I know it is too unrealistic to expect grownups to learn. I know this because indeed it is particularly difficult for lessons to sink in through all the barriers, blocks, filtered filters, and the assorted other “real life” machinery we have inserted in our brains. And I also know that, having fully coated our own brains, we usually then proceed to have the same insulations superimposed upon life so as to be able to stand the stench alone.
Yet, life’s stench can get too nasty to endure, so from time to time we must step out into the open and declare our disgust and hopefully get the assistance of, or at least the reluctant acceptance of, a few adults who are lifelong learners and are contributing to the fight against the stench.
Case in point: Lesser Evil thinking that’s all the rage these days.
This position, though a liberal will be horrified to be told, is in fact the most reactionary of all available tendencies. The so-called neo-conservatives, to their credit, correctly perceive and declare openly that reality can be changed, and are in a concerted movement to change that reality. In this, they are far more radical and far more honest than are the latter day liberals.
No matter what it is, the liberal always declares that life is all about practicing your choice between different really existing evils. That, in a nutshell, is the essence of American liberalism: the deepest pessimism of the worst and most cynical kind.
In other words, not a single utterance is allowed to speak of possibilities of creating new and better lives. It is all to do with which lesser degree of evil is available now. And no matter what the cost, the lesser of the evil is to be taken on; for it is the lesser of the available evils. All very simple!
The epitome of inaction, the liberal is therefore the true conservative of these late-modern days. Hence, they provide the best cushion behind which the right wing radicals can stay busy re-ordering reality to their own imperial liking, and to the benefit of all factions of capital.
Not content with getting things completely upside down in their own country, American liberals are now touring internationally, dispensing with their erroneous “lesser evil” outlook as freely as their more radical “neo-con” cousins are dropping freedom enclosed in bombs and delivering democracy from the barrels of tanks and guns.
This “lesser evil” way of looking at reality has recently been applied by Norman Solomon (who also supported an “Anybody But Bush” stance in the 2004 US elections) to the socio-political reality known as Iran, and more specifically to its ninth presidential elections held on June 17, 2005.
Now, we do appreciate Mr. Solomon’s efforts in opposing the logic as well as the actions of Bush administration’s belligerent behavior against the peoples of the Middle East, including the people living under the Iranian Islamic Republic’s regime. To the extent that such advocacy is intended to help bring about a safer environment for the people of Iran to pursue truthfully their ambitions for more democracy and social justice, we are in the same boat as Mr. Solomon. The major cost of any military attack on Iran will be paid by real lives of ordinary citizens who would like nothing better than to be left alone by national and international politics and all their horrible consequences.
It seems that like many liberals in the US, Mr. Solomon’s enmity for Bush and his Gang has blinded him to the structures of imperialism as practiced by American capitalists -- i.e. oblivious to the structures that go far beyond personalities and political parties in the official organs of representation. So, he takes the same “Choice of Two Evils” school of political analysis to Iran. So equipped analytically, in one article (“In Washington’s Crosshairs,” Dissident Voice, June 14, 2005) he ends up declaring that, compared to Egypt or the Gulf sultanates, the Iranian theocracy is not that bad and displays some vague signs of democratic life; and in the other article (“Iran’s Growing Reform Movement,” CounterPunch, June 15, 2005) claims that the reformists in Iran are an anathema to the “hardliners” in both Tehran and Washington.
Now, this “reform” label is worth a little explanation. By “reform” if we are not talking about changing things in some noticeable way, then we should use terms such as “administrative change,” or the like, which more accurately represent what the so-called reformists in Iran are really calling for.
To use an analogy, with all its pitfalls, what is proposed politically by the “reformers” in Iran, who are believers in the current constitution, is more on par with when a new supervisor is hired at, say, a Kinko’s Copy store, for example. Not on par with a company-wide change in ownership along with managerial style as well as service regime, which would truly constitute real reform.
So, to make so much of a fuss over something that is for the most part ceremonial is slightly absurd. Back in 1997, understandably the people of Iran themselves made a pig deal out of Khatami’s candidacy, and later continued to invest huge amounts of social hope in his presidency. So much so that when the students were taking to the streets in 1998-1999, they were truly (and naively) addressing their grievances to the “reformist” president whom they had elected.
After the brutal crackdown on the students by vigilantes, and the concurrent denunciation of the students by the very “reformist” Khatami, and after the country saw Khatami’s impotence in bringing to justice those responsible for the serial killings of prominent intellectuals and writers, it slowly became clear that in such a theocratic system with its constitution as it stands, it would be meaningless to speak of “reform” if such reforms did not include a change in the constitution.
Yet, the least of any meaningful change that would render the constitution bearing the slightest hints of true democracy would have to be a fundamental change in the constitution. In short, any reform of the constitution in the direction of democracy must start with the elimination of the role of the Supreme Religious Leader, and take away all his powers.
But, of course, Western liberals miss by all means all the deeper socio-historical perspectives and choose to do cut-and-paste reporting, in which “Kerry” or “Democrats” are replaced with “Moin” or “reformers”, without anybody at any level intervening with some historical understanding or at least a sociological perspective that goes wider and looks deeper.
And Mr. Solomon stays true to that superficial form of looking at things, even as he tries to introduce sophistication into his analysis. But, since his outlook is based on limited and contradictory analytical tools, he ends up in the same pickle as an entire army of liberal ABB supporters did in the US general elections of 2004, in which they ultimately ended up reinforcing the worst and most anti-humanistic tendencies of the US political classes by helping Bush get reelected (see Kevin Zeese’s interview with Joshua Frank, Dissident Voice, June 10, 2005).
In “Iran’s Growing Reform Movement,” Mr. Solomon, quoting a reporter from the financial voice of capital, The Economist, states, “‘As long as Iran fears America's intentions, and the United States vilifies the Islamic Republic, Iran's authoritarian leaders will have an excuse to suppress dissent and to label reformers as traitors,’ says Christopher de Bellaigue, a correspondent for The Economist who has lived in Iran for several years. Writing in the current issue of Foreign Policy, he predicts that ‘a new generation of Iranians will spur further reform.’”
Of course, the general statement is true, since, as Shirin Ebadi (our human rights lawyer Nobel Laureate), as well as numerous other writers have pointed out, the hard line theocrats in Tehran love nothing better than an enemy that allows them to crack heads in the name of fighting that very enemy (real or not).
But, be that as it may, what is being quoted is true only to a certain degree. The mullahs in Tehran and the rest of the country have not had much trouble finding excuses other than the Great Satan for arresting, harassing, torturing, or executing wholesale thousands of people when their existence has come under serious threat. Great Satan talk is just the mirror image of the “war on terror” talk; it is simply a handy tool.
What is interesting is that in Mr. Solomon’s writing there is not a hint that he has talked to any number of Iranians. And he could have found plenty of them while he was in Tehran.
Mr. Solomon mistakes the presence of large numbers of people out on the streets and attending political rallies organized by the candidates as a sign that democracy is alive and well under the clerical regime. What he may have overlooked is that the Iranian people know that during the campaign season, since the politicians are busy organizing rallies during which they like to sweet talk and make promises aplenty, it gives the people a chance to take to the streets and voice their own grievances in the dim hope that the message will be heard. The message being: either true reform or else!
There has been a constant flow of demonstrations big and small by women, for example, who have turned the tables on the politicians by demanding a fundamental change in the constitution so as to allow women to run for president (to which Mr. Solomon makes a passing reference). There have been demonstrations by women demanding equal rights when it comes to participating in, as well as attending, sports events. There has been constant agitation and sit-in protests (while Mr. Solomon was in Tehran, mind you) by families and supporters of political prisoners.
Mr. Solomon could have easily visited the protesting relatives of the political prisoners conducting a sit-in protest in front of the Evin prison of Tehran, in solidarity with Nasser Zarafshan and Akbar Ganji, both of whom are on hunger strike, in protest against the fact and conditions of their imprisonment. Why did Mr. Solomon not ask the authorities if he could visit both these internationally known political prisoners?
Mr. Solomon needs to know that we have enough national courage, guts, and spirit to overthrow an imposed dictatorship, and have been struggling for a truly democratic governance ever since our Constitutional Revolution of 1905-06. And he also needs to know that the regimes that have been imposed on us have, without exception, taken away our political rights every chance they have had, and that is the main reason none have been able to rule with any real legitimacy, and that is the fundamental element of instability in all such regimes.
Would Mr. Solomon settle for a theocracy back in the U.S.? If not, why does he assume that the Iranian people should tolerate one? We get a strong stench of racist Orientalism pure and simple!
Mr. Solomon’s article, “In Washington’s Crosshairs,” states: “In Iran, many people are in the midst of challenging the country's rulers, in the streets and at the ballot box.”
The challenge in the street is obvious enough, and will surely bring about a crackdown in due course.
As for the challenge at the ballot box, I for one am for challenging a system at its own ballot boxes if a system allowed for real challenges at the ballot box; though rare they are, they are known to have happened. But to claim that such a thing is happening in Iran is beyond a reasonable stretch!
In case it needs emphasizing, we are talking about a system of theocracy, a theocracy that is so by its written constitution. A constitution that bars women (half of the population) from running for president or becoming judges; a constitution that officially gives textual affirmation to a system that is known to all in Iran as, in the words of our bravest dissident journalist and writer/political prisoner, Akbar Ganji, a “sultanate”; which translates into what I crudely call a “Pope System,” in which every imaginable decision, down to people’s most private acts, can be subject to the ultimate OK of the Vali-ye Faqhih-e Motlaqh, meaning literally “absolute religious knower.”
Further, according to the same Constitution, the presidency by design has very little authority. In fact, the president’s position in Iran can be likened to the presidency in Israel, for example; it is, for the most part, ceremonial.
So, in effect, what Mr. Solomon holds as the biggest threat to the US imperialists and the Iranian hard line theocrats, consists of a group of docile servants of a theocratic system in which, should they even gain the presidency, they will still hold no power, and which is based on the most despotic forms of rule that has ever been invented by humans on earth!
In the same article, Mr. Solomon states unambiguously, “Iran's election is not rigged.”
Now, let us see … “Not rigged,” in spite of millions of readily available reports of more than one thousand candidates being disqualified by a non-elected body of men appointed by the religious supreme leader. Not rigged, in spite of, again, a constitution that bans half of the population from running for president; not rigged, in spite of the fact that to become president you may only be a Shiite Muslim male (not even Sunnis can run for president; forget about members of all other religions, and most definitely forget those godless atheists who would sooner be executed or jailed if found publicly casting doubts regarding the supreme being); not rigged, in spite of the fact that you are not qualified to run if you do not explicitly believe in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic; meaning, you are disqualified if you do not believe in the Pope System!!
This is not rigged?!! Well, how rigged does it have to get?
You see where you can end up with this Lesser of Evils type of thinking! It is way past the time to fundamentally reevaluate such superficial political thinking and come up with something that explains reality slightly better so that better political actions can be taken.
Reza Fiyouzat is an applied linguist/university instructor, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Articles by Reza Fiyouzat
Other Articles by Reza Fiyouzat