Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wake up, social media freedom fighters

What's going on in Iran? Does the corporate media/social media narrative fit the political realities?

Incumbent President Ahmedinedjad may have actually won the election, or his camp may be engaged in some degree of election fraud, there's that letter circulating. Hard to tell. We all know Ahmedinedjad is a complete asshole.

But more interestingly, what about Mousavi, the defeated candidate whose followers are violently contesting the election result? He is being described as a “reformist”, which makes sense within the framework of the Iranian political system, but by any meaningful standard he is your average murdering fascist.

In the years following the revolution, and later as prime minister during the war against Iraq, he was directly responsible for political executions by the thousands. He shut down the universities for four years to quell disturbances. He co-founded and helped build the Hezbollah.

Remember when Salman Rushdie had to go into hiding? Yeah, that was because Mousavi wanted Hezbollah to kill him. There is also some evidence that he may have been instrumental in starting the Iranian nuclear program.

His followers are the urban upper classes. He ran on a program of breaking the state TV monopoly. Hey, rich Iranians want entertainment as much as anyone else.

By any reasonable calculation, he'll be every bit as much a tyrant as any other Iranian President under the current theocracy. But contrary to Ahmedinedjad he has signalled that he'll be a tyrant the US can make deals with. The good kind of tyrant, the kind they like. Like the Shah. Like Franco. Like Pinochet. Like Saddam Hussein before he turned sour.

Of course the US isn't ready to trust a guy like that completely, but they recognize a golden opportunity to stir up shit for an unfriendly regime. So what do they do to help him? They run a classic PsyOps operation to put pressure on the regime. They run with the democracy angle - because who doesn't love democracy?

They know nobody trusts the corporate media, so this time they try something new to see if people will swallow it. This Twitter thing suddenly looks very promising. They put a little pressure on the Twitter people to postpone the scheduled maintenance. They improvise along the way, and it seems to be working.

Why? Because we all like to feel significant. We like to feel part of something larger than ourselves. We want to think of ourselves as freedom fighters doing battle for the oppressed masses. We like to think we were there, that we were first out, that our opinions and actions mattered.

What we don't like, is to think of ourselves as the naive, easily manipulated consumer citizens of a dominant military-industrial economy. We don't like to feel influenced by our media. We don't like to feel used by our leaders.

Social media freedom fighters, give me a break. It's the same old game with the same old players. What's changed? Where's the analysis? In three years you'll be protesting against the exact same people you're supporting now.

More to come, gotta run.


ADDENDUM: Coin drops for Danish newspaper Politiken.


Blogger mrtn said...

Mikkel, you are completely misrepresenting the situation.

1. I doubt there are many in the western social media freedom etc who are actual supporters of Mousavi. I doubt there are a lot of people who even know what he stands for apart from a slightly less conservative and anti-rest-of-world-stance. They are looking at the people, not the leaders.

2. The western supporters are rooting for change in the parliamentary system and see the people in the streets (have you seen the videos?), the organisation, the open dissent and protest in a quasi-authoritarian regime as an attempt to, y'know, tear down the oppressive and undemocratic power structures of said quasi-authoritarian regime.

3. There are a lot of indications that what is happening now has ceased to be about the elections and has turned into a generalised dissent for a significant fraction of the people. Whatever happens, this open dissent is going to have to become a part of the Iranian structure going forward.

4. You are avoiding the problem of what happens if the uprising is crushed? If that happens, I'm certain that there will be a series of quiet purges of reformists throughout the power structure over the next six months to a year. It will also probably depress the reformists and make it harder to come back. Tianamen Square springs to mind.

5. The US? Seriously? I think they are being *incredibly* quiet. I think talking to Twitter is the loudest thing they are going to do, and the 27-yr-old in charge of Facebook at the State Dept (srsly) who talked to Twitter about this probably got a reprimande. I doubt they were involved at all. The CIA doesn't speak Farsi anymore.

I know you don't like Mousavi - neither do I, obviously - but you root for the movements you are dealt when the moment to change things comes along. This could change the game in the Middle East and create a system in which not this leader, nor the next one or maybe the one after that. The protesters are trying to create a system in which there is actual chance that SOME DAY there can be change, not the change itself. Mousavi is in this situation the least worst candidate that can make things happen. Trying to attack the movement based on the figurehead is missing the big picture. It's about the people, not their leaders.

5:41 pm  
Blogger Mikkel said...

I don't think I'm misrepresenting anything. On the contrary I believe that you, and other western supporters of the current Teheran protests, have allowed yourselves to become seduced by a false narrative. I think your analysis is flawed precisely because it is secondary to the narrative, and so you constantly have to adapt it as the situation unfolds. I encourage you to look dispassionately at the situation, and the players, and allow yourself to admit you may have been a little rash in your judgment.

To address your arguments:

1) The protests in Teheran are protests in support of a specific candidate, Mr. Mousavi. It is quite legitimate, as I think you do, to speculate that some protesters may have another agenda. But to support the protests is to support Mr. Mousavi. This is logically undeniable. I refuse to do so, the same as I refuse to support the encumbent. If most westerners, as you say, are unaware of Mr. Mousavi's views and policies, they should not take sides, but shut the fuck up. The whole “looking at the people” angle may sound good on paper, but “the people” in this case means a specific, very powerful faction, comprised mainly of the privileged, well educated, urban upper classes. Hence the ready access to social media.

2) I don't really care what western supporters think they are rooting for. In practice they are supporting a specific candidate, Mr. Mousavi, and his camp. I've seen some of the videos, and I find them appalling. You say that what many western supporters see is an “attempt to, y'know, tear down the oppressive and undemocratic power structures of said quasi-authoritarian regime.” Your problem here is that all the irony in the world won't conceal the fact that that is simply not what those people are fighting for. They are on the street in support of a man who wants to implement those exact authoritarian policies, and worse.

3) Again, I think it's legitimate to speculate that many protesters didn't even vote for Mousavi, and have a more radical agenda. My heart goes out to those people, but I think they're dead wrong in risking their lives for a crook. Further, I see no reason why the Iranian regime should need to make open dissent part of anything. That is just wild speculation on your part. There is no indication of any glasnost going on here. The future of the system as such is not up for debate, even if large parts of the Iranian diaspora in alliance with western democracy peddlers want it to be.

4) The “uprising”, if that's what you want to call it, will most definitely be crushed, no matter who wins. That's the problem! I don't care either way, because I find both sides equally nasty. Mousavi has shown on more than one occasion that he won't shy away from political assassinations, torture, imprisonment etc. He's not the Dalai Llama.

5) America has no hand in any of this? Because they're being “quiet” and “The CIA doesn't speak farsi anymore?” (?!) They have no interest in the region? Iran has not caused humiliating problems for the US in neighboring countries like, say, US occupied Iraq? There wasn't, until recently, a (small) probability that the US might conceivably invade Iran? Oil? Nuclear weapons? Israel? No? Nothing? OK then. I must have misunderstood. Yes, because Obama put a stop to all that, just like he ended the war in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and closed down Guantanamo Bay on the first day of his presidency.

You definitely do NOT “root for the movements you're dealt when the moment to change things comes along”. Where did you get that crazy idea? I'm not going to support Mousavi just because he happened to waltz by at the time some Teheran housewives felt the need for more varied television programming! The man is a murdering crook. I condemn him, and so I feel compelled to condemn those who support him, whatever their reasons.

And no, it's not about “the people”. It's not about “change”. It's not about “democracy”.

It's about a man who wants to rule a country.

7:20 pm  
Anonymous Goredom said...

Word, Mikkel. I'm looking for brains, but do not find many these days.

1:12 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I support the riots because they destabilize the Iranian regime. They show Iran for what it is: a paper tiger without public support.

8:00 pm  
Blogger Mikkel said...

If the riots really did destabilize the regime I'd agree. But by all indications the Mousavi supporters are a minority.

11:02 pm  

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