Monday, June 21, 2010

Neda and the Nameless

The videotaped death of twenty-seven year-old Neda Agha Soltan at the hands of Iranian security forces last June has come to symbolize the Islamic Republic's repressive nature.
"One moment, a young woman is standing on the sidewalk, watching the Iranian people stand up . . .A second later, she crumbles. . .blood pumping uselessly out of the gunshot wound in her chest. A faceless police sniper has. . .made her immortal," solemnly editorializes an indignant Washington Times. The entire western world joined the Iranian opposition in condemning her death. "No iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness," pined President Obama's speechwriters.

Neda. The word itself, which means voice in Farsi, has given a voice to opponents of Iran's government. The anniversary of her death occasioned a barrage of somber reflections from western observers. Neda is a worthy victim. She was killed without provocation by the security forces of a hostile state, and she was killed before a camera. That last part isn't entirely unusual, every few months peaceful protesters are shot dead in the villages of Bil'in and Nil'in while activists are filming. However, they are killed by the security forces of an ally, and are of little note. While anyone even loosely following the western media can recall the images of Neda's death, the name and images of Bassem Abu Rahem, and others like him, don't even merit passing mention.

No iron fist is strong enough to stop solemn western observers from bearing witness to the brutality of their enemies and no brutality is extreme enough to merit condemnation, when done in the service of national interests. Hence, there will be no reflections on the "heartbreaking" policy of U.S drone strikes on Pakistan, which killed sixty people three days after Neda's death. The same day Neda died the BBC reported that U.S officials conceded troops broke internal guidelines in a series of airstrikes which killed scores of Afghan civilians the month before, but major newspapers will feature no remembrances or calls for accountability.

Watching nothing but the Western media's Iranian coverage, one might be justified in assuming little more than outrage at injustice and a desire to see democracy prevail motivates U.S and European policy towards the Islamic republic. Iran might be a vibrant democracy compared to regional U.S allies, such as Saudi Arabia, but it does have serious issues. Democracy and human rights, however, have never been relevant in western policy towards Iran.

Iran had a liberal, democratic government once, in the 1950s. It was overthrown when the U.S and Britain installed a repressive, pro-American dictator who ruled with U.S backing until 1979. There were scant tears for the victims of the Shah's police state or calls for the restoration of democracy. The Shah was a useful dictator. The Ayatollahs who overthrew him were not, and with their rise to power came a renewed concern for human rights in Iran.

Sort of, at least. The new government was condemned for its repressive policies, but when Iraq invaded Iran, starting a war that killed millions of people, the U.S was supportive, and when Iraq deployed poison gas against civilians it took an approach of statutory neglect. Likewise, when the Jundallah, a Sunni terrorist organization suspected of being backed by the U.S, carries out attacks on Iranian targets, there is no concern among western commentators.

Even as U.S officials hail the "Green Revolution", they are embracing a man, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who was one of Iran's chief thugs as Prime Minister for eight years. But though he "has not always moved in liberal circles," as the BBC describes, Mousavi's aspirations suddenly coincide with western interests, and past infractions can be forgotten. Mousavi is thus transformed from fanatical thug to crusading reformer.

Though the goal of a democratic Iran that respects human rights is something that all people should aspire towards it has never been a major goal of the United States, nor is it something the U.S can help along, except perhaps by declining to subvert progress when it does occur. For those Americans seriously interested in promoting the values so frequently, and self-righteously, extolled in the press, the first place to start is with the flaws they can actually address, those in their own society.

1 comment:

nina said...

Right on spot, YA. But i guess some people still can't see the double standard.
anyway, how are you?
Best wishes.