Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Democratic Protests in Iran and US Policy

Reported by Julie Jigsawnovich

Last night the Brecht Forum in New York City hosted a round table discussion regarding US policy and the protests resulting from the disputed Presidential election in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The panel included Hamid Dabashi, Ervand Abrahamian, and Arang Keshavarzian, and was moderated by Leili Kashani.

Dabashi dispels the notion that opposition voters in Iran are overwhelmingly middle class. He says that in fact it is the militias who are brutally assaulting them in the streets who are paid wages allowing them to marry and get their own homes. Many of the people they are beating and killing are educated people who struggle to find work in Iran, even with college degrees. Even with recent years of unprecedented oil revenues, the government of Iran has failed to focus on job creation other than in the militias. Dabashi is, however, against sanctions, saying they hurt the democratic protesters. And Dabashi predicts that air strikes against Iran would mean the end of the democratic movement there. Abarahamian discusses current US policy towards Iran in reference to historical US involvement in Iran. He supports the approach that Obama has taken. Arang Keshavarzian focuses on evidence of systematic election irregularities, and facts that dispute characterizations of Ahmadinejad as a populist with rural support. He suggests building bridges between organized workers in Iran and organized workers in the US. Following are excerpts from my live transcription:

Ervand Abrahamian:
"History is being used to undermine the current popular movement. It's easy to fit into that narrative--foreign powers trying to undermine sovereignty--easy to say this is a repeat of that. The problem with that is facts. Here are the facts. You find that the Obama administration was taken very much by surprise. Why? Because its priority is to negotiate over the nuclear issue. This crisis actually puts a spike in the wheels--because it could be said, 'How can you deal or negotiate with a regime that is killing people in the streets?'"

"Facts rather than history--Obama has made dramatic changes. This administration dropped the prerequisite of stopping uranium enrichment before negotiation, dropped talk of regime change, apologized for coup of 1953, ended the financing of dubious groups in Iran--Obama stopped the financing of terrorist groups. Obama has done a good job of trying to negotiate the nuclear issue. Is there any willingness to meet Obama halfway?"

Hamid Dabashi:
"I am on record as saying that this is a civil rights movement, not a revolution. But I may turn out to be wrong, and this may turn out to be a revolution.

"The people are exercising Article 27 of their Constitution. There is within the Iranian Constitution the right to question, to right to hold rallies. Leaders of the Republic are in violation of the Constitution because they will not give permission for peaceful protests.
So many arrests, tortures--the state of military siege is there for all to see. The religious foundation of the republic is now being questioned."

Arang Keshavarzian:
"It's naive to start talking about this as a revolution. The language on the streets is a language of citizenship, a language of rights. Moussavi and his aides really pushed the idea of rule of law, the checks and balances--that Ahmadinejad violated during his term." After the election people say, 'Look all those issues Moussavi talked about were right.'

There is a sense that participants, active citizens were violated. The number of mobile voting stations this election was extremely high. There was an extremely high number of extra ballots printed. Ballots are usually counted at the polling place, but this time the boxes of ballots were taken somewhere else. Supporters of opposing candidates were not allowed to monitor polling places. SMS was cut off on the day of election. Telephone communication was sketchy, too. The night of the election Moussavi's campaign staff was attacked and arrested.

There is good evidence that Ahmadinejad has never been popular with the rural voters. He has unwound some of the agricultural policies that Moussavi had started. And Ahmadinejad has systematically attacked independent organizations of the working class. This includes bus drivers, teachers and the notaries."

According to the press release for this event:
"Hamid Dabashi (www.hamiddabashi.com) is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and has been regularly commenting on the political crisis in Iran for various media outlets, including Al Jazeera, ABC, BBC, CNN, Democracy Now!, GRITtv, and Al-Ahram Weekly. He has written eighteen books and edited four, including Iran: A People Interrupted (2007), Islamic Liberation Theology: Resisting the Empire (2008), Masters and Masterpieces of Iranian Cinema (2007), and Dreams of a Nation: On Palestinian Cinema (2006). He has authored over 100 essays, articles, and book reviews on a range of subjects, and is the founder of Dreams of a Nation, a Palestinian film project dedicated to preserving and safeguarding Palestinian Cinema. A committed teacher for nearly three decades, he is also a public speaker around the globe, a current affairs essayist, and a staunch anti-war activist.
Ervand Abrahamian is Distinguished Professor of History at Baruch College, CUNY. His books include A History of Modern Iran (2008), Targeting Iran (2007, with Barsamian, Chomsky, and Mozaffari), Tortured Confessions (1999), Khomeinism (1993), The Iranian Mojahedin (1989), Iran Between Two Revolutions (1982), and Inventing the Axis of Evil (2004). He is working on a book called The CIA Coup in Iran, has authored numerous articles, and spoken publicly about Iran over the last three decades.

Arang Keshavarzian was in Iran during the 2009 presidential elections, and is an Associate Professor in the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at NYU. He is on the editorial committee of the Middle East Research and Information Project
(MERIP: www.merip.org), where he has published articles on current events in Iran. His book and articles focus on modern Iranian political economy and social movements, but his current research examines free trade zones in the Persian Gulf to shed more detailed light on imperialism and globalization.

Leili Kashani has a graduate degree in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies from NYU where she studied twentieth-century Iranian social movements, and she is a senior editor at Arab Studies Journal.

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