Iran. This is a country I have wanted to visit for a long time, and my desire has nothing to do with the political situation there. I read about ancient Persia and Islamic Sufis when I was a kid, long before I knew who Ayatollah Khomeini was. I never held the impression that this was some kind of backward society, even when I became aware of the politics of the country. It always seemed to me like a fascinating place with a long cultural history.
In any case, the recent election threw up a veritable volcano of analysis, propaganda, fiction, discussion and debate. What are we to make of this all. I honestly do not know. Facts were kind of hard to find amongst all the vitriol and rhetoric. I do know that Mir Hossein Mousavi is not some angelic reformist who would dismantle the Iranian Theocracy and abandon the country’s nuclear ambitions. I found it amazing that Conservative voices in the west were touting him as some kind of Saviour of Iran. I suspect they were mostly using him as a propaganda tool to attack the Obama administration, with one radio host I overheard whilst in a hardware store saying that Obama should have intervened in the election aftermath and that the fact that he didn’t proved he was less committed to peace in the Middle East that Reagan and Bush. This is quite frankly preposterous. I’m not even going to begin to unravel that kind of statement as it’s flaws should present themselves immediately to anyone with even the slightest clue of what is really going with the power struggles in the region.
In fact, politically speaking, the last thing the Obama Administration should do is interfere, both for their own good and for the good of democracy in Iran. See this insightful essay by Stephen Zunes on why that is the case.
I actually suspect that the Election was legitimately (as legitimately as these things get anyway) won by Ahmadinejad but they shot themselves in the foot by trying to rig it anyway. So in fact, they rigged it, won by a narrow but legitimate margin, announced the huge margin from the rigged results, got caught rigging it and then had to deal with the civil unrest that followed. That is what I suspect.
I don’t think I will ever truly know. As always, I turned to the articles of Robert Fisk to give me a clear and thoughtful report of what was happening in the country. Recommended reading if you have not already digested them.
The truly horrific thing in all of this is the fact that the protests were then put down in the most brutal and repressive fashion. This should really come as no surprise, and I’d just like to point out that demonstrations worldwide are often treated with violence by the Police, yes, even in the liberal western world where democracy is perfect and the people duly represented by their honestly elected officials. I don’t know if you can taste the sarcasm in my voice here but trust me it is extremely bitter. Remember people that Hypocrisy truly is the greatest luxury.
That said, I am not in any way belittling the loss of life that occurred during the demonstrations. Along with the many arrested and detained, those Iranians who lost their life should never have had to do so.
The widely circulated images and videos have been greeted with disgust and indignation, and rightly so.
In fact, this brings me to the point of how the images coming from Iran during the protests were used. I know from talking to a photographer who was present that it was extremely difficult for professionals with their big cameras to work unhampered – though once again this is a trend not unique to these demonstrations – hence the fact that much of the footage came from cellphone cameras. There is a compiled slideshow on the FOTO8 website. Citizen journalism in action. The big news outlets utilized many of these images for their own ends. I noticed that a still from the video of Neda Soltani’s shooting was being distributed by Getty. I don’t know if any money changed hands here or if Getty are syndicating this for a fee. I begin to wonder about how thin the line is between reporting and voyeurism, about how often we as human beings cross this line without thinking and about the moral repercussions of our actions. Death and violence are part of the journalist’s trade. It is news. But it is also the commercialisation of a woman’s death. It is also propaganda. It becomes so many things. I feel like things get trickier every day; that the black and white of right and wrong become more and more of a murky grey. Will that woman’s death become overwhelmed by the aftermath of the event? I’m sure it will. Stan Banos put down some words that I think go right to the core of what should be important about the footage.
“I don’t usually do “these” videos. It had a graphic warning, but this time, for some reason, I unwittingly ignored it. And there was no amount of violent Hollywood desensitization that could have possibly prepared one. In seconds, the brutality of death overwhelmed the fragility of beauty, the promise of youth, and finally, the very thought of hope itself. It left no time for moral or meaning.
Indifference indeed. That is the key word here. In a world where I can turn on my TV, open a newspaper and Browse the internet, I can hear about brutal oppression in Peru, China and Iran, I can read about poverty and desperation in South Africa, corruption in the United States and Political hypocrisy in Europe. I can hear about a Coup in Honduras and remember the photographs a friend of mine took in a Gaza hospital and I can do nothing to change these things right now. I have no magic wand to make the world a better place in one fell swoop, and when I am confronted with so much that is wrong I am left with a feeling of helpless indifference. But I can make small steps. I can do something to make the world a better place. Even if I do nothing today except ask my wife how her day was and actually give a shit about her reply. I can do something. And this is what I learned most from what I read, heard and saw from the Iranian protests. These people are doing something. They might not overthrow a repressive regime in one week. They might not change the world, but they are making steps toward a better future. A flawed future no doubt, but a better one. And that is a lesson we can all learn something from. If we do, then no one will have died in vain.