Iran Brief: Against Democracy
June 21, 2009 2 Comments
The Unread-Bloggers Oversight Commission sent me a notarized, formal letter of complaint that I haven’t really written about Iran; they threatened to take away my Unread-Bloggers License. So, a few thoughts:
- Overall, my stance is pessimistic (at least if believing that other guy, instead of Ahmadinejad, would become “President” of Iran would count as “optimism”). I don’t expect anything dramatic or revolutionary to come out of this. I expect, at the most extreme, perhaps a Tiananmen Square type incident that kills a lot of people, with the government forces prevailing, re-confirming the status quo; I don’t expect, anticipate, or have any hope for anything like an “Orange” or “Cedar” or (etc) Revolution. Iran will still be in effect controlled by the Supreme Leader and whatever theocratic machinery he and the ayatollahs and Guardians control. Could I be wrong? Of course! But I would be surprised. It’s just a bit difficult to get worked up over the “democratic” implications of this thing when this is a place with an unelected “Supreme Leader”. I’m not even convinced that the “President” of Iran isn’t just a figurehead; as far as I can tell, the main function of the “Presidency” of Iran is to make crazy-ass speeches designed to piss off Jews and Americans while wearing suits and thereby making Westerners think/assume that Iran is some sort of democracy and not all that different from them.
- That said, if we are supposed to take the Potemkin “democratic” trappings that Iran engages in seriously, in all honesty I can’t claim to have the first clue as to whether Ahmadinejad really got more votes than that other guy. How the hell would I know? I don’t take it as a given just because I happen to dislike Ahmadinejad. I don’t take it as a given that if I dislike him then a majority of Iranians do too. The implication of a lot of Western, pro-democratic thinking is that majorities in all countries must be nice and decent and moral and couldn’t possibly like evil guys. I disagree. I find it quite possible (not a certainty but possible) that a majority of Iranians prefer xenophobia and antisemitism and murderousness and evil.
- From a broader point of view, this focus on the election and its results seems misguided. The problem with Iran is not, and has never been, that she is not a democracy. My problem with Iran is that, in her overall (lowercase-c) constitution, as a nation-state, she is ideologically committed to (a) spreading radical Islam as governance, (b) attacking Israel, (c) violating basic human rights, and (d) attacking the United States, and anyone else who stands in the way of (a) and (b). The way people approach/analyze this situation too often veers on suggesting that if only Iran were or could be certified to be really, truly a democracy, then everything would be ok, and we could stop worrying about her. I disagree. I might and probably would still find her worrisome, on the basis of the ideology and culture of the people who rule Iran – whether they get there democratically or not. In general it’s irritating to me when people in the West attempt to use “democracy” as shorthand for “we don’t have the right to worry about or prevent them from doing anything”. That is misguided. For example, Iran wants nukes, and if they are or become “a democracy”, at that point neither we nor anyone else will have any right to stop them. Right? B.S. Lack of democracy is not the only problem; being a democracy is not an automatic blank check giving license to evil ideologies and policies.
- In particular, let’s say that the “optimists” get their way, the protesters prevail, and whats-his-name therefore gets certified the victor and becomes “President” of Iran. Ok, now what? What then? Will Iran stop supporting Islamist terrorism? Will Iran accept the existence of Israel? Will Iran remove the fundamentalist-Islamic laws and rules that violate the rights of her citizens? Will she abandon nuclear weapons? Does anyone really think any of those things would happen? Even if we assume that the other guy wanted any of these things (on what basis? because he’s not Ahmadinejad?), a lot of this depends on where the real, true power in Iran actually lies. Surely much of it lies with the military, and also much of it resides with whatever religious-enforcer police they have. Will those people, those ideologues, and/or those entrenched power structures suddenly have a change of heart if the “real winner” of the election (assuming that’s what The Other Guy is) gets into the Presidency? Presumably not. There is too much at stake. Too much history, and lifetimes of devotion to ideology, and people who have risen to powerful positions in the current structure. Those people aren’t going away, and don’t want to go away. They won’t and don’t want to give up their positions and money and houses and power. Let’s imagine that The Other Guy is a true reformer, then – in fact, let’s imagine he’s pro-Western. (Why not? It’s easy when you don’t know anything about him, as I don’t, and as most Westerners don’t.) Even if that were the case, him getting into the office of “Presidency” wouldn’t accomplish any of the above goals that (true) Western liberals would hope for. It would only be the beginning. The true revolution would remain in front of him, and it would be bloody and chaotic. There would be no certain outcome, and there would be no guarantee that the result wouldn’t be worse than what current exists in Iran. So, getting the “real winner” into the office of Presidency – even if that’s what these protests accomplish – wouldn’t be the first step toward reform. It would barely be the zeroth step.
I realize I’m sounding like a reactionary and that I’m trying to throw cold water on a lot of excitement at the moment. Maybe I’ve changed and become more cynical over the past five years or so. The current U.S. administration also certainly doesn’t provide one with many reasons for idealism or optimism that freedom and liberalism (as opposed to statism and socialism) will spread. But overall I do want to discourage a myopic focus on “democracy” at the expense of other things which, in my view, are more important. Like human rights, and anti-terrorism, and a basic respect for other nations. Iran lacks all three at the moment. Nor is there any sign that this will change, whoever becomes her “President”. My fear is that with all this focus on “democracy” and having the “real winner” seated in some (Western-emulated) office in Iran, even if we get what we’re all saying we want, we then risk putting the “democratic” stamp of approval on an Iranian power structure and ideology of revolutionary terror and theocratic fascism. This will make us paralyzed and anesthetized to it, powerless to stop it, even convinced we don’t “have the right” to stop it.
Even more so than we already are, I mean.
In my more cynical moments, I wonder whether this could be in fact what Iran’s powers-that-be are seeking.
So let me reiterate: the problem with Iran is not merely that she’s not “democratic”, and “democracy” alone is not the solution to Iran. It runs deeper than that. Democracy, by itself, will not soothe or appease me.