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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 thing

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 growth of the nation. Investments are made to generate profit first, social benefits later. 

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 capital. 

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 societies 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 policy 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 comes along?

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 IRI. 

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 in Iran.

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.

Changing a government does not necessarily change a people; there will still be those who believe in political Islam and will be hostile to 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 same thing.

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 diverse experiences?

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.

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Roozbeh Shirazi



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