What will become of us without barbarians?
Those people were some sort of a solution.
– C.P. Cavafy, "Waiting for the Barbarians," trans. by Evangelos Sachperoglou
The attack will probably be a limited one at first, with the immediate "reasons" being offered up afterwards or in media res. After all, who is going to seriously question the Commander-in-Chief when our brave boys are in the air over enemy territory in Iran?
They had parliamentary elections in Iran last week. It was not good news for the cause of peace. Why? Because reform candidates did unexpectedly well, while hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saw a deep split in the conservative majority, with many in his own faction rejecting his Bush-like belligerence and incompetence. This might sound like glad tidings at first glance – but it actually makes an attack more likely. It undermines the carefully crafted cartoon image of Iran as a monolithic, maniacal horde of barbarians intent on senseless destruction. If a truer picture of Iranian society is allowed to take hold, it would pose a serious threat to the agenda of the Crawford Caligula and his militarist handlers.
But who will be killed in the attack on Iran, and the subsequent, inevitable escalation? For most Americans, the image of Iran is still the one that was seared onto their television screens in 1979 and 1980: the angry, violent hostage-takers, fundamentalist zombies blindly obedient to the will of an evil, black-robed tyrant. Less visual, but still potent, are the later press descriptions of Iranian hordes swarming in suicidal waves across the battlefields with Iraq. Such images and impressions – endlessly recapitulated in the media and in the political rhetoric of both parties – constitute the picture of the Iranian "enemy" that many Americans hold in their minds today.
It is these mad, maniacal, frothing zealots who will die in any attack, most people think – when they consider the matter at all. One might oppose a strike on practical grounds, of course, as Admiral William Fallon, recently removed as head of U.S. Central Command, allegedly did; but not from any concern over the fate of those "ants," as Fallon described the Iranians, in a perfect encapsulation of the general consensus.
Even at the time of their creation, these images were gross exaggerations of Iranian society; today they are wildly absurd, even hallucinatory in their lack of connection to reality. Consider just one fact: almost 70 percent of Iran's population is under 30. Most Iranians were not even born at the time of the 1979 revolution. The overwhelming majority of Iranians are too young to have played the slightest part in the war with Iraq. Most Iranians are also too young to play any substantial role in governing the country now. It has one of the youngest populations in the world. And beneath the rigid outward shell of its repressive system, this nation of youth is seething with change, growing toward new freedoms, making its own way toward a future that – if allowed to develop – will doubtless be much different than any scenario imagined by the militarists in Washington or the old men in Qom.
This week in the Observer, Peter Beaumont provided an insightful portrait of young Iran, particularly the women – who now outnumber the men in the nation's universities: a circumstance unimaginable in Iraq or Afghanistan, the lands "liberated" by the Terror War. An excerpt:
The rules of the coffee houses - in comparison with the street - reflect the fundamental division in Iran. It is not the divide between the 'Reforms' and the 'Principalists' of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who competed for Iran's parliamentary elections on Friday. For many of the young... those elections represented an increasingly irrelevant distinction in a clerical system they feel is stacked in favour of itself. Instead, the division is between what Iranians do and say in private, or in places where they feel comfortable, and how they are forced to behave in public.
The inevitable tension between the two is defining the boundaries of the country's culture wars. For it is here, rather than in the polling booths, that Iran's most crucial competition is taking place - over the limits of what is acceptable self-expression. It is the struggle to push the boundaries of freedom in Iran.
In Tehran, it is visible in the girls who wear their scarves pushed far back on their heads, hair springing free, faces heavily made up or tight jackets worn over their knee-length mantles in a challenge to the system. Even those attempting to push the boundaries insist that, despite the image of Iran in the West as virtually a totalitarian regime, Iranians enjoy more freedoms than they are credited with. Two of those are Sohrab Mahdavi, editor of the online Tehranavenue.com, and his friend Ramin Sadighi, a musician and director of a record label, who are involved in a project to bring more music into public places.
'The crucial thing to understand about Iran,' said Mahdavi, 'is that we do have freedoms. The important issue is the separation between public and private space in Iranian life. Since the revolution, public space has been tightly controlled [by the clerical authorities], so people have created their own "public spaces" in private. A consequence is that what is acceptable in private is now constantly in the process of trying to nibble away at the controlled public arena.'
'And you have to bear in mind,' said Sadighi, 'how youthful the population is here. They are the fruits of the system in many respects. But they are going in an opposite direction to it. There is no social movement that is represented by them - and I think that is probably a good thing for the future of Iran - but what is happening is that people have joined together to form small colonies of interest.'
It is a business that is explained by a young Iranian teacher. 'In the private space, you don't have to hide yourself. There are no restrictions. No boundaries. On what I read. What I believe. What I want to know.'
These are the people who will die – innocent, young, hopeful, human – in any attempt to extend the militarists' empire of corruption and domination ever deeper into the oil lands.
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This story was published on March 19, 2008.