America's Misguided Left
25 Jul 2009 00:22
The support of some on the American left for Ahmadinejad is badly misguided.
By MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles | 24 July 2009
[TEHRAN BUREAU] comment Iran's rigged presidential election of June 12, 2009, has given rise to a very odd phenomenon. Some supposedly leftists and progressives in America have adopted the view that the Iranian election was not rigged. They believe that the Iranian reformists have not been honest about the election (they say the reformists knew they would lose). They allege that the demonstrations in Iran against the rigged election are mostly the work of Western intelligence agencies stirring up trouble. In taking such a position, these so-called leftists and progressives have firmly sided with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
As someone on the left side of the political spectrum, who believes in a progressive and enlightened interpretation of Islamic and Shia teachings, the author feels deeply embarrassed by such proclamations from so-called leftists, some of whom do not know the first thing about Iran and Iranians, yet speak about developments there with such absolute certainty. There are those who believe that with Ahmadinejad, Iranians have gotten exactly what they deserve. And there are others still who subscribe to odd and far-fetched conspiracy theories. They see a plot hatched by Western intelligence agencies (and now even the reformists), behind everything that happens. While such intrigues do exist in some cases, the present situation in Iran does not appear to be one of them. At the very least, there is no concrete evidence for it.
Let me be clear: I am not implying that all the leftists-progressives have been supportive of Ahmadinejad, but only a faction of the left. In fact, people like Naom Chomsky have been incredibly supportive of the Green Movement in Iran.
Let us also get another fact straight: the massive demonstrations that broke out in Tehran and other Iranian cities after the results of the rigged election were announced did not represent a pro-West reform movement, but a genuinely Iranian one. They did not, and still do not, represent a so-called colored revolution, akin to what happened in the Ukraine or Georgia, even though the movement has adopted the color green as its symbol.
In fact, what is happening in Iran is not even a revolution, but a democratic movement. Since long before the 1979 Revolution, green has been one of the three colors in Iran's flag. Also, as Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main reformist candidate, has pointed out, green has a deep association with Islam and its teachings. So the color green and shouts of Allah-o Akbar (God is Great) are tactics are reminiscent of the 1979 Revolution -- certainly not a pro-West revolution.
Let us then look at up some of the reasons invoked by some "leftist-progressives" to argue that Ahmadinejad actually won the election without any significant and game-changing fraud:
Ahmadinejad won because he represents the proud tradition of Iranians' deeply-rooted nationalism, standing up for the country's political independence from Western powers.
Ahmadinejad is an Islamic fundamentalist. The fundamentalists do not even believe in nationalism, but only in an Islamic nation, composed of all the present Islamic countries.
Moreover, a true nationalist does not sacrifice his country's national interests for the sake of others. By his senseless barrage of belligerent rhetoric against Israel, and denying the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad offered the United States and other powers the perfect excuse to convince the world of the (non-existent) dangers posed by Iran's nuclear program. This has enabled these powers to send Iran's nuclear dossier to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), through a totally illegal process, and to force the UNSC to impose sanctions against Iran. Anyone with even the slightest familiarity with how the UNSC works knows that once the case of a certain country, which the West perceives as a danger, goes before the UNSC, it will never leave the UNSC unless it satisfies the conditions that the Western powers want to impose on that country. Ahmadinejad has put Iran in such a situation.
Just to be clear: the author fully supports the aspirations of the Palestinian people to have an independent state of their own, consisting of all the occupied territories, including the East Jerusalem. The author has always condemned Israel's atrocities against Palestinians, and will continue to do so. But, one cannot be more Palestinian than the Palestinians themselves. We should support and respect any decision that the Palestinians make regarding Israel. No one should be willing to sacrifice his or her native land's national interests and national security for the Palestinians' sake.
As for protecting Iran's national security and territorial integrity, nothing achieves that better than a political system there accepted and supported by the majority of Iranians. That acceptance, coupled with fierce Iranian nationalism, would have formed a potent defense against any potential aggressor, including the United States. But, Ahmadinejad has taken that away from Iranians.
Thus, Ahmadinejad is not a nationalist in the mold of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh (whose democratically-elected government was overthrown by the CIA and the British MI6 in 1953), or Mahdi Bazargan (the first prime minister after the Revolution). He is simply a fundamentalist populist who is using power ruthlessly to impose himself on Iran and Iranians. The manner by which he and his supporters are doing this has created unease even among a large segment of the clerics who have refused to recognize the legitimacy of his second term.
Ahmadinejad exposed corruption among Iran's elite.
First of all, although Ahmadinejad has made numerous claims about corruption among the elite, he has never ever presented any concrete evidence to support it, nor has his administration referred even a single case of corruption to the judiciary. This is not to say that there is no corruption. There is, and it is on a vast scale. But Ahmadinejad is only interested in the idea of that corruption to advance his own agenda, not to confront it head on.
And what is Ahmadinejad's agenda anyway? He wants to replace one group of the elite with another, namely the first generation of revolutionaries with the second generation of revolutionaries, which mainly consists of the commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and their allies. Since he was elected president in 2005, the IRGC-owned companies have won billions of dollars in contracts, in most cases without any meaningful bidding process whatsoever. No major project can be undertaken in Iran, unless the IRGC gets a cut of it. This is on top of the fact that Iran's underground economy is controlled mostly by the IRGC, which has at least 63 seaports and airports that are not controlled by the government, and are used to import cheap products from China and other Asian countries, making billions in the process for the IRGC, but nearly bankrupting the domestic industries that produce the same products.
As for Ahmadinejad being an anti-corruption crusader, consider the following, which just represents the tip of the iceberg: When he was governor-general of the Ardabil province (in northwestern Iran) in the 1990s, he illegally spent $5 million of the official budget for the presidential campaign of Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, who was running against Mohammad Khatami in the 1997 presidential election.
As governor-general, Ahmadinejad also helped his current Interior Minister, Sadegh Mahsouli (who fought alongside him in the Iran-Iraq war), to illicitly get rich by involving him in the oil swaps with the Republic of Azerbaijan. By his own admission, Mahsouli's net worth is at least $200 million -- not bad for a guy who was totally broke at the end of Iran-Iraq war in 1988.
When Ahmadinejad was Tehran Mayor, nearly $400 million disappeared from Tehran's budget without any explanation whatsoever.
Last year, $1 billion simply disappeared from Iran's official budget. No one has provided an accounting for the money, and the Government Accounting Office cannot account for it.
Before being appointed as Ahmadinejad's second Interior Minister, Ali Kordan (the man who claimed to have a doctoral degree in law from Oxford University; he does not even have a bachelors degree) was the chief deputy to Ali Larijani (the current Speaker of the parliament) for financial affairs, when Larijani was the head of Iran's vast national network of radio and television. When Iran's reformist-dominated 6th Majles (parliament) investigated the financial dealings of the network, it discovered embezzlements totaling $700 million. (Nothing ever happened to either Larijani or Kordan.)
Ahmadinejad has also increased by a factor of 100 the financial aid to the institutions that are controlled by his spiritual leader, Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, an ultra-conservative and reactionary cleric.
Ahmadinejad has used Iran's oil wealth to boost the income of the poor majority, and improve their quality of life.
This is a total myth. Ahmadinejad's economic policy -- if one can call it that -- has dramatically increased inflation, unemployment, the cost of food, housing and fuel. It has intensified the brain-drain that has been under way. He abolished the Organization for Budget and Planning, a decades-old institution that had planned Iran's development, both before and after the Revolution. This has helped shroud in secrecy the way the government spends its annual budget. There is no transparency in anything that the Ahmadinejad's administration does, whereas his predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, had greatly increased the transparency of Iran's government.
Two years ago, 57 of Iran's leading economists warned Ahmadinejad in an open letter that his policies would drive Iran's economy into the ground. He not only failed to heed their warning, but mocked it what became an accurate forecast.
Mousavi's support is mostly from the middle class.
It is true that Mousavi's support in large urban areas is very strong, but it would be a grave mistake to think his support comes merely from the middle class. The Green Movement is deep, and has roots in all sectors of the population: poor and rich, young and old, men and women, urban and rural.
This is not to say that Ahmadinejad does not have support among the population. He does, but it is limited to at most 20%, based on the available evidence and the percentage of votes that conservatives have consistently received in past elections. For example, in nationwide elections for the city councils in 2006, Ahmadinejad's own political group received only 4% of the votes, and the conservative camp about 25%. It simply defies logic that he could receive 64% of the vote in the presidential election, when, aside from anything else, Iran's economy is in much worse shape than it was in 2006.
The deep roots of the Green Movement became clear in the spontaneous massive demonstrations that broke out after the rigged election: people were emphatically unified, and acted with a unity of purpose. Hundreds of thousands of people protested in complete silence in Tehran and other cities. Since then, the same protesters have come up with all sorts of innovative ways to show their disapproval of the rigged election.
The above "arguments" by the leftist supporters of Ahmadinejad are supposedly based on his performance as the president. Let us now take a look at the arguments of those (conspiracy theory fanatics) who see the hands of the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies, and Israel's Mossad in the election and its aftermath.
The demonstrations in Iran are a repetition of the 1953 coup that overthrew Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, a coup that was financed and carried out by the West.
This is sheer absurdity for several reasons:
One, the typical turnout in Iran's presidential election is around 60%. In the June 12 election, however, the turnout was 85%. The extra voters clearly represent a protest vote.
Two, the Iran of 2009 is vastly different from the Iran of 1953. The rate of literacy in Iran is close to 90%. Iran has 100,000 bloggers and 23 million internet users. More than 60% of its university students are female. Iran today has a strong feminist, labor and university student movement, which forms that backbone of Iran's democratic movement. It is insulting to Iranians to claim that such an enlightened population can be easily manipulated by foreign agents.
Third, the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies do not have a significant presence in Iran. There is no U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and almost all of its Iranian agents have been arrested and either killed or imprisoned. The CIA itself has acknowledged as much repeatedly. Having learned the lessons of 1953, Iran's Ministry of Intelligence, one of the most efficient in the world, has a tight grip on all the foreign embassies in Tehran.
Fourth, the very fact that brutal force was used to suppress the huge demonstrations hints not only at the depth of the roots of this movement, but also its authenticity as a genuinely Iranian phenomenon without any meaningful support from the outside. This is a nation that, due to what has been done to it by foreign powers over the past 200 years, is deeply suspicious of foreigners. Yet, despite the great efforts of Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Khamenei, the national radio and television network, right wing news agencies and newspapers, and some of the top commanders of the IRGC, the label of "these are foreign-sponsored riots" has not stuck. What better evidence than the fact that, even now, the hardliners are still trying to mollify the Green Movement and its leaders, Mousavi, Khatami, and Mahdi Karroubi, who have the support of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president and powerful politician.
Fifth, in the case of Ukraine and Georgia, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) of the United States had a significant presence in those nations, funding anti-government activities there. But, in Iran's case, the NED does not have any partner to work with there. A couple of Iranian intellectuals, such as Ramin Jahanbeglou, who had visited the NED in the United States, were quickly arrested upon returning to Iran.
The Fatwa issued by Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi several days before the election, authorizing the use of fraud in order to "re-elect" Ahmadinejad, was fake and a propaganda ploy by the Mousavi camp, in order to prepare the people for incitement after the election.
The story was that several days before the election a group of anonymous people who work at Iran's Interior Ministry, which supervises the election, and had been present in the meeting between the staff of the Interior Ministry and the Ayatollah in which the Fatwa had been issued, wrote an open letter about the Fatwa, and sent it anonymously to many people.
But, not knowing anything about Iran, the so-called leftists and progressives made the most outlandish claim about the Fatwa and its effect. Even more outlandish was the claim that the websites that reported on the Fatwa played a big role in fomenting unrest in Iran after the election.
The author was the first to report about the Fatwa. He had received the open letter by e-mail from a highly reliable source in Iran. Initially, the author's name was not attached to the article about the Fatwa. That became the "reason" for the leftists to believe that the Fatwa was fake; but the reason the piece lacked an attribution was because the author was terrified by the possibility that his extended family in Iran may be hurt. After other Iranian websites (all using Persian not English) also reported about the Fatwa, after even Iranian newspapers in Iran reported on it, and after no one in the conservative camp denied the Fatwa, did the author feel safe for his byline to appear on the article.
To understand better the terrifying environment that has been created by the hard-liners, consider the following. The Guardian reported on June 17 that "there were also unconfirmed reports that Mohammad Asgari, who was responsible for the security of the IT network in Iran's Interior Ministry, was killed yesterday in a suspicious car accident in Tehran. Asgari had reportedly leaked evidence that the elections were rigged to alter the votes from the provinces. Asgari was said to have leaked information that showed Mousavi had won almost 19m votes, and should therefore be president."
Later, another website that quoted the author's report on the Fatwa, appeared to actually confirm the report on the death of Asgari. Many Iranian websites also reported the same, indicating that the letter was widely circulated in Iran.
So, if the authors of the open letter had published or posted it somewhere, they would have been killed, or jailed at the minimum. The extreme right murdered 80 intellectuals, dissidents, and political activists from 1988-1998; some of the bodies were never found. The infamous Chain Murders of late 1998 was just the tip of the iceberg. But, the so-called leftist experts had expected the open letter to have been published somewhere in order for it to have authenticity, and because it had not been, they questioned its authenticity!
Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi who had issued the Fatwa has done the same thing many times in the past. In addition, he has said publicly that,
- Those who are opposed to the Velaayat-e Faghih (guardianship of the jurist; the backbone of Iran's political system) should get a passport and leave the country.
- People are sheep; their opinion does not matter.
- If people do not give their consent to the Islamic government that he advocates, it is permissible to obtain their consent by force.
- Islam does allow use of violence to govern an Islamic nation.
- Iran's Supreme Leader is selected by God; the task of the ayatollah is to discover whom God has selected.
- The powers of the Supreme Leader are unlimited. He can act above and beyond what Iran's Constitution allows him to do.
So, aside from everything else described above, why is it far fetched for some to believe in the existence of the Fatwa?
One absurd argument that the so-called leftists have made to advance their misguided story was that, Kenneth Timmerman, a well-known Iran basher, had invoked the Fatwa heavily. In other words, just because Timmerman had used the Fatwa in his propaganda, the Fatwa could not have been true! Another absurd argument was that some of the Iranian websites that reported on the Fatwa contain advertisements for the U.S.-funded Radio Farda and Voice of America! This is beyond fiction. It is hallucination.
Then, there is the usual patronizing crowd, who want to decide what is good for Iran and Iranians:
Ahmadinejad is the president that Iran deserves. He is good enough for the backward Iranians.
This is the same mentality of those who accept the propaganda by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and their cabal, who said that the United States invaded Iraq in order to get rid of Saddam Hussein for the Iraqi people's sake, and to establish a Western democracy there for them. According to this mentality, the Iraqi people do not really know what is good for them, but the United States does.
Finally, there is a crowd of so-called leftists that supports Ahmadinejad because,
Ahmadinejad has resisted the pressure by the U.S. Empire for dismantling Iran's uranium enrichment program.
As an antiwar activist, the author has been writing about Iran's nuclear program for years, and has been defending it in terms of Iran's national rights in the framework of the relevant international agreements. The author has been doing so (and will do so) not because of what Ahmadinejad says or does regarding Iran's nuclear program. After all, it was Mousavi who, as Iran's prime minister, started the nuclear program in 1987, and it was the Khatami administration that laid down the foundations for Iran's nuclear program. Ahmadinejad merely continued and expanded the program.
The author has been defending Iran's nuclear program because, (a) it represents a national consensus among Iranians; (b) calls the U.S. bluff, and (c) reveals the U.S. double standards when it comes to Iran, on the one hand, and Israel, Pakistan, and India, on the other hand. In the U.S. view, the latter three countries can be armed with nuclear weapons, but Iran must not have even a peaceful nuclear program.
Does defending Iran's nuclear program mean that one should support an illegitimate second term of Ahmadinejad, or be silent about the rigged election and its aftermath? Absolutely not. If one does these things, he or she will be committing treason against one's motherland, and the great Iranian nation. There is no contradiction between defending Iran's nuclear program and rejecting the hardliners, Ahmadinejad and their ilk.
Thus, if the supposedly anti-imperialists, progressives, or leftists who want to oppose the U.S. Empire, they should and can find better leaders than a liar, superstitious, incompetent, arrogant demagogue like Ahmadinejad, who stole the election and is imposing himself on Iran and Iranians.
Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau