Thursday, January 06, 2011

Iran and Peace Activists: Clarifying the Confusion

Here's a recent article by Danny Postel and Nader Hashemi which is well worth reading.

We’re pleased to have received several thoughtful responses to our recent blog post “Why Peace Activists Should Take an Active Interest in the Green Movement in Iran”. One reader asked what we meant by our claim that there is considerable confusion among peace activists about Iran. We’re glad he asked about this. Here are a few examples.

Back in 2006, the Iranian Nobel Peace Laureate, human rights lawyer and women’s rights advocate Shirin Ebadi gave a lecture in London. As someone who defends the victims of the Iranian regime’s repression — indeed as someone who has done jail time for her work on that front — the issue of the Islamic Republic’s human rights violations tends to feature rather centrally in her scheme of things. Which is not to say that it’s the only issue on her agenda, or that it in any way blunts her criticisms of the United States and its foreign policy. Quite the contrary. She has spoken out in no uncertain terms against the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, against the Guantánamo detainee camp, and the torture at Abu Ghraib — and has made it utterly clear that she opposes any US intervention in Iran. And yet, at her lecture in London, an antiwar activist told her that she should not denounce Iran’s human rights record — indeed not discuss it at all — explaining that doing so only plays into the hands of the warmongers and fuels the fires of imperialism. Ebadi upbraided that antiwar activist in the strongest terms. Leaning over the lectern and waving her finger at him, she made plain that any antiwar movement that advocates silence in the face of tyranny, for whatever reason, could count her out.
That antiwar activist may have been especially brazen and presumptuous in telling Ebadi what she should and shouldn’t say about her own government — few peace activists would dare do such a thing. Yet his thinking reflects a widespread sensibility in the peace movement. There’s a pervasive sense that we shouldn’t criticize the Iranian government lest we somehow fuel the fires of the warmongers in Washington. What Ebadi — and multitudes of other Iranian labor, student, peace, and human rights activists — contend is that we can and should do both — that we rub our tummies and pat our heads at the same time — and that there’s no contradiction or even tension between the two. As one slogan of Iran’s student movement puts it: “Our struggle is twofold: against internal oppression and external foreign threats.” We could do worse than to follow the spirit and logic of this formulation.

Another source and instance of the confusion comes from Hugo Chávez’s enthusiastic embracing of the reactionary and authoritarian Ahmadinejad. Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry denounced the Green movement from the get-go, issuing the following statement in June 2009:

The Bolivarian Government of Venezuela expresses its firm opposition to the vicious and unfounded campaign to discredit the institutions of the Islamic Republic of Iran, unleashed from outside, designed to roil the political climate of our brother country. From Venezuela, we denounce these acts of interference in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, while demanding an immediate halt to the maneuvers to threaten and destabilize the Islamic Revolution.

It’s important to note that trade unionists and student activists in Iran have expressed deep dismay about Chávez’s support for Ahmadinejad (see the Open letter to the workers of Venezuela on Hugo Chávez’s support for Ahmadinejad and “Problematic Brothers: Iranian Reaction to Chávez and Ahmadinejad”).

We wish we could say that admiration for Ahmadinejad among progressives was limited to Hugo Chávez — lamentably, it is not. Bitta Mostofi, an Iranian-American immigration and civil rights attorney who has traveled to Iraq with Voices for Creative Nonviolence and been active against the Israeli occupation, wrote a depressing account of a love fest for Ahmadinejad organized by a group of US antiwar activists in October. In her account, poignantly titled “Admiring Ahmadinejad and Overlooking Activists: We’re Better Than This”, Mostofi wrote:

Unfortunately, after over one hour of speeches from other activists in the room, I found myself feeling disappointed and dismayed. One after another, the guests at the dinner delivered prepared statements, posing no questions or challenges to the Iranian delegation. … They lauded Ahmadinejad as a hero … and likened the meeting to Malcolm X’s encounters in Africa with revolutionaries fighting against colonialism. … Speech after speech failed to address any calls for solidarity with the brave young men and women in Iran who took to the streets and demanded their rights in the face of government suppression.

Like Mostofi, we believe the peace movement should be better than this.

We highly recommend reading and signing on to the Campaign for Peace and Democracy’s important and principled statement End the War Threats and Sanctions Program Against Iran, Support the Struggle for Democracy Inside Iran.

Further Reading:
Reese Erlich
“Iran and Leftist Confusion”

Saeed Rahnema
“The Tragedy of the Left’s Discourse on Iran”

Muhammad Sahimi
“America’s Misguided Left”

Hamid Dabashi
“Left is Wrong on Iran”

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