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March 19, 2007

Autocratic Iran?

The latest Time Magazine has an article on internal criticism of Ahmadinejad that demonstrates something important:

The scene was like the Iranian answer to March Madness. At Amir Kabir University of Technology in Tehran this past December, a crowd of several thousand packed the school's auditorium. On one side were hundreds of members of the Basij, a volunteer paramilitary force controlled by Iranian hard-liners, who had been bused in to cheer their most prominent alumnus, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They waved placards and roared as Ahmadinejad boasted about Iran's growing power and dared the country's enemies to challenge it. But in the back of the room, a group of 50 activists burned an effigy of the President, set off firecrackers and interrupted his speech with chants of "Death to the dictator!" Ahmadinejad grinned tightly and struggled to finish, but few people would remember what he said. At the height of his power, in a time and place of his choosing, Iran's President had been upstaged.

This just isn't that repressive a society. For all the talk of Iran's autocratic tyrants, here you have the president being burned in effigy, interrupted by firecrackers, and condemned to death, all while he's giving a speech. And he does nothing more than "smilie tightly" throughout it! In this country, if an activist exposes an anti-war t-shirt while the president is talking, she gets muscled out of the room. That's not to say Iran doesn't have all sorts of human rights violations of its own, but the attempt to make the country look like some sort of tyrannical, dictatorial regime is just another element of the war propaganda.

March 19, 2007 in Iran | Permalink

Comments

the real lesson of this isn't how free a society Iran is, but rather how little freedom we actually have in this country. We have a bunch of promises written on paper, but in reality you'll get beaten by the cops, illegally arrested and tarred by the entirety of the media if you use any of those promised freedoms.

Posted by: soullite | Mar 19, 2007 10:12:52 AM

This is a completely absurd post. The day that the Iranian government stops hanging gay teenagers is the day I'll even consider that it's "just not that repressive a society". For more on the hangings, visit here:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/7/21/1879/65145

Posted by: bill | Mar 19, 2007 10:30:48 AM

Wasn't that same activist just elected to congress?

Posted by: Brian | Mar 19, 2007 10:44:04 AM

http://www.amnestyusa.org/countries/iran/index.do

Iran is extremely oppressive, but not quite totalitarian.

Posted by: Ashish George | Mar 19, 2007 11:09:06 AM

Bill.....Bill....

You're not getting the message here. The message is to show Iran in an innocent light at any cost. The message is let's not rock the boat and it's OK for them to persue WMD technology even though the UN Security Council members have deemed this unacceptable. The message is they're just a buch of huggie-bears and Bush is wrong to be wary of them. Then you come in with the homo hangings and screw things up.

You need to get on board, Bill.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 19, 2007 11:24:53 AM

I just want to say that Ezra Klein has been very, very good on all things Iran -- standing out among most other bloggers and pundits in that respect.


As for this:

The day that the Iranian government stops hanging gay teenagers is the day I'll even consider that it's "just not that repressive a society".

Granted, but this is kind of an apples and oranges comparison. The post was obviously talking about the repressiveness of the Iranian government vis-a-vis political opposition to its officials, not how it treats sexual orientation. There is a tendency to view any foreign country that's been designated as an official enemy as totalitarian to a "1984"-like extent, with respect to political dissent. This is rarely an accurate picture, which I believe is what E. Klein was trying to point out.

Posted by: Jason | Mar 19, 2007 11:28:35 AM

The message is they're just a buch of huggie-bears and Bush is wrong to be wary of them.

No, that's not the message, and surely you know that. Nobody thinks that the Iranians are "huggie-bears" (although the image makes me laugh), but the point is that they're not Nazi Germany redux either.

Posted by: Jason | Mar 19, 2007 11:30:12 AM

On the other hand, what would happen if they protest the Muslim clerics who really run Iran?]

Posted by: KG | Mar 19, 2007 11:49:20 AM

Uh, bill, the day that Republican politicians en masse stop demonizing gay relationships and stripping gay couples of their rights, the day they stop fighting against hate crimes legislation that acknowledges the heinousness of such acts as the murder of Matthew Shepard, is the day I'll even consider that we have sufficient moral capital to condemn those who share the views of our Religious Right on homosexuality and reproductive autonomy.

Meanwhile, places like Saudi Arabia have a long way to go relative to Iran on women's rights, too. Granted, there's still the nominal headscarf dress code. And female Iranian scientists still have to deal with the occasional college president suggesting that they're biologically inferior at the sciences, but their status isn't bad for the Middle East at large. (Pakistan, for instance, has been backsliding on women's rights. And Iraq has become nightmarish.) Plenty of room for improvement, and a need for homegrown democratic reform that doesn't end in another CIA-engineered coup, but not the Pit of All That Is Evil in the World, either. And remember, the people gunning most ardently for Iran don't give a rat's ass about the poor oppressed populace that might need to be massively bombed for their own good.

Posted by: mds | Mar 19, 2007 11:57:12 AM

"On the other hand, what would happen if they protest the Muslim clerics who really run Iran?]"

I don't know. But the Republicans love to act as if Ahmadinejad runs the place. It's very convenient for them that he has the title of President; it automatically assumes among the large group of people that don't know that he is on par with our President. They certainly aren't working to clear up that misconception.

Posted by: jf | Mar 19, 2007 12:23:40 PM

"the attempt to make the country look like some sort of tyrannical, dictatorial regime is just another element of the war propaganda."

No foolin'. Of course it's war propaganda. This sort of thing is wearily familiar behavior on the part of the US government. Any country that's on their bad list gets portrayed in this light. Thus it has been for many a year, as various dirty effin hippies and 60s retreads could have told you. In any case, the notion that the Bush administration and its apologists care about human rights in Iran or anywhere else is simply laughable. This is so much play-acting on their part--one big Punch-and-Judy show--though I'm afraid it never fails to gull some impressionable liberals. Some people never learn.

Iran is certainly an illiberal society, though far from the most repressive. It is also, by regional and even by world standards, a relatively democratic one, with genuine elections, a genuine opposition, a genuine parliament, and so on.

Posted by: JBC | Mar 19, 2007 12:29:13 PM

I agree Ezra overstates how liberal a society Iran is.

But he brings a good point - Iran has a strong, educated class that has little respect for Achmadinejad's brand of fundamentalist brinkmanship. There's repression, sure, but Iran isn't Syria or Myanmar.

It is merely to say that Iran can be reasoned with.

DU

Posted by: The Mechanical Eye | Mar 19, 2007 12:42:56 PM

No foolin'. Of course it's war propaganda.

Yeah, I'm sure that ahmadinejad didn't really mean that anything bad happen to Israel or he really isn't persuing nukular weapons technology or that the holocaust was a myth.

It's Bush's fault. He made him say these things.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 19, 2007 1:18:57 PM

....why do we respond to FJ, again?

Posted by: Sandals | Mar 19, 2007 1:30:30 PM

You can agree with bush that the iranian government is abhorrent without agreeing with any iran policies he puts forward. The apparent desire to deny bush even the smallest degree of credence has produced a blog post which is bordering on ridiculous and within a short ferry ride of risible.

Posted by: the invisible pimp hand | Mar 19, 2007 1:42:05 PM

I think KJ and jf are closest on this one. Iran is not a politically totalitarian state. It's a religiously totalitarian state. So there's political dissent inasmuch as there are competing camps of realists, reformers, hardliners and fundamentalists. But there's no religious dissent.

Still, I don't see how it could be called liberal, since that word means very little in the absence of true freedom of religious expression. As a rough analogy, the fact that priests can criticize the Italian government doesn't make the Vatican a liberal state.

Posted by: Headline Junky | Mar 19, 2007 2:08:25 PM

Wow. . a lot of axes being ground in the comments. Why don't some of you actually read what Klein wrote, instead of injecting your own fever-inspired rhetoric. He wrote that the Iranian government isn't as dictatorial (either because it can't be or because [less likely] it doesn't want to be) as it is portrayed by the media and Bush administration. That's it. Either disagree with that or don't, but coming up with nonsense about how much Klein loves Iran just makes you look like a clown.

"I agree Ezra overstates how liberal a society Iran is."

In this point, there is no reference to Iranian society. If you're responding to some other post, I haven't read it.

"The day that the Iranian government stops hanging gay teenagers"

The Iranian government hangs gay teenagers because there's general support in Iranian society for hanging gay teenagers. If there weren't and the government did it anyway, that would be evidence of a successful dictatorial regime, but you would have to show evidence of that.

Posted by: sidereal | Mar 19, 2007 2:08:42 PM

I'm sure that ahmadinejad didn't really mean that anything bad happen to Israel or he really isn't persuing nukular weapons technology or that the holocaust was a myth.

You're begging the whole question - Ahmadinejad can want Israel's destruction or a full-throttle nuke program all he wants; the whole point of the post was that Ahmadinejad isn't the dictator of Iran.

And I've yet to see why a nuclear Iran is more dangerous and less desirable than, say, a nuclear Israel.

Posted by: Jason | Mar 19, 2007 2:14:55 PM

As others have pointed out, Ahmadinejad isn't the one to gage repression by. You won't see such disrespect shown for the Grand Ayatollah.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 19, 2007 2:22:00 PM

And I've yet to see why a nuclear Iran is more dangerous and less desirable than, say, a nuclear Israel.

That's because you don't value democracies over other forms of governments just as the UN doesn't.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 19, 2007 2:24:44 PM

The Iranians have claimed the right - which is clearly spelled out in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty they have signed - to exploit nuclear power for power generation and that right includes the ability to do low-level enrichment of uranium to power the reactors. They have offered to negotiate, and have allowed some degree of international inspection. They, like North Korea, also want to not be attacked by the US (normal relations is their stated objective).

[note: Israel is not a signatory to the NNPT and have not allowed any international inspections, so they in fact are a rogue nation on nuclear arms.]

Pakistan and India have both produced nuclear weapons with US making no real objections. So the Iranians say, why pick on us? Is the answer that their President, with no control over the armed forces, and limited authority to do anything related to nuclear development, says threatening things? Hasn't Israel threatened publicly to attack Iran to preemptively halt nuclear development? Haven't both Pakistan and India tested nuclear bombs and the missiles to deliver them?

There are far too many double standards in this situation.

I read Ezra as saying that the furor over Iran is more related to creating the conditions for a US air/sea attack on Iran by BushCo, than it is related to the actual condition of the Iranian people related to their government. Surely Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and other regional nations (including Egypt - our 'friend') have arguably comparable freedoms (or lack thereof) to those in Iran. When was the last time Egypt had a truly free election? Or Saudi Arabia?

Horsefeathers!

[I don't want Iran to have deliverable nuclear weapons, to make that clear. But they have given ample indication that they don't seek this and are willing to negotiate on that - but won't give up the rights that other countries have under the NNPT. Our ability to effectively threaten mutual assured destruction to any nuclear power holder makes for an effective deterrent. The US has no existential threat from Iran, nor does Israel either. ]

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Mar 19, 2007 2:39:40 PM

In as much as the point of limiting the spread of nuclear weapons is to avoid their ultimate use, it's worth noting that geopolitical/religious realities militate against a nuclear strike on Israel by an Islamic country. Such a strike could not avoid a massacre of Islamic populations in the area or the devastation of holy sites sacred to Islam in the bargain. One need only envision the reaction of the of the Arab street and the world Islamic community as a whole to the vaporization of the Dome of the Rock to recognize this.

Israel, on the other hand, is not constrained by the same considerations. In judging the likelyhood of an Israeli nuclear strike, I would think an analysis of how it has conducted its foreign and military policy in the past would be more instructive than references to its internal political character.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Mar 19, 2007 2:59:42 PM

That's because you don't value democracies over other forms of governments just as the UN doesn't.

Sorry, no - that has nothing to do with anything. How on Earth does "valuing" a democracy over a theocracy or whatever label you want to put on Iran entail that nuclear weapons are better off in the hands of a democratic government?

The manner in which a regime governs its internal affairs is not necessarily relevant to the danger it poses if it goes nuclear. There is no evidence that democratic nations are any less likely to attack other countries -- between Iran and the U.S., only one of them has launched a full-scale, unprovoked invasion recently.

Posted by: Jason | Mar 19, 2007 3:27:38 PM

Just to be a pendant:

sidereal wrote the following, quoting me:

"I agree Ezra overstates how liberal a society Iran is."

In this point, there is no reference to Iranian society. If you're responding to some other post, I haven't read it.

Right after the blockquote from the Time article, Ezra wrote:

"This just isn't that repressive a society."

Note that in my post, I went on to basically agree with the contention that Iran, for all its faults, is not as insane as it's been portrayed, and that its government can be reasoned with.

I believe sidereal, in his zeal, forgot to read the very post he was attempting to defend, and didn't bother to read my post in its entirety.

DU

Posted by: The Mechanical Eye | Mar 19, 2007 3:43:24 PM

No foolin'. Of course it's war propaganda. This sort of thing is wearily familiar behavior on the part of the US government. Any country that's on their bad list gets portrayed in this light.

Such as referring to Chavez as a dictator...

Posted by: Phoenician in a time of Romans | Mar 19, 2007 6:48:18 PM

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