The dangerous path ahead
Many Iranians want change in Iran and so do
many policymakers in the US. That does not mean they want the same
November 9, 2004
Touted as the process linking the world ever closer, globalization
is in full swing. We buy Japanese cars made in America, and American
appliances made in Mexico. Wal-Mart alone annually imports $15
billion of goods from China, and Microsoft has recently opened
technical support centers in India. The internet allows the rapid
dissemination of information, news, and entertainment, allowing
different corners of the world the same media experiences.
The world is increasingly interconnected, and proponents of globalization
proclaim this a triumph and a step toward creating a global society,
inspired by Western ideals, with democracy as its regime, and capitalism
as its economic motor.
Yet it is fair to say that these connections are rarely balanced,
and more often than not, the economic benefits of globalization
travel on a one-way path toward the wealthy, industrialized nations
of Western Europe and North America (where the majority of Fortune
500 corporations have their international headquarters).
American created international institutions like the World Bank,
International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization are modeling
the nations of the world along the free market lines, by extending
high interest, highly restricted loans to implement 'development'
projects they identify as necessary to the modernization and economic
of the nation. Investments are made to generate profit first, social
Strapped for cash and forced to compete in the world market economy
for their survival, these countries usually have no choice but
to play by the terms of these organizations, and usually lose.
All too often, these programs are prescribed from powers that do
not understand the local context and actual needs, and implement
these programs without consulting the population affected.
History shows many cases of the inadequacies of these reforms.
Argentina was the model pupil of the International Monetary Fund
and was left with a mostly destroyed middle class and bankrupt
after a decade of market reforms and the sudden withdrawal of foreign
Much of sub-Saharan Africa received structural adjustment programs
which left its social needs largely unanswered and the continent
deeper in debt.
Post-communist Europe received democracy and privatization of
social services, which has created weak central governments and
of a few have-a-lots and many have-nots in these countries.
Yet part of the world has remained largely insulated from this
increasingly connected economic and political regime of free market
capitalism. The Middle East, specifically the oil-exporting nations
such as Iran, has managed to minimize the economic, political,
and social impact of this worldwide phenomenon.
The upsurge in
political Islam and Islamic fundamentalism has provided an alarming
cultural alternative to the growing (and increasingly homogenized)
global consumer culture.
Economically, oil has managed to sustain
Middle Eastern economies (and ideologies), putting off integration
into the competitive world economy. Oil has been in some ways the
curse of Middle Eastern existence; it has extended the lives of
regimes that are despised by the majority of their own nations˜Iran,
Iraq, and Saudi Arabia immediately come to mind, and oil revenue
has inhibited the diversification of national economies.
Left to their own devices, these states may have been content to
continue their insulated existences as far as their reserves would
allow them to, but internal social pressures and the aggressive
and imperial foreign policy of the United States in the region
has hastened the day of reckoning.
The War on Terror, as the United
States colonial policy is officially known, seeks nothing less
than a cultural, economic, and political restructuring of the region,
along with the eradication of whomever it deems a 'terrorist.'
The intent is to ultimately remake the world in its own image
along with unfettered access to local energy resources; such a
essentially states "we are here to change you and get
our oil--never mind the costs to you, and the destruction of your
land, people, and culture."
Bush has won a second term and continues to pursue his vision of
a transformed Middle East, and the sights have now set on Iran.
Accused of developing nuclear weapons (charges rendered groundless
by IAEA reports and offered ironically by a country currently developing
nuclear 'bunker buster' bombs), Iran is now being threatened
with a range of punitive measures, among them regime change to
no doubt secure the freedom of the Iranian oil reserves and people.
This has delighted the unimaginative and desperate segments of
the Iranian community both in and beyond the borders of Iran. Many
Iranians support Bush's plans for the Islamic Republic of
Iran, despite the damning empirical evidence of failure in Iraq
and stagnation in Afghanistan.
The fact that a military campaign
against Iran is being entertained by other Iranians is deplorable,
and signifies just how out of touch these individuals are with
the people in Iran who will actually have to bear the hardship,
gunfire, and missiles of regime change.
A desperate and legitimate yearning for change in Iran, coupled
with blindness to the experiences of its neighboring countries,
and a historical ignorance of what happens when freedom, democracy,
and the market economy comes to one's doorstep when one is
NOT Western Europe, Japan, or North America leaves Iranians in
a dangerous predicament, ripe to be duped.
After all this time, many Iranians still believe socio-political
change can be successfully implemented from the outside. Look at
how much fuss was made over the delusional Ahura Yazdi, whose antics
were closely followed by Iranian and non-Iranian media. Imagine
what the reaction will be when someone with some credible capability
The issue is no longer if change
comes to Iran, it is how and when that change will occur. Iranians
need to start considering what
Iran will look like after that change.
Some Iranian neoconservatives
(Iranicons), who already have their political coloring books completed,
naturally assume the US is happy to graciously leave here, point
to Reza Pahlavi as king/president, and anticipate a happy ever
after. They don't foresee any resistance or resentment on
the part of those who do not view the world like them, nor do they
seem to care about the potential social conflict that could create.
However, I am willing to go out on a limb here and say that US
would not be so kind as to just leave afterward, not all Iranians
are going to go along with what is decided for them, and Reza Pahlavi
is not what most Iranians want. This is not to say he should be
excluded from participating in the political process, but leading
Iran is definitely not his inheritance; that's why his father
was kicked out.
What needs to be seriously considered and planned for is what that
change will look like. Iranians in Iran are not powerless, nor
are they unaware of the pressures imposed by their government.
The Iranicon and American neocon tendency to infantilize Iranians
(and the Middle East in general), to place them permanently below
the marker of being capable of affecting their own destiny is insulting
and must be stopped.
Instead of waiting for someone to 'rescue' Iran, Iranians
globally should take stock of their accomplishments and how they
can use them to promote change. Secular Iranian culture has flourished
in Europe and North America; an ongoing critical reappraisal of
Islam and its place in public life has created new social dynamics
and a lively debate about state and religion within Iran; a US
invasion will render all of that worthless and harden religious
and nationalist attitudes, just as it did in Iraq, where Saddam
was no less hated by Iraqis than Iranians currently seethe at the
What kind of society do Iranians envision? The one I see recognizes
and celebrates the diversity of languages, ethnicities, religions,
personal decisions, and experiences of Iranians both inside and
outside of the country; it does not impose any moral and belief
system on its people and is not rancorous, bitter, and self-debilitating.
What kind of educational system and political system do Iranians
want to see in the future? Will it be determined by Iranian needs
and interests, or will it be subject to the same forces that made
Argentina bankrupt, post-communist states weak, and Africans indentured
servants in their own nations?
These questions are not abstract; whether Iranians as a community
are willing to address them or not, they will be set before them.
I pose them because I believe the powers that be already have their
plans drawn up for Iran, and have a clear vision for adding Iran
as yet another supplier of cheap goods and labor in an already
congested field of exploited "Third World" nations,
once given the chance. I also believe the unwillingness to discuss
these issues essentially ensures our political déjà vu,
in which Iranians yet again will have no say in what will happen
Even if Iran avoids regime change as pursued by Bush, oil will
not last forever--Iran eventually will have to enter the world
economy in a way that will have profound social, political, economic,
and cultural changes. Due to the more confrontational nature of
American foreign policy, Iranians have to begin considering (willingly
or not) that this day may come much sooner than later, with all
the complications and trauma a colonial occupation brings.
a government does not necessarily change a people; there will
still be those who believe in political Islam and will be hostile
anything perceived as un-Islamic or Western, no matter the intentions
that underlie it. Many Iranians want a change in Iran, and so
do many policymakers in the US. That does not mean they want the
The challenge is if given the opportunity, will
Iranians be ready for that scenario and able to preserve and
revitalize the country
based on the strengths and adaptability of their culture and
Or will they stay divided, allow their identity to be shelved
and opt for the ill-feeling but rapid and generously funded prescriptions
of 'democracy' and the 'free market' of Bush,
the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and the like? If the
current discourse is any indication of where we stand, we are indeed
walking down a dangerous path.