Monday, December 28, 2009

Grassroots + Power V: Iran

I spent a lot of arts-policy-brainwork on my diversity posts earlier this week, and so now my posting brain is looking back at politics again and getting excited -- probably based on my optimism about the health care bill.

At any rate, if you haven't seen Andrew Sullivan's extensive, expert coverage of today's protests across the country of Tehran, start with this post and work your way forwards. There are a lot of posts, but most of them are fairly short. I highly suggest watching at least a few of the Youtube videos.

A couple points:
  1. Mainstream media fail, per usual. One of Sullivan's readers actually points out accurately that the bigger fail is the MSM's failure to provide the context of the recent bomb attempt, inasmuch as there's basically a war going on in Yemen that we're at least tangentially involved in, against al Qaeda. If you're keeping count, that means we're fighting al Qaeda in five countries: Somalia (where US airstrikes have been supporting an Ethopian force), Yemen (where we've been supporting a largely Saudi force), Pakistan (where we've been supporting the Pakistani government), Afghanistan (directly), and a few remaining in Iraq (directly).
  2. A few months ago, I found myself having anonymous comments blasting my comments on Obama's arts policy. My response was generally "meh," but I was rather insulted by the implication that I didn't understand the relationship between grass-roots and power, considering as I wrote a play about it and it's my favorite topic. So I decided to tackle the subject in a series of posts.

    What's interesting to me about this Iran thing is how it's playing out in a rather textbook example of what President Vaclav Havel wrote in his essay "Power of the Powerless." When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn asked of the Soviet Union, "For how else can something dead pretend it is living except by erecting a scaffolding of lies?" and Vaclav Havel formulated the same idea by saying that "living in truth" was the way to dismember the state that lives on lies, they would not be surprised to see what's going on in Iran.

    I remember once in school, one of my history teachers said that the original form of democracy was the Greek Tyrants: in order to stay in power, they had to compete for the affections of the military, because without the military, they were nothing. The military were the first constituency.

    Now we see that a new tipping point has been reached in Iran. Take this video, in which the once-feared Basij have been cornered, are begging forgiveness, pleading to be released by angry protesters who shout "are you only brave on your motorcycle." Other videos involve burning Basij buildings or stealing their helmets and their sticks. They are aiming their blow right at the heart of the "Scaffolding of lies" that props up the Ayatollah: the lie that his power is absolute.

    When the protests began months ago, protesters wore masks to conceal their identity. Now, the Basij wear masks and beg to be forgiven; the protesters are the ones with the cameras.
  3. My last point: if you watch any of the videos, you'll see hundreds of people with cell phones in the air, or cameras, documenting the revolution as it happens. All I want to say about that is that no single detail in this entire affair has so powerfully grounded me in feeling that the Iranian students are just like me. When I was at Barack Obama's rally before the primaries, or when I was at New Year's, it was the same thing -- the modern way we document our lives as it was happening.

    It made me realize something: when (not if) the Iranian people manage to overthrow the Ayatollah and create a more representative democracy (which may still be lead by Ayatollahs, but will be far more representative), the face of Iran is going to be transformed: it is going to become a face we recognize. We won't have to whisper between ourselves wondering exactly how insane or simply greedy their leadership is, they won't be born of a tradition and history unfathomable to us. We'll have some common experiences--we'll recognize each other. They'll still want nukes, they'll still resist our foreign policy interests, and I don't want to think about what they think about Israel. But we'll recognize them and they'll recognize us. It'll be the first step.
It's pretty exciting, and a great way to wrap up 2009. We started it with the optimism that change was coming, even in the midst of a falling economy we would have health care reform. In the middle of it, things looked bleak for health care reform as the town halls poisoned the atmosphere, but the response to the Iranian election was moving, gave us hope. Then they faded away, and I feared the worst for them. But now both have come together.

What I hope for 2010:
  1. The investigation into torture yields prosecution.
  2. Our troops are largely withdrawn from Iraq.
  3. Guantanamo closes.
  4. A review of Don't Ask Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act by the end of the year.
I'm also hoping that California sets into motion drafting of a new constitution.