Events are unfolding in Iran rapidly and chaotically, with no clear indication yet where they may lead. (In the short term, that is. One is always mindful of Zhou Enlai's response when he was asked for his opinion on the historical impact of the French Revolution: "It's too early to tell.") Solid information is still scanty and piecemeal, so it is difficult to offer any telling insights on the developments and their possible implications. So the following are just a few tentative observations.
It does seem clear, by all the evidence so far -- particularly studies of past voting patterns -- that the final vote totals were rigged and padded rather clumsily (much as they are in Russia, for example), although that doesn't necessarily mean that Ahmadinajad actually lost. Again, we just don't have enough information on this point yet. It would be good if he did lose and had to step down -- but I think it's highly unlikely that the powerful elites who back him will allow this to happen.
Then again, the Iranians are in general a braver, bolder people than some other peoples we might mention, who in recent memory sat slack-jawed and supine when their franchise was stripped from them in broad daylight by powerful elites. The Iranian people have already overthrown one seemingly powerful and permanently entrenched regime in the last 30 years, and could well do so again -- or at least force the current regime to become more open and humane. In any case, the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Iranians who have taken to the streets, risking -- and in some cases, losing -- life and limb to demand their rights shame the bloated, bored, distracted masses of the American empire (and its British satrapy), who have watched numbly and dumbly as their liberties have been systematically dismantled, their public treasuries looted by plutocrats and war profiteers, and their own children thrown into murderous wars of aggression and occupation.
But while the Iranians continue to work out their own destiny, coverage of the events in the Western press has largely fallen into the expected -- indeed, predestined -- patterns. Western media have swiftly fitted the Iranian unrest into the now-standard "color revolution" template -- seen in Serbia, Georgia, Lebanon, and other -- where plucky, pro-Western (i.e., reliably pliable to American interests) forces rise up against their oppressors. The leaders of these forces are invariably depicted as "moderates" committed to installing Western-style governments and liberal, Western-style social orders, etc. For example, the recent election in Lebanon was presented as a great triumph for the "pro-Western March 14 Faction" led by the son of slain tycoon Rafik Hariri -- even though this "pro-Western" faction includes Sunni extremists aligned with Osama bin Laden.
Similarly, the Iranian opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi is universally depicted as a "moderate." Yet, as Professor As'ad AbuKhalil points out, when Moussavi was Iran's prime minister under Ayatollah Khomeini, he "presided over a regime far more oppressive than Ahmadinajad's." AbuKhalil's take on the hypocrisy of the Western media coverage on Iran is worth quoting more fully:
...there is so much hypocrisy in the Western coverage and official reactions to the developments. Most glaring for me was the statement by the secretary-general of the UN who insisted on the respect of the will of the Iranian people. Would that US designate utter such words, say, about Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and other dictatorships that are approved by the US? ...I am in no way sympathetic to Moussavi. He is a man who suddenly discovered the virtues of democracy. When he was prime minister back in the 1980s, he presided over a regime far more oppressive than Ahmadinajad's. And why has no Western media really commented on his rhetoric during his own campaign: the man kept saying that he wants a "return" to the teachings of Khomeini. I in no way support a man who wants a "return" to the teachings of Khomeini.
Of course, Moussavi -- like some other politicians we could mention -- has now become, for millions of people, an emblem for genuine changes and reforms that he probably has no desire or intention to enact, even if given the chance. Like Barack Obama, he is of the power structure, and would, in end, no doubt act for the power structure. (Albeit with minor mitigations which, as we've often noted in regard to American politics, can also mean real differences in the lives of many individuals, and thus are not to be airily dismissed -- although such an acknowledgement in no way requires an endorsement or acceptance of the overall power structure in which these mitigations occur, or of any particular mitigator in that system.)
But as we noted above, the Iranian people have already demonstrated the courage to stand up for their rights. Unlike the acquiescent Americans, seemingly content with cosmetic makeovers of the imperial management, the Iranians may yet force their emblem to more fully inhabit the role that the times -- and their own ardent desires for change -- have created for him.
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This story was published on June 17, 2009.