Many Iranians have an attitude towards Iran which parallels that of the neoconservatives in its lack of nuance and its gross oversimplification of a complex reality. This is apparently true also of some leftist Iranians. As a perfect example, one may point to the recent article, “Left out,” by Naheed Rasa.
Leftist or Neoconservative? What is the proper attitude within the left vis-a-vis American power? In the article, Naheed Rasa asks rhetorically, “Can we use American power to promote democracy in the region?” From the context (Iraqi Kurdistan, etc.), it's clear it is coercive power she is talking about. However, “leftist” may be a misleading term by which to designate one who poses this rhetorical question.
The right label would be “neo-conservative.” Remember, the neo-conservatives were a movement of leftists and democrats who, despite their progressive social agenda, were disenchanted with the left's refusal to support the use of American power to spread “America's democratic values” abroad by coercive means. They wanted the US to take a hard line against such foreign “enemies of the freedom and democracy” as the Soviet Union.
Now, replace the evil empire with the “axis of evil” (Iran, Iraq, North Korea) in such rhetoric, and what you get are the contemporary neo-conservatives. And that's precisely where the author of “Left out,” Naheed Rasa, fits in.
There has always been a trickle of leftist intellectuals who reinvented themselves as neo-conservatives. Christopher Hitchens is a good recent example. So, Rasa certainly is in distinguished company.
The Nuclear Controversy and Idiocy A hallmark of the current neoconservative approach to the controversy over Iran's nuclear program is their, let's say “over-simplified,” image of the issue. Case in point: Rasa says that anyone who doesn't think Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons is “an idiot.”
Whether in the past Iran had a military nuclear program is hard to know, although it seems plausible. But what about now? Iran has agreed to implement the Additional Protocols, which would allow unlimited, un-announced inspections and gathering of environmental samples.
Now, the gathering of environmental samples is an effective way of checking whether a country has a military track. Furthermore, unlimited inspections can be highly effective too: indeed, that is how the U.N. dismantled the entire Iraqi nuclear program over a decade ago! With the Additional Protocols, it would be very difficult and risky, if not impossible, for Iran to pursue a military track
It seems entirely possible that Iran has decided to have a dozen nuclear reactors, as it claims, and wishes to produce its own nuclear fuel. It is also equally plausible that they realize that it may be impossible, or highly risky, to have a military track as well, and as a result they have suspended or eliminated the military track, if there ever was one, which is uncertain (especially given the latest CIA estimate that Iran is ten years away from having a nuclear device).
At any rate, labeling alternatives to the neoconservative position as “idiotic” would appear to be unwarranted.
Hejab and Idiocy The same kind of black-and-white attitude, which is lacking in nuance, pervades the rest of Rasa's article.
Take the question of hijab, where she ridicules academics who point out that for some women the hijab can be liberating. But why does the hijab have to be one thing or the other? Why does it have to be only what Rasa says it is, and nothing beyond that?
Could it be that the hijab is oppressive for some women, liberating for others, and neutral for yet others? Can't the personal predilections, family background, milieu, class, and country of the woman make a difference?
If the hijab were made optional, surely many women, especially in Tehran, would take it off. In Tehran, that might be the majority. Yet, there will also be those who will retain it.
In Egypt, for example, there has been a major trend among educated women to adopt the hijab, and in that country the hijab is not forced by the state.
Most likely, the hijab means very different things to different women. For Rasa, however, it's self-evident (“everyone knows”) what the hijab means to *all* women, and anyone who questions the caricature she paints must be an idiot. A more nuanced approach is in order here.
Presidential Elections Another question on which a balanced approach would be appropriate is the recent, flawed presidential elections in Iran. Some paint it as entirely black. In particular, the neoconservative party line, as echoed even in a New York Times editorial, was that they were “sham elections.” Rasa writes, “the recent presidential election in Iran was a joke. “
Here, too, I'm inclined to agree and disagree. It is true that the elections had a lot of issues, most gravely as concerns the illegally-organized “getting out the vote” campaign launched by the Baseej. The problems Rasa highlights are valid as well.
But, at the same time, it was by no means a “sham election.”
First, there was no evidence that any ballot-box stuffing took place.
Second, despite all its flaws, this was actually the freest election Iran has ever had. One of the candidates, Mostafa Moeen, was on national TV saying that he is against special privileges for the clergy, and he formed a pro-democracy coalition with secularists. Nothing like this has ever happened before.
So, the situation is more complex than many would have it. On this point, as in the other points, Rasa's rhetoric parallels the neo-conservative black-and-white approach to a reality that is fairly complex.