Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical (hermionesviolin) wrote,
Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical

[Iran] Neda, interventionism, media, etc.

The last time I posted about Iran, I felt like I was way behind the curve (and I was ... though waiting before weighing in is my usual m.o.).

That was over a week ago, and I haven't seen much in recent days. Admittedly, anyone who's following Andrew Sullivan's liveblogging probably doesn't have any time to post anything of their own, and there have been plenty of other hot topics recently, and I haven't had the brain capacity to really synthesize a whole lot of substance myself so I'm not exactly in a position to criticize anyone else -- and yes I know people can be reading stuff and actively engaging with it and just not posting about it.


ann1962 wrote:
I understand the point they are making, but she isn't their daughter or my daughter. I will not take that claim from her parents. Now her parents don't have her, they shouldn't lose the claim to call her *their* daughter.

In an unrelated context, fillyjonk on Shapely Prose wrote:
Part of the reason we show such public interest in — and sense of entitlement to — women’s bodies is that they’ve historically been used to represent things that are at once greater and smaller than “individual woman.” When we’re accustomed to women’s bodies signifying virtues and values and cultural mores — instead of signifying, you know, a woman’s body — it’s no wonder we start to feel they’re public property.
From "We Watched a Woman Die. Now Let's Look Away" (Posted: June 25, 2009 at 7:57 AM By Vanessa M. Gezari):
Hanna is right about the Neda video. We really don’t have any idea what it records, except a young woman bleeding to death in the street. And ultimately that’s what is most arresting about the film: the experience of watching someone die. Like so many others, my reaction to it has been visceral. The first time I saw it, I burst into tears. Later, I focused on the whites of her eyes, the blood streaming from her mouth.

My interest in these details has nothing to do with my support for the protesters in Iran or my anger at her assassin, and it says absolutely nothing about who that assassin might be. It springs from my awareness of the vulnerability of the human body, and my physical empathy with this particular body in the moment it becomes a corpse. Meghan gets at this when she writes that the sight of Neda dying “is so difficult to hold in the mind that we have to transform it,” and that in making Neda’s death stand for more than the death of a single young women, we “rob it of meaning.” This is the same problem we encounter when we mix art, which captures the reality of life and death, with politics, whose aims are far more utilitarian. I don’t mean to suggest that the Neda video is art. But like art, it captures a profoundly significant moment in human existence, and that’s why it moves us. It’s the record of an individual death, not a revolutionary struggle.
I followed through the links in this post to co-bloggers and to the posts they reference and so on. I recommend it.

[Sidebar: According to the Guardian, "The police did not hand [Neda Agha Soltan's] body back to her family, her funeral was cancelled, she was buried without letting her family know and the government banned mourning ceremonies at mosques, the neighbours said."]


Even though I "seem to be very impressed by right-wing blogs like HotAir, and far-right ideologues and apologists like Volokh," in my (albeit somewhat limited) blogrolling I haven't encountered the rhetoric that Andrew Sullivan references in this cartoon.

Interesting reading includes "Bombing, Sanctions, And Rhetoric" (Posted on June 21st, 2009 by Daniel Larison).

I appreciate seeing the Left divided on this issue (see below excerpts from two posts off friendsfriends). I don't think big issues like this have simple, always-true, answers, and I get frustrated when people talk as if they do.
ethrosdemon: This is the problem with the long-range FP strategy that Obama is going with: yeah, it makes sense as long-term FP strategy, but sometimes shit happens and you have to react. The problem with having a strictly non-interventionist FP is that it's morally repugnant. This is same damned thing that happened in the Clinton administration. Why does the American left have to have no teeth? Interventionism doesn't not equal warmongering. Christ, and they even have Joe Biden in the administration. He must be losing his entire mind. LISTEN TO JOE BIDEN, YOU IDIOTS. I don't even think there's all much we can even do (I mean, because, you know, engaged in two wars on either side of Iran...*takes a valium*). I understand all that, but so? Isn't what Obama sold us to get in the Oval Office the dream that we'd Do Better? This is not doing better.

liz_marcs: I can understand the neo-con call for us to do something even though I completely disagree with them and think it's probably the last thing we should do. The arc of history is against the U.S. in this, in it's for the best that we do our best to stay out of the clash between the protesters and the Iranian government. The U.S. coming in on the side of the protesters is exactly what the government wants, so they can blame the protests on "foreign influence" and discredit what the protesters are trying to accomplish.

And what they're trying to accomplish is justice, to force the government to live up to its promises and govern only by the consent of the governed. If the protesters succeed, will their democracy look like ours? Hell, no. It won't and it shouldn't. But it will be theirs and that's the point.

Who wouldn't want to do something after reading and seeing everything that's available online? Who wouldn't?

But in the end, I think President Obama struck the right tone here in reminding the Iranian government that world is watching, and that the rights of the Iranian people need to be respected.

It's hard sitting on the sidelines, but sometimes you have to because history needs witnesses.

David Adesnik wrote:
OBAMA TAKES A PAGE FROM JIMMY CARTER'S PLAYBOOK: In today's news conference, President Obama came down hard on the Iranian regime for its failure to respect its citizens' universal rights. At the same time, the President insisted that he was absolutely, in no way, not at all meddling in Iran's internal affairs. In his words:
I've made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering with Iran's affairs...If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent and not coercion.
So the United States is not meddling, but it is threatening to make Iran's position abroad dependent on its actions at home.

Obama's paradoxical statement on this subject reflects a much deeper and enduring tension in the liberal approach to international politics. On the one hand, liberals cherish non-intervention. On the other hand, they cherish human rights. Is there any way to reconcile the two?


On a related note, Carter often tried to assert that focusing on human rights is not intervention, because international law recognizes human rights. Thus, in his first address to the UN General Assembly, Carter insisted:
All the signatories of the U.N. Charter have pledged themselves to observe and to respect basic human rights. Thus, no member of the United Nations can claim that mistreatment of its citizens is solely its own business.
Yet in another prominent address on human rights, Carter stated,
In the life of the human spirit, words are action, much more so than many of us may realize who live in countries where freedom of expression is taken for granted. The leaders of totalitarian nations understand this very well. The proof is that words are precisely the action for which dissidents in those countries are being persecuted.
So words represent a dangerous threat to totalitarian governments, but they are not a form of intervention. Got it?

I often like Will Wilkinson (though I think he can also be a real jerk sometimes -- but I should know by now that this isn't necessarily a dealbreaker), and he has a series of smart posts (reposted with most recent on top):
"History Repeats Itself" by Will Wilkinson on June 23, 2009

As I admitted below, I don’t know much about Iran, but I suppose exiled Iranian journalist and filmaker Lila Ghobady does. She says:
There has been no real election. Candidates are all hand-picked and cleared by a central religious committee. It is a farcical imitation of the free nomination/ election process that we have pictured in the free world. There is no possibility that a secular, pluralistic, freedom-loving democratic person who loves his or her country can become a candidate to run for president (or any other office) in Iran.

Twelve years ago, we went through the same process. Mohamad Khatami became the favorite of the western media, which called him a “reformist” who spoke beautifully about freedom of speech, civil rights and dialogue between cultures. But when he became president there was a crack down on a student uprising – a crackdown against the same students who voted for him. Many were killed, many disappeared, and many were tortured. Artists, authors and intellectuals disappeared and were found “mysteriously” murdered. The smooth-talking president Khatami, whom westerners loved, never tried to stop the violence and never showed sympathy to his supporters. Instead, he openly avowed that his responsibility was to respect the wishes of the supreme leader, Ayotollah Khameni, and to protect the security of the Islamic regime.

Now, the passionate and oppressed young generation of Iranians are going through exact same situation. They are supporting Khatami’s friend, Mousavi. It is sad that history repeats itself so quickly in my beloved country of birth. The people of Iran were fed up with poverty, injustice, corruption and international embarrassment with the knuckle-dragging, anti-Semitic, war-mongering cretin who was President Ahmadinejad. They chose to support a bad choice – Mousavi – rather than the worse choice, Ahmadinejad. However, when an election is really a selection, choice is an illusion. Mousavi is from the Islamic regime; he is inseparable from it, and all its abuses and cruelties.

The reality is that Iran has not had a democratic, free election for the past 30 years. Mr Mousavi, if elected, will not make any changes, not because he is powerless to do so (as Khatami’s supporters claimed during his presidency), but because he doesn’t believe in a democratic state as his background shows. He belongs to the fanatic dictatorial era of Ayotollah Khomeini and he believes in the same command-and-control system of government. We should not forget Khomeini’s statement in one of his speeches after the revolution about democracy. He said that “if all people of Iran say ‘yes” I would say no to something that I would believe is not right for the Islamic Nation”.

Let us not forget that Mousavi was Prime Minister of Iran in the 1980s when more than ten thousand political prisoners were executed after three-minute sham trials. He has been a part of the Iranian dictatorship system for the past 30 years. If he had not been, he would not be allowed to be a candidate in the first place.
Do you have any reason to think she’s wrong?

Ghobady observes that no matter who comes out on top, he would stone her for her many “crimes” against Islam. This is not the situation I prefer, but it does seem to be the situation we have.


"Further Meditations on the Objective Meaning of Green Twitter Avatars" by Will Wilkinson on June 23, 2009

Some people were really ticked off by my Twitter avatar post, and I can see why. I guess it’s bad enough to accuse people of empty moral posturing. It’s another thing to accuse people of empty moral posturing that helps the people who worked like crazy to start an unjustified war in Iraq. So let me say that I completely understand the impulse to express solidarity with Iranians who seek freedom. I feel it very strongly myself, but I also don’t trust it. Why not?

Because I realize that I have no idea what I’m talking about. I don’t understand Iranian politics very deeply. I will now proceed to make some mistakes that prove this. For example, I did not know until this episode that Mousavi was Prime Minister of Iran for many years under Khomeni, which pretty much guarantees he’s no angel. I did not understand anything about the internal divisions within the Council of Guardians and the Assembly of Experts. Indeed, I still don’t completely grasp how these various bodies are related to each other. What I gather is that that Khameni and Ahmadinejad are aligned against former Prime Minister Mousavi and former President Rafsanjani (who is now the head of the Assemby of Experts, the body that chooses the Supreme Leader. Thank you Wikipedia). I don’t really grasp whether Mousavi and Rafsanjani are in it together, or are in a “the enemy of my enemy is a friend of mine” sort of thing, or what. As far as I can tell, the ruling axis got worried A’jad might lose the election, botched the vote-rigging, but validated the result anyway. I don’t know who would have won had the vote been counted (I think this remains quite unclear), but in any case, it seems clear enough that Ahmadinejad is staying in power despite a pretty transparent flouting of the rules of an already deeply anti-democratic constitution. This provided a great opportunity for the anti-Khameni/Ahmadinejad faction to encourage a popular uprising, which I am sure is fueled by real discontent with the current regime. And much of this discontent I am sure is surely rooted in an authentic desire for a more liberal and democratic Iran.

Is that what we get if the Mousavi-Rafsanjani axis comes to power? A more liberal and democratic Iran? I honestly don’t know, and I don’t think many people do. I do know that these guys are deeply embedded in the larger status quo power structure, have had power before, and their records don’t look so good. They may well represent improvement, but I don’t honestly know that. As far as I know, the outpouring of desire for change that we see so clearly on YouTube is being exploited by one faction of the Iranian ruling class to depose another. I’d like to see the whole theocratic structure of Iran fall. I’d like to see the whole country radically liberalize, but I think that’s unlikely, largely because I doubt very much that that’s what most Iranians want. I want Iran to be free, and I want Iranians to want to be free. And I’m quite willing to cheer for freedom. Go freedom! But given my ignorance of exactly what and who I’d really be cheering on should I alter my Twitter avatar to reflect the campaign color of the former PM of the Islamic Republic of Iran, I think the intellectually and morally responsible course of action is to watch with colorless hope.

I am, however, quite confident that the powerful faction within American politics that argued for and got a war in Iraq has been arguing for a much harder line against Iran in order to set up a familiar dynamic of sanctions, UN Security Council demands, and so on. [...]


"Signaling and Solidarity" by Will Wilkinson on June 19, 2009

So folks on Twitter have been turning their avatars (little profile photos) green to show solidarity with the protesters in Iran. There are websites to help you do this. But why do this? How does it help? I want the Iranian people to live in freedom, just as I want all people to live in freedom. But the point of the gesture eludes me, unless the point of the gesture is to be seen making the gesture by others who will credit you for it. Like so many political gestures, it is vanity dressed up as elevated moral consciousness. It doesn’t help. Is it harmless? Unlike the stupidly grandstanding House resolution, the ruling regime probably won’t be pointing to verdant Twitter avatars as evidence that the uprising is an American plot. So I wouldn’t worry about that. Here’s what I do worry about. When people feel pressure to signal, and it’s free, they’ll signal. But sending the signal creates a small emotional investment in the overt message of the signal — solidarity with opponents of the ruling Iranian regime. As every salesman knows, getting someone to make a big, costly commitment is best achieved by getting them to first make a tiny, costless commitment. The tiny, costless commitment of turning Twitter avatars green is thin edge of the persuasive edge for the neocons who would like to sell the public a war in Iran. Since I would rather not be Bill Kristol’s useful idiot, I will conspicuously leave my avatar as is, and continue hoping for the best.

Apparently HuffPo's Nico Pitney caused a stir, though I didn't see anything about that (on any side of the controversy) in almost any of the blogs I read, and certainly not on my flist.

"Mr. President, Iran Has a Question: How Obama is using the media to destroy and improve the traditional press conference." By John Dickerson [Posted Friday, June 26, 2009, at 3:30 PM ET]
Tags: issues: iran, issues: media, issues: obama administration, issues: representation

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