Editorial: Iran — the human story

Iran — the human story

No one gets a front-row seat in a revolution. It’s not a spectacle. You’re either out in the open, risking your life; lying low (or on the run), trying to save your life; or far enough away that the shouts, screams and gunshot, amount to no more than a faint murmur.

Except for now — wherever we are we have been sucked in by an illusion of proximity.

In a maelstrom of YouTube images and Tweets we march along with fearless demonstrators — without taking a step. We hear the gunfire, see the bloodshed and the baton blows — without suffering a scratch or breaking a sweat.

Are we simply revolutionary voyeurs?

To a degree yes, but underneath this fascination there is a deeper and more significant envy, shame and admiration.

Still, the images coming out of Iran have been confusing when refracted through multiple distorting political prisms.

Seen through a post-Bush, pro-diplomacy prism of pragmatic realism, Iran’s post-election turmoil has overturned a strategic chessboard upon which for several months all the pieces had been carefully placed and cautiously moved. The unexpected disarray has provoked a mix of paralysis and denial in which there is the expectation that after a week or two, things should return to “normal.”

As hundreds of thousands of Iranians protested the election results, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, champions of the new realism that now shapes Washington’s approach to foreign policy, coldly suggested: “It is time for the Obama administration to get serious about pursuing [a genuine rapprochement] — with an Iranian administration headed by the reelected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”

Dismissing claims that the election had been stolen, they said: “compared with the U.S. presidential election in Florida in 2000, the flaws in Iran’s electoral process seem less significant.” (The Iranians protest too much and we protest too little?)

Seen through a neoconservative, pro-Israel prism the uprising prompts acute ambivalence. The illegitimacy of Iranian state power is on full display yet the Islamic republic is almost certain to remain in tact. An Iran that can thoroughly be vilified is deemed preferable to one that acquires a moderate measure of moderation. As Daniel Pipes frankly put it: “while my heart goes out to the many Iranians who desperately want the vile Ahmadinejad out of power, my head tells me it’s best that he remain in office.”

And seen through an anti-imperialist prism, Iran looks like Lebanon’s 2005 Cedar Revolution writ large. Tehran’s “western-backed” revolutionary chic are a Trojan horse through which the West hopes to reassert its regional hegemony. As Seumas Milne warns: “the neutralisation of Iran as an independent regional power would be a huge prize for the US – defanging recalcitrants from Baghdad to Beirut – and a route out of the strategic impasse created by the invasion of Iraq.”

From each of these political angles the human story gets lost.

When unarmed women show their defiance towards baton-wielding militiamen we are witnessing a timeless battle. On one side are individuals risking their lives because they see their own fate as indivisible from that of others. On the other side are individuals who see their own interests as indivisible from those of the state and who have thereby abandoned loyalty to the dictates of their own conscience.

We see how high human beings — individually and collectively — can rise and in the very same moment how low they can fall.

We are moved and unsettled. Moved to see the boldness that frail individuals can muster. Unsettled to be reminded of the petty fearfulness that marks the distance between our own cosseted American lives and those lives now courageously at risk all across Iran.

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