Are the Protests in Iran Getting Hijacked?

As images of the streets of Tehran flooded with Iranian protesters (many of them depicting defiant, injured youth) continue to be broadcast on news channels, social networking sites and blogs operated from within and outside of the country, debatesrelating to thecontested election results are also becoming increasingly heated and confused in nature. If one dares to go beyond (though not necessarily against) expressing support for the protestersin favor of taking a moreanalytical approach to this extremely complex situation, they are almost immediately defamed or written off as someone who supports Mahmoud Ahmadinejad”the bad,” as Robert Fiskof The Independent has recently referred to him. Then there are those who are vehemently againststatements made in support of Mir-Houssein Mousavi because they oppose to the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) as a whole. This group, comprised of an otherwise unlikely combination of Iranian and non-IranianCommunists, Socialists, Western Liberals, Feminists, Royalists and various other opposing as well as intersecting ideologies, only support the protestersto the extent thattheir resistancecan help in advancing their own beliefs about how Iranshould be governed and what role it should play withinthe region and on the international stage.

Writes one Canadian-Iranian communist:

“[The] Iranian revolution has begun and it will go all the way to smash the whole Islamic regime and all its factions!”

So called Islamic Reformist (considered by many Muslims as a self-promoting opportunist) Irshad Manji alsorecently tweeted that she had receiveda note from a “well-connected”Iranian friendsuggesting that the opposition’s demonstrations, widely reported as being held in support ofMousavi (who was very close to Ayatollah Khomeini), should be interpreted as an indication of the decreasing influence of religious leaders upon Iranian youth:

Heard from connected friend in #Tehran that many say this is beginning of end for clerics -- new generation now awake. Tipping point to come.

On June 13th I sat in disbelief asa speaker on anIranian radio show (broadcasting from outside of Iran) urgedyouthful protestersinside the country to meet in a specific location, at a specific time, with their weapons. I couldn’t help but wonder if he would encourage his own children to the same. Web activistsare also inciting those with technical skills to hack IRI operated websites. Their digital protest is joined by satire and parodythat is appearing everywhere, mostly to mock Ahmadinejad, who has only aggravated the situation further by downplaying the fervor of the protesters. Fisk does a good job of describing one such episode of this in his article entitled “Ahmadinejad whips crowd to frenzy as opposition muzzled.”

Although it has been reported that Iranian leaderAli Khamenei has agreed to furtherinvestigate the fraudulent vote claims, Ahmadinejad’s response continues to be regarded as patronizing belittlement by protesters and reports seem to suggest that they are becoming increasingly infuriated as they continue to light fires in the street, attack police men and destroy property. It shouldn’t be surprising that theforces enlisted to control the protesters are responding with matching (though still relatively restrained) amounts of violence. Reports allege that at least 7 people have been killed (by theBasij and/or riot polices) and many more have been imprisoned.

In the midst of all this there are people who are taking an analytical approach to events as they unfold, though they are hardly receiving the same amount of attention as the those who are blasting out updates (confirmed or not) from sites like Facebook and Twitter. Indeed, even well-respected mainstream news outlets are turning to sites likeTwitter as a source of updatesand while the Obama Administration has so far been treading lightly in response to questions about the Iranian elections, they have also directly communicated with Twitter, asking them to hold off on previously scheduled maintenance so as to not disrupt the flow of messages believed to be coming out of Iran. Similarly, on their official blogYouTube boasts about how they have become a “global forum for free expression” and are doing their “best to leave as manyof[the videos]up” as possible. This is of course particularly ironic considering how Max Blumenthal’s video “Feeling the hate in Jerusalem,” whichdoes not containany violence,was just recently removed by YouTube on the grounds of “inappropriate content.”

Fortunately,Glenn Greenwald of Salon.comhas attempted to provide a bigger picture on the events of Iran:

I’m going to leave the debate about whether Iran’s election was “stolen” and the domestic implications within Iran to people who actually know what they’re talking about(which is a very small subset of the class purporting to possess such knowledge). But there is one pointI want to make about the vocal and dramatic expressions of solidarity with Iranians issuing from some quarters in the U.S.

Greenwald proceeds to discuss how

[m]uch of the same faction now claiming such concern for the welfare of TheIranianPeople are the same people who have long been advocating a military attack on Iran and the dropping of large numbers of bombs on their country -- actions which would result in the slaughter of many of those very same Iranian People.

Justin Raimondo of also goes beyond the election debateto argue that regardless of whether theaccusations of fraudare true, Iran is a sovereign nation and must be treated as such by foreign parties:

Yet even if that were not the case -- even if our democratic procedures were flawless – that still wouldn’t give the U.S. government any standing to pass judgment, because how Iran conducts its presidential elections is not a legitimate concern of the U.S. government. The idea that the occupant of the Oval Office must pass moral judgment on all events, including other countries’ elections, is a byproduct of America’s imperial pretensions and delusions of “world leadership.”

Abbas Barzegar of The Guardianfurther builds on this notion that both Greenwald andRaimondo allude to, that the lack of unbiased, fact and context basedreporting on Iran seems to be a historical constant whichwill only continue toproveharmful:

As far as international media coverage is concerned, it seems that wishful thinking got the better of credible reporting.

While Barzegar asserts that this is “hardly a new phenomenon,” he ends with cautionary advice that many in the West would have problems accepting:

In the future, observers would do us a favor by taking a deeper look into Iranian society, giving us a more accurate picture of the very organic religious structures of the country, and dispensing with the narrative of liberal inevitability. It is the religious aspects of enigmatic Persia that helped put an 80-year-old exiled ascetic at the head of state 30 years ago, then the charismatic cleric Khatami in office 12 years ago, the honest son of a blacksmith – Ahmedinejad – four years ago, and the same yesterday.

Do these articles imply that these analysts don’t care about the protesters who are risking their lives in the streets of Iran? Does my quoting of them do the same? On the contrary, this reporting is more useful to those who are fighting for a free and sovereign Iran now, and for thosewhohave been doing so formany years (here I am referring to thecourageousanti-imperialist Iranian activists who are currently inIranian prisons and graves and who have never been granted this kind of attention) because this type of analysis sheds light on the gaping holes thatthese eventsleave for the predators who have just been waiting for an opportunity like this since the overthrow of the Iran’s last reigning monarch. Case in point: earlier this week former Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischerstatedthat the Reformist Wave in Iran exists because of George W. Bush’s “tough” policies:

I think it’s fair to say the George Bush’s Freedom Agenda planted seeds that have started to grow in the Middle East.

Whilereferring torecent eventsin Iranas a”Twitter Revolution”issomewhattruthful, certainly helpful for thosewho like to use catchy headlines, andundeniable proof of the increasing power of social media in influencing popular opinion, we must also consider the wider implications. As independent freelancejournalistJoshua Kucera so aptly put it:

None of this is to excuse the behavior of the government after the election results came out. Or to diminish the bravery and courage of the people who are out in the streets in Tehran getting beaten. But what if it’s based on a lie? A Twitter-fueled, mass delusion of a lie? That the one third of people who voted for Mousavi convinced themselves, via a social media echo chamber that selectively picked rumors and amplified them until they appeared true, that they in fact represented two thirds of the country? And then tried to bring down the government based on that delusion? Maybe it’s not the case this time. But doesn’t this entire episode seem to show how such a thing could happen? And then what?

Revolutionary street spirit in Iran has an inspiring andcomplex history, but Iran’s strategical positioning in the Middle East and its highly sought afternatural resources have always left it in danger of being hijacked. Those who are moved by images of Iranians protesting in the streets can also express their solidarity with the Iranian people as a whole by educating themselves on the country’s history, while remembering that useful knowledge andvaluable informationalso exists outside of the Internet. This may be more important now than ever particularly for Iran’s newly mobilized youth as opposing elements of Iranian society become increasingly hostile towards one another, while threats to Iran’s sovereignty continue tolinger from above.

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