Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Window on Iran

Andrew Sullivan's breathless, exhaustive reports of events in Iran -- by way of Iranian twitterers, bloggers, phone calls from relatives, etc. -- is exciting and admirable. When human passions break out of conventional story lines, ordinary media are often incapacitated by their professional conventions. They don't know what is going on, so they either cautiously wait for clarification or try to continue to impose frames that have been smashed, resulting in either useless silence or authoritative sounding gibberish.

By throwing up the unedited raw materials of what seems to be, variously, an authoritarian coup/a protest against electoral fraud/an insurrection/a brutal repression, Sullivan is honoring our common humanity with Iranians in a moment of crisis, even if he cannot promise to extract lasting meaning from the available evidence.

Here's a sample of the video he is putting up. Warning: it shows a very brutal assault on an Iranian youth protesting the apparently fraudulent election results.

Much as I appreciate Sullivan's bringing the Iran news to his audience, there's a part of me that wonders, where's he been all these years? I'm terribly afraid that a videographer could have caught images not so very different from these in St. Paul last summer during the Republican convention. Police intended to break up most protests and they did.

I know for a fact that a bystander caught exactly this kind of video of Los Angeles police officers beating on Rodney King after a vehicle chase -- and that a Southern California jury acquitted those officers of any wrong doing, leading to days of destructive riots in 1992. Pretty universally, when the custodians of government force meet what they perceive as culpable insolence from people they expect to dominate, this is what they do. That goes double for poor peole of the "wrong" color. It doesn't take a right wing autocracy.

The Iranian images also just make me feel old. Having attended college in northern California in the late 1960s, I knew quite a few Iranians -- or Persians as they usually called themselves. They were young men who had been sent out of Iran by worried families because of fear they'd run afoul the ruling Shah's secret police. The brutality of that force, the SAVAK, was legendary. The Shah's monarchy was the Iranian regime the U.S. propped up to replace the popularly elected Prime Minister Mossadegh who the CIA overthrew in 1953. It was completely illegitimate in the eyes of these Iranian exiles.

In 1979, these exiles cheered the Iranian revolution -- how could they not? They weren't looking for rule by clerics, but they were looking for an end to repression, repression they blamed on the United States. I'm sure the emerging theocracy did not treat many of those who returned well at all. This was a less visual era, but what we saw then, surging crowds on wide boulevards, did not look that different from what we see now.

I am often critical of President Obama these days, but on Iran I think he is striking a very right note.

"It is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran's leaders will be. We respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran," Mr. Obama said.

Wall Street Journal

We, this meddling country, have participated in enough misery for Iran and the Iranians know it. At this time, we can only hope to serve as witnesses to whatever Iranians make of their situation.

Again -- I am grateful to Andrew Sullivan for providing a window on this so very human drama of hope and fear. Take a look.

Update: I no sooner put up this post than Sullivan reports this particular video dates from 2 years ago. I don't think that changes anything I've written, but it sure illustrates the problems of real-time reporting.

Update again: I have no intention of doing this often, but as I was catching up on newspapers online today, I ran across this from the UK Guardian. Remember those nice British bobbies from detective novels? Not always.

At least the offender didn't meet the fate of Oscar Grant.


Tina said...

Sorry, didn't understand: is he in Iran or is he in the USA?

Darlene said...

Brutality is unforgivable whether it comes from the Iranian National Guard or a bunch of Bobbies. Give a man a weapon, clothe him in the ability to have the law on his side, and he reverts to the animal kingdom. These guys remind me of a bunch of cowardly vultures descending on the hapless victim.

To use these tactics on peaceful protesters instead of criminals it unconscionable.

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