Molavi’s question

In a July 4th Washington Post oped, the excellent Iranian-American journalist Afshin Molavi writes of how Iran’s fitful struggle for freedom is well in-grained within Iran’s history and political culture.

“It’s important to recognize the Iranian struggle for what it is: a grass-roots, vital movement for greater liberty enriched by more than a century of struggle against foreign powers, autocratic kings and repressive theocrats. Iran’s rulers would have the world believe that the protesters are a minority inspired by foreigners, but this denies a fundamental piece of Iranian history.”

I agree. Molavi then asks the question of the day — “Who will stand with Iranians?”

“Last month I attended a candlelight vigil to honor those who died fighting for freedom. The gathering was somber yet hopeful, but it was still too narrowly Iranian. We need more Americans… If there is one issue that politically polarized America ought to be able to rally around, it is the gallant struggle of Iranians.”

I concur in part; most of the protests thus far are far too… “Iranian,” perhaps because of the organizational model of most Iran focused interest groups. (To get invited, it helps to be “Iranian.”) In the western protests thus far, we often can see demonstrators splitting along factional lines, sometimes violently, as largely incompatible political agendas of monarchists, mujahedin, komali, liberals, secularists, etc. come to the fore.
Yet if such divides could be surmounted in common support for Iranians, what exactly would Molavi have us do?
Human rights groups are planning mass rallies in the west for July 25th. What exactly will be the message of such solidarity? How will such rallies help?


If truly major demonstrations emerge, are they not vulnerable to cynical misuse by certain lobbies here as “evidence” to pressure western governments to “do something?” Already in Washington DC circles, we have initiatives gaining steam for non-recognition of Ahmadinejad as President, for “crippling” sanctions, for “regime change” funding, and for giving Israel carte blance to bomb, bomb, bomb… bomb bomb Iran.
Even if such solidarity demonstrations are not hijacked here in the west, how will they play in Iran? Will not Ahmadinejad and his cohorts use them to tell Iranians that the US is behind American protests just as they claim foreigners are behind the demonstrations in Iran?
These concerns get to the core of what I have dubbed in academic writings as the “legitimacy paradox” for Iran. How do those who would change their system from within seek the approbation of international opinion without the attainment thereof undermining their standing at home?
I’ve been mulling an answer that dissenting clerical scholar Mohsen Kadivar suggests in his important interview with Der Spiegel recently. While rejecting a role for foreign countries and commending President Obama for prudent restraint, Kadivar insists that, “This is a battle the Iranian people have to win by themselves.”
Deeming “Ahmadinejad’s insistence that Washington has fueled the unrest” as having “no effect,” Kadivar boldly reasons:

“When [Khamenei], together with Ahmadinejad, speaks about foreign countries being behind the protests in Iran, he very much reminds me of the king (the Shah). He used the same arguments and could not recognize that he was witnessing a national and democratic protest movement of his own people…. “

This is a remarkable parallel. I welcome other comments about the legitimacy paradox at hand — about Molavi’s question.
Speaking of world class journalists,I also recommend Roger Cohen’s NYTimes oped today. He’s now out of Iran — and “bereft.”

[J]ournalism is a matter of gravity…. to be a journalist is to bear witness. The rest is no more than ornamentation.
I confess that, out of Iran, I am bereft…. A chunk of me is back in Tehran, between Enquelab (Revolution) and Azadi (Freedom), where I saw the Iranian people rise in the millions to reclaim their votes and protest the violation of their Constitution.
We journalists are supposed to move on. Most of the time, like insatiable voyeurs, we do. But once a decade or so, we get undone, as if in love, and our subject has its revenge, turning the tables and refusing to let us be.

I know the feeling. Cohen, like me, Mohlavi, and other would-be Baskervilles, hears an Iranian echo in our own celebration of Independence. Wanting to stand with the Iranians, Cohen closes,

“This distance… feels like betrayal.”

10 thoughts on “Molavi’s question

  1. JohnH

    In a message to the Iranians in the Diaspora, Mousavi said, “I am fully aware that your justified demands have nothing to do with groups who do not believe in the sacred Islamic Republic of Iran’s system. It is up to you to distance yourself from them, and do not allow them to misuse the current situation.”
    http://original.antiwar.com/sahimi/2009/07/05/false-sorrow-for-the-people-of-iran/
    Amen! There is an entire foreign policy establishment in Washington salivating at the prospect of misusing the current situation.

  2. epppie

    Right. There’s absolutely no question that the US has been heavily, HEAVILY involved in subversion in Iran. To deny this, Helena, is to declare that you are irrelevant.
    And be clear, if you remain capable of clarity: no one that I know of is claiming that there is no freedom movement in Iran or that US covert operations are capable of making a movement happen from scratch. What is being claimed, what is basically irrefutable, is that what happened in Iran was a US manipulated Color Coup.
    ANYONE who cares the tiniest bit about freedom MUST learn to approach these situations with more finesse. We need to learn how to support the freedom movment without supporting the color coup. In fact, we need to fight AGAINST subversion of freedom movements. At the same time, we have to fight against the classism that infects our own freedom movements and thus infects our view of other freedom movements – the classism that makes Iran protestors worthy in our eyes, because they seem clean and well educated and because they twitter and hold signs in English; that makes protestors in Honduras seem unworthy of our concern because they are dirty, and poor and hold signs in Spanish, and don’t have spokesmodels that look good on American TV.
    Of course, no one ever puts it quite that bluntly…
    Are Mousavi/Rafsanjani and the western interests (oil, military alliance) they all too clearly represent worthy of our support. No. They are not. Is the movement for freedom in Iran worthy of our support? Yes, but lets find a way to symbolize that, a way that distances itself from supporting US subversion. And while we are at it, what about freedom in Saudi Arabia and Egypt? What would happen to protestors in Egypt claiming a stolen election? One shudders to think, does one not?
    Color Coups make great tv. They make very bad freedom. Ask the people of Georgia. They demonstrated for freedom from the consequences of one of our last color coups. They were treated quite roughly. Media didn’t care. The American freedom movement didn’t get concerned about solidarity. Let’s stop reacting every time the media poke us. Let’s start discerning and expressing that discernment.

  3. scott h

    Say Eppie, try reading more carefully. Helena didn’t write this. And you aren’t agreeing with a thing I, Mohlavi or Cohen wrote. Instead you start with your pre-canned ideological, even “religious” pre-supposition and go from there. You write:
    “What is being claimed, what is basically irrefutable, is that what happened in Iran was a US manipulated Color Coup.”
    to the contrary, quite refutable…. if you’d want to get off the script.

  4. bb

    I don’t think you have to worry about mass protests in the West, Scott.
    Mass protests only ever come from the Left and the bulk of the Left actually supports Khamenei, Ahmad and the revolutionary guard. Just look at most of the commenters here.
    Huffpost and Andrew Sullivan have now well and truly buried the story. Helena Cobban can’t even bring herself to call for UN monitored elections. And you must be deriving so much comfort from the vigorous reporting on human rights abuses out of Amnesty and Human Rights Watch?
    Indeed, the Iranian people are well and truly on their own with this one.

  5. Titus

    I am with John, if the Iranians need us to do something to help them they would ask specifically. Anything else just hampers the prospects, which I repeat are pretty much nil given the repressive establishment and the people’s cowardice. What doesn’t cost isn’t worth, and Iranians are not willing to pay the cost.

  6. Domza

    Who Will Stand With Iranians?
    I’m a bit old for it and Scott Harrop is probably not going to take up arms, at least I hope not, but each of us two is sufficiently motivated so that if our personal circumstances were different we could easily be found on different sides of a front line, shooting at each other in an attempt to kill one another, while standing with the Iranians of our different choice.
    This blog of Helena Cobban’s is a laboratory of feelings about war. Such feelings are not altogether decisive, or not in a simple sequence as it might at first appear.
    Feelings do not necessarily lead to violence and war. War is planned coldly and far in advance. The associated feelings are whipped up later. War is prepared first, feelings follow: the sequence is counter-intuitive.
    Yet the feelings are important, because the contradictions that led to war must return to the negotiating table (see Clausewitz for why that is). So the feelings might be important in the last end, and bloody war itself might turn out to have been no more than a propaganda exercise, or an interlude. According to Calausewitz this is invariably the case. Physical war is merely a means of securing a relative (and relatively slight) advantage at the negotiating table.
    I am struck by Scott’s swipe at Epppie for having a “pre-canned” ideology, when Epppie is present and engaging in a dialogue initiated by Scott, on Scott’s terms. It is hard to understand what Scott means. It very much looks as if for Scott, any view that is different from his own is by definition “pre-canned”; and it is not supposed to be “religious”, either, he says.
    Maybe this is where Epppie starts to score over Scott. After all, when else is one supposed to apply one’s principles if not in times like this? Scott’s are tacit, not expressed, and not up for argument, while Epppie is thinking in real time, and taking risks by calling for finesse. Epppie is vulnerable, so Scott calls that “pre-canned”, so as to lock Eppie into a double-whammy.
    The US operation on the Afghan side of the Iranian border is called ‘Operation Khanjar or “Strike of the Sword”’.
    Words are important. All of them. I thank Helena Cobban for this blog of hers. It is rare to find fora where there is real contradiction, or perhaps I mean a “full spectrum” of contradictions, like you find on JWN.
    When feelings come to the surface we find ourselves in a virtual negotiating chamber, meaning that the interlude of war may have passed, or it may have been by-passed.
    Jaw-jaw is better than war-war.

  7. seth edenbaum

    There’s a good chance that more than half the population of Iran voted for Ahmadinejad. Harrop has been discounting that from the start. As he’s been ignoring the fact of American meddling in the campaign itself.
    At the very least Iran is divided. SH’s constant refrain “the Iranian people” is either disingenuous or willfully oblivious to the complexity of the situation and of the games being played by all sides.
    I’m not sure which is more annoying. But in this context cluelessness is a form of corruption.

  8. bb

    Who Will Stand With Iranians?
    Reports that Supreme Leader’s son has taken over the Baji militia and 15 Iraqi soccer players have been suspended goes to show how the Iranian government is emulating that of the late S.Hussein and his two sons. Who would have imagined?
    But at least Human Rights Watch has pulled its finger out. We await Helena’s thread.

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