Can We Truly Understand What's Happening in Iran?


by Kevin Gosztola    
While we watch video and images from Iran, blog and tweet and become transfixed and mesmerized by what is unfolding, how possible is it for us to understand and grasp what is really happening in Iran?
The Huffington Post, the Lede, Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish, Juan Cole’s Informed Comment, the Daily Kos, the NIAC Blog, and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran all have posted a myriad of rumors, video, photos, tweets, hearsay, interviews, reports, emails, etc from Iran. But, what are we to make of all of this information?
The reality is that we Americans have been conditioned to react to the outcome of this election in a manner that could do more harm to the people of Iran than the anti-riot police are doing as they respond to the public’s opposition to the outcome of the election. How many of us followed coverage of Iran excited about the possibility that Obama wouldn’t have to put up with a cocky Dubya-like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if he lost?
Americans suffer from what Juan Cole terms “Islamic Anxiety.” We believe leaders in Iran are obsessively anti-American, pursue nuclear weapons, send terror cells into Iraq to blow up our soldiers, and sponsor terrorism in Israel through groups like Hamas and Hizbullah.
We hear countless news reports from print, radio, and local and cable television inform us that Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier and that he wants to “wipe Israel off the face of the map.” [*This is despite the fact that this is a gross translation of what Ahmadinejad really said.] 
Some of what Americans believe is true. But, it doesn’t matter what is true. What matters is what Americans believe because what we believe determines how we act and react.
Many, many, many Americans believe Iran to be scary and frightening and fear Iran will use nuclear weapons and attack Israel. They watch what is happening after this election and are primarily interested in how Obama will bring Iran’s largely non-existent nuclear weapons program that they think exists to a halt.
I, like many Americans, want to cheer on the Iranian people and see truth and justice prevail. I, too, would like Ahmadinejad to be out of power. But, I do not know if what we are seeing is a revolution like the revolution that occurred in 1979 and I do not know if we really want Moussavi to be in power instead of Ahmadinejad.
According to Pierre Tristam, Moussavi, as prime minister of Iran in the 1980s, helped build “militant groups into international terrorist forces, sending money, weapons and manpower to Lebanon to beef up Hezbollah and telegraphing their targets, including that string of American and European hostages Hezbollah held for most of the decade---and Mousavi traded for, haggling over anti-tank missiles and money with Oliver North and Bud McFarlane, in the infamous Iran-contra affair.
Ana K. Sami, a specialist on women’s and human rights issues in Iran, wrote a “Views” piece for al-Arabiya (which recently had its Tehran bureau shut down by the Iranian government) titled, “Students and the paradox of elections in Iran”:
“…it is paradoxical to use the term “election” as the general understanding follows that there is somewhat of a choice between candidates as decided by a state’s citizens. In Iran, these candidates are in fact pre-selected before an actual national “election” takes place. Amongst those who are barred from running are of course women, and those who do not pass the rigorous litmus test of the Iranian government’s Guardian Council. A true power base, this elite group consists of six theologians appointed by the Supreme Leader (Ali Khamenei) and six jurists nominated by the judiciary, also approved by the parliament. The single most important quality that the Guardian Council seeks to observe in a candidate is their commitment and loyalty to the established authoritative hierarchical structure, the most important of which is unquestionable loyalty to Khamenei.”
Many Americans who have watched in prior elections as the ruling elite powered by a lapdog media whittle the field of candidates deemed acceptable for the office of President down before the primary elections know how the rigging can happen before the election even takes place.
Perhaps, we are seeing in Iran a backlash against the way Iran has been handling its elections.
It’s easy to empathize with a population that desires free and fair elections and publicly demonstrates and refuses to accept the results because they know the government probably didn’t even count the votes and may have, in fact, brazenly engineered a coup, but as much as we may want to, we cannot intervene.
We must let the Iranians channel the backlash into a rapid or slow movement toward a more healthy democracy on their own without Western interference, even if we hear reports of Iranians claiming they want us to get involved.
This isn't about us. It's about them.
Those marching in opposition to the results, especially the students demonstrating at universities, know what future they want for their country. They know whether it is worth it to fight or let Ahmadinejad rule for another term until the next election.
We Americans, on the other hand---We don’t collectively as a people know much at all.
We don’t collectively know the history of Iran or how the government is setup. We don’t collectively know how culture in Iran plays a role in elections.
We who consider our nation to be number one hear reports on Iran after a story on Carrie Prejean and right before a segment on exercises you can do in your hotel room when traveling and many of us don’t think much of the situation at all.
We hear CNN reporting on how the Internet and Twitter have been powering the demonstrations in the streets and on the rooftops and react with fascination but lack the ability to contextualize what the demonstrations really mean for Iran.
So, let’s do the world a favor and gain a better context for understanding or just refrain from offering our input.
Start by following the links listed above instead of your favorite source for news on television, and/or check out these books to increase your understanding:
Engaging the Muslim World – Juan Cole
All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror – Stephen Kinzer
Iran Today – Dilip Hiro
* And, if you really want to learn something, pick up William Blum’s Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower
Kevin Gosztola is a writer who publishes his writing on Open Salon, ZCom, RedGage, and in addition to OpEdNews. He is a documentary filmmaker currently completing a Film/Video degree at Columbia College in Chicago.


Main Projects Organizers Kevin Gosztola Can We Truly Understand What's Happening in Iran?


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