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  Astringent Corrective: AbuKhalil on Iran's Turmoil
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VIEWPOINT:

Astringent Corrective: AbuKhalil on Iran's Turmoil

by Chris Floyd
Originally published Monday, 22 June 2009

Professor As'ad AbuKhalil rightly notes the rank hypocrisy of Barack Obama's statement on the turmoil in Iran:

Obama has spoken: "The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights." There is so much that you can do with this statement. The hypocrite in [chief] is invoking an argument that he himself so blatantly ignores and will continue to ignore to the last day of his presidency. Does he really believe in that right for peoples? Yes, but only in countries where governments are not clients of the US. Will he invoke that argument, say, in Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Morocco or Tunisia or Libya or Jordan or Oman, etc? Of course not. This is only an attempt to justify US imperial policies. And even in Iran, the Empire is nervous because it can't predict the outcome. But make no mistake about it: his earlier statement to the effect that the US can't for historical reasons "appear to be meddling" sets the difference between the Bush and the Obama administration. The Bush administration meddled blatantly and crudely and visibly, while the Obama administration meddles more discreetly and not-so-visibly. Tens of thousands of pens equipped with cameras have been smuggled into Iran: I only wish that the American regime would dare to smuggle them into Saudi Arabia so that the entire world can watch the ritual of public executions around the country.

I'd like to say an additional word about Obama's statement. When I saw that the president also invoked the words of Martin Luther King Jr. (“Martin Luther King once said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice’”),  I very nearly threw up. To quote an apostle of non-violence, who spent his last days standing with striking workers and railing against the American government as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today" because of its murderous war machine, when you yourself are in command of that war machine, spewing out Vietnam-style death (and "targeted assassinations") in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan; when you are striving with all your might to defend, shield and in many cases continue the heinous torture atrocities of your predecessor; when you are pouring trillions of public dollars into the purses of the financial elite while letting millions of workers go hang; and when you yourself have made repeated statements that you will never take any options "off the table" when dealing with Tehran, including the nuclear destruction of the Iranian people for whose liberties and well-being you now profess such noble concern -- well, that seems a bit much, if I may riot in understatement.

In other posts, AbuKhalil offers more good sense on the Iranian situation:

The hypocrisy [of Western media coverage] is quite stunning. They are admiring the dare of the population when the Palestinian population shows more dare. They are outraged at the level of repressive crackdown by the regime when Israeli crackdowns on demonstrations are far more brutal and savage? They are admiring the participation of women in a national movement, when Palestinian women led the struggle from as far back as the 1930s (see the private papers of Akram Zu`aytir). They are outraged that the Iranian government is repressing media coverage, when the Israeli government is far more strict: when it was perpetrating slaughter in Gaza few months ago, the Western press was not allowed any freedom of movement except the hill of death where Michael Oren led reporters to watch Israeli brutal assualt on the Palestinian civilian population from a distance.

The media coverage in the US and UK proves beyond a doubt that increasingly the Western press has been serving as a tool for the various Western government. If the government cheers, the media cheer, if the government condemns, the media condemns, etc. And would the Western media ever be as unrestrained in its glamorization and glorfication of demonstrators and demonstrations in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Jordan as they are now? There are no claims of even covering a story anymore: it is merely how can we best help the beautiful demonstrators who are not bearded and whose women are more loosely veiled. This is not to say that the Iranian regime is not repressive and needs to be overthrown: far from that. But it is to say that the Iranian regime is as bad (in fact Saudi Arabia and Egypt are probably worse) and as unjust as the various Middle East governments that are supported by the Western governments and Western media. When Western media sit with Saudi and Egyptian leaders, it is as if they are sitting with a friend...

And for those who see the union-busting, privatizing Ahmadinajad as some kind of leftist champion of the poor and the oppressed, AbuKhalil notes:

The rift I sense between Iranian left and Arab left is due to some admiration on the part of some in the Arab left for Ahmadinajad: that really angers people in the Iranian left. (And I am here with the latter group in that regard. I find Ahmadinajad's rhetoric of disservice to Palestine).

And for those who see the hidebound sectarian Moussavi as some kind of champion of "Western-style" pluralist democracy, AbuKhalil has these observations:

I am very proud to be writing in a paper (Al-Akhbar) that is the only Arabic newspaper in the world that advocates for gay and lesbian rights. But the Western media are more impressed with a lackey of Ayatullah Khomeini who led the purges against leftists, Baha'is, and Jews in Iranian universities in the 1980s....

I can't support a movement that writes its signs in English, in order to please the White Man, and I can't be in the same trench with Fox News. Yet, I support the overthrow of a regime that fed its people foreign policy slogans and religious jargon and (along with Saudi Arabia) fought all manifestations of secularism, leftism, and feminism in the Middle East since 1979 (much earlier in the case of Saudi Arabia).

Finally, AbuKhalil takes on the racist undertones that have crept into some Western championing of the Iranian uprising, particularly Andrew Sullivan's implication that the Iranians are more "capable" of democracy than Arabs:

Andrew Sullivan responds to my critique ("As'ad AbuKhalil doesn't appreciate Americans' double standards [when he declares "why do Western media express outrage over a stolen election in Iran but they don't even feign outrage over lack of elections in Saudi Arabia?") by saying this: "Because Iran actually has a population capable of sustaining democracy; and Mousavi is as good as we'll get."

Oh, you have to do better than this. What does these cliches mean? That the population "is capable of sustaining democracy"? Hardly the case if you measure it historically: I personally don't believe in the inequality of people as you seem to do; and I don't belive in those culural arguments that assumes one culture is hostile to democracy while others are not. It is fascinating that Iran is largly Islamic so they can't invoke the non-Islamic arugment, but Iran has produced two successive forms of dictatorships, so the attempt to separate the genetic makeup of Iranians from the Arabs is historically flawed.

And the argument that Mousavi is "as good as we'll get" can't be reconciled with the history and presence of the man. Just yesterday, he released a statement that was dripping with religious demagoguery and was argument that his mission is really to prove the compatibilty of Islam with the republic. Mousavi does not miss an opportunity to to invoke the memory and teachings of Khomeini. People are forgetting that when Mousavi was prime minister and was engaged in a conflict with the then president Khamenei, Khomeini was invariably siding with Mousavi. So there is a history of close association with this so-called democrat with the teachings of Khomeini. Let us not kid ourselves: it is not about the charactertics of the population and not about the "as good as it gets" bogus argument: it is about cheering for anybody who sides against a government that oppoes the US.

In a world riddled with journalistic cant -- and thought-killing political and religious tribalism of every stripe -- AbuKhalil's perspective remains a most useful and astringent corrective.


Chris Floyd at his deskChris Floyd has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Great Britain and Russia for various newspapers, magazines, the U.S. government and Oxford University. Floyd co-founded the blog Empire Burlesque, and is also chief editor of Atlantic Free Press. He can be reached at cfloyd72@gmail.com.

This column is republished here with the permission of the author.



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This story was published on June 23, 2009.

 



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