Speaking and demanding change

“Look, Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous, and Iran will be dangerous, if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Bush said during a news conference dominated by questions about the fallout of the assessment, known as a National Intelligence Estimate. “What’s to say they couldn’t start another covert nuclear weapons program?” — New York Times

I’m really going to miss him when he is gone for one reason–no other politician in the US is more transparent and less able to finesse what he actually means. Under Bush, the US is the equivalent of Lennie Small, the strong but mentally weak laborer in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men–think a pasty Incredible Hulk with a Texas twang. The only danger the US is frightened of is continuing its technological slide and loosing its advantage in R & D.

Why should the US seek to ban Iran’s, or any other country’s scientific progress? Technological independence, and the economic advantages it presents should be the goal of every developing country–otherwise, the path to “development” is to deplete your natural resources at an artificially low price for consumption elsewhere.

In the process, if you get some sweatshop manufacturing, you must destroy your environment with loose or no environmental controls so you can attract the “investment” and dirty work that is too expensive and too environmentally damaging to do in the high income countries. Why is the US arguing it is in Iran’s best interest to depend upon itself and the Western European “powers” for its needs? Which rational person would accept that absurd claim, in light of the laundry list of grievances Iran has against the US?

The American call for Iran to accept some sort of technological dependence upon “the West” goes against the very core ideas of sovereignty, and it is easy to see why Iranians of all stripes, despite their support for or oppositions to the incumbent regime, would stage a de facto rally around the government on this issue. Bush’s statements about US fear of Iran acquiring nuclear and other technological know-how goes much deeper than the issue of containing Iran or promoting stability in the Middle East.

It is a frank statement laden with the biases, prejudices, and double standards that have dominated US thinking on Iran and the rest of the Middle East for so long. Regardless of my critical feelings about the socio-political realities in Iran, it angers me when I hear about how it is an existential danger if Iran develops its scientific capabilities.

What Bush is saying is, we want you to stay behind–we don’t want to make a place for you in the hierarchy of “modern” nations. You might laugh, but this is why I’ll miss him–it’ll be a while before we get a President this stupid and unsubtle in spelling out what is really going on policymaking. Or not–it might be astonishingly close, actually.

I am happy that the likelihood of attacks has been greatly diminished on the people of Iran, but I think that it is not enough of a victory to celebrate. It is important to maintain scrutiny and pressure on the regime without the imperialist discourse, because it becomes harder for the regime to shift blame and attention away from its own failures onto any provocative bulletin board comments gift-wrapped from the Bush Administration.

At the same time, the international community must be able to improve their non-military coercive apparatuses in order to help the causes of socio-political freedom and human rights in Iran. This cannot be done via sanctions (which now have little to no chance of becoming tighter), nor through military intervention (which also looks to be a more difficult option now, thankfully).

So what can be done then to help the cause of human rights and socio-political freedom in Iran? Regime change is not a feasible nor desirable option. There is no outside investment, no private sector to counterbalance the power of the state economically. Iranians who have money invest it abroad, in Europe, Dubai, Canada, the US. What private sector does exist in Iran is bound up tightly with regime actors (think Rafsanjani). It is not clear who the current challenger elite are in Iran, given the demise of the so-called “reform movement.”

What are the current political opportunity structures in Iran? What room the does the regime leave its citizens to make claims upon the state? The answer is sadly very little, if any at all. The press has been systematically muzzled, and cyberspace is patrolled for “subversive” blogs and websites. Protests are violently subdued, and dissidents and academics are detained, imprisoned, or worse. Candidates are vetted in elections by an unelected, unaccountable government body. Social interactions between men and women are subject to the disciplinary power of the state, and an inferior status for women in codified by the regime’s legal system.

If we are happy that the US is now more constrained in launching another senseless war that will take tens of thousands of lives in the name of ‘regime change’, the enduring hegemony of the Iranian state does much to temper that joy. Forget regime change: what about advocating for the basic rights of citizenship?

Where is the room for the average Iranian to speak out and demand change if not through the press, if not through elections, if not through artistic and creative expression–where must a person go if all of these avenues are closed? And if the answer is “behind closed doors”, or in the escapism of upper class booze and drug-fuelled sexfests, or even through the cosmetic challenges of hairstyles and fashion, does it mean anything?

It is not enough to speak out against military attacks and regime change plots that the US might be hatching without acknowledging the need for substantive change and political opening in Iran. I don’t have definite answers to my own questions, but I think that there has been a dearth of information about what is going on in Iran nowadays. Most ‘analysis’ has been confined to the nuclear issue, Iraq, and threats against Israel. It is not clear what the cleavages are within the political elite, or how these can be used to promote the empowerment of citizens.

Bush’s colonial mindset is absurd and backward, but more importantly, it signals just how far US thinking is from seeing the real issues that affect Iranians and uphold the status quo in Iran.

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