than to support the welfare of the Iranian people has turned many of Ahmadinejad's supporters against him. Workers' protests have lately escalated in at least ten cities. Angry union leaders have held the president responsible for the weakening of the economy. In the recent city council elections in Tehran, only two of 13 winners were supporters of Ahmadinejad.

A good deal more at the link.
Recommended reading for sure.

Let's hope somebody at the State Department gets hold of it. From what I see, not too many people in high places of the current administration do much reading. If they do, they sure don't have much influence among those who don't. That old fer us or agin' us mentality hasn't been expressed lately in explicit terms, but all the evidence is that it remains a core value of the culture.

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