Opinion | Islamist Fictions, Leftist Fashions, and the Embassy Invasion
by SETAREH SABETY
30 Nov 2011 23:22
[ opinion ] Many like me were struck by an image from the pro-regime attack on the British Embassy yesterday. It was of a looter walking out of the embassy carrying a framed poster of an iconic moment from Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, emblematic of the fake, hollow nature of the event. The image, and the event that it signified, also seemed to mark the end of an era: anti-imperialist posturing has run its course, at least in Iran.
Unlike the seizure of the U.S. Embassy by Iranian students more than three decades ago, this embassy invasion looked plainly staged and failed to resonate with anyone. It appeared to involve thugs hired to take part in a play, akin to a ritual reenactment of the martyrdom of Hussein, replete with symbolism that has lost its meaning over time and carries only nostalgic value in certain Islamist circles. None in the crowd looked like they were students and not one person in Iran whom I was able to contact believed that they were. By all accounts, this was the same despised bunch that attacked the real students who protested the disputed presidential elections in 2009.
The image of the mob storming and looting the British Embassy, as police officers stood idly by, highlighted the regime's hypocrisy and failed to stir any of the nationalist or anti-imperialist sentiments evoked by the events of 1979. That year, we toppled the U.S.-backed Shah, overran the embassy, and took Americans hostage. Then we ran our own country for more than three decades. But our own Islamist leaders ruled over us with such a heavy hand, engaged in such blatant nepotism and thievery, and displayed such arrogance that the "American puppet" we so valiantly ran off now seems like the better option. In my opinion, many of the opposition, if not the majority of Iranians, share this post-Islamist frame of mind. We tried Islamic governance and have come deeply to despise it.
Even though we have been wronged by the West, as with the CIA-backed coup against Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, we have gotten over our grudge, especially after 30 years of indigenous rule have shown that sometimes homegrown tyranny is worse than "imported influence."
To understand the new generation of Iranians and this new sentiment toward the West, one must shed the grammar of the traditional left, something that many of us who eagerly took part in the 1979 Revolution find hard. But post-Islamist Iranians no longer see the West or Americans as their enemies. Having had anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism shoved down their throats, they have come to love Israel and the United States.
You see, when we got rid of the imperialists and their puppets, we also got rid of many of our freedoms too. This was much more acutely felt by us women. Out with "imperialism" went our rights to full citizenship. We could still vote and hold office, but we had to cover our heads under the newly enforced sharia, or Islamic law. We got rid of the so-called imperialists, but we were not allowed to sing, or drink a beer, or have a boyfriend. We literally got a whipping for any transgressions.
Maybe you have to be a woman to really feel it. You really have to be forced to put something on your hair every day before going out in public to comprehend how humiliating and degrading it is. But it was not just that: We also had to witness our children being murdered, first in a war with Iraq that could have ended much earlier, then in the mass executions of leftists in the 1980s, and finally after the disputed 2009 elections.
What sovereignty did we gain? At what price? And for whom? Certainly not for us women, or minorities, or homosexuals, or atheists. Through the agony of three decades, we have come to realize that the biggest demon is not the West, but our own extremists, and especially our own Islamist men.
Now we even have some Iranian American academics (see here and here), who want to lay claim to being the intelligentsia of the opposition and still remain fashionably leftist, lecturing us on how American or Western "humanitarian intervention" is not so humanitarian. As if we didn't know! As if we are as naïve as the students who sit in their 101 classes.
We know all about Western intervention and imperialism and we frankly prefer it to our own Islamist rulers. Call me what you want -- or worse, call me a neocon -- but I am expressing the pent-up anger of many Iranians who are fed up with the empty rhetoric of the fashionable left, which refuses to come up with a new grammar for the post-imperialist world and has no clue how to digest our post-Islamist embrace of the West.
We Iranians, hardened by revolution and war, want jobs, opportunities, and the simple freedom to do what we want with ourselves. The utopian promises of the Islamists and the anti-imperialists have both left us jaded. No ideological posturing will satiate our need to breathe the fresh air of everyday liberty, the kind that "brother" Tarantino gets to breathe.
I know that I will get attacked for much of what I have claimed here, so let me make myself perfectly clear: I have no way of polling people in Iran. But neither do you. This is my assessment of a new Iranian sensibility, a new ethos. It is based on following events closely and engaging with them passionately for over 30 years and living both in the Islamic Republic and the Shah's Iran. Until someone comes up with a way to collect accurate data in Iran, then my point of view remains just that, my opinion, and it cannot be quantified.
The views expressed are the author's own.