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The Truth About Iran

June 21, 2009

freedom_IranLet me tell you the truth about what is going on in Iran.  There is a lot of media-fueled smoke and mirrors, and I don’t think that the ultimate Truth of the situation is anything close to what is being reported here in the U.S.  If we can remain objective, this should come as no surprise.  Like any social-political struggle, Iran is in a very complicated situation, as a result of historical events and actions both inside and outside of the country.  To understand the current unrest and how it is being handled, we must understand the people and the history.  Now I don’t claim to have authority on either of those topics, but I will attempt here to pass along my objective observations.  Being an Iranian-American, born and raised here in New York, having a large family still living there and having visited Iran several times (never lived there), I feel that I am in a good position to approach this objectively, in terms of American and Iranian interests.  What does it even mean anymore to say something like “American interests” – is that the government’s interests, the people’s, or a specific power faction of Americans?  Nevertheless, having watched all the madness and media coverage on CNN, Twitter, BBC, Al Jazeera, and other sources, I am ready to say something.

What is a Country’s Karma? Every nation has a karma, which like human karma, is a collection of its deeds throughout history, kept on sort of a balance sheet for the purpose of measuring that country’s goodness, depravity and ultimately its destiny.  A country’s karma is a compilation of the behavior of its government, media, businesses and citizens both within its own borders and around the world.  If Iran’s government is supporting militia in killing and harming peaceful protesters, that is a very negative mark on its karma.  This is purely an inhumane case of self-inflicted harm.  Supporting terrorism in any form also brings about negative karma.  Meanwhile, if the U.S. or Britain interferes with the political system of Iran through a coup d’etat, or launches a military strike against countries that do not threaten them (i.e. Iraq), the karmic consequences are quite severe.  So let us be mindful of this.  Neither country’s karma in this case is very clean.  The good thing about negative karma, however, is that it can be erased through good deeds.  That is, I believe, what the U.S. government and people have a chance for under our new leadership – Barack Obama and the principles which he brings to the table.

With this in mind, there are four key historical facts that we Americans must bear in mind before being so quick to judge what is happening in Iran right now:

  1. Our own elections in 2000 were in all likelihood rigged in Florida.  We have a lot more technology and sophistication than Iran, which makes it all the more preposterous that such a fraud could take place.  How come we did not protest and cause riots?  And look what the result was – eight years of strife, economic hardship and trillions of our tax dollars spent on wars and senseless killing.  Bad karma.
  2. The U.S., in concert with Britain, was directly responsible for the coup d’etat to overthrow a democratically elected Iranian President Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953! Why?  Take a guess – all for greater access to oil.  In 1952, newly elected U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower “allowed the CIA to embark on its first (but certainly not the last) covert operation against a foreign government.”  Thankfully, our newly elected President Obama has issued an international apology (of sorts) for this crime in his recent speech in Cairo.  For good historical context on how treacherous this act was, read some excerpts from All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup by New York Times Journalist Stephen Kinzer.
  3. A glance around the world shows us that historically, America only supports democracy when it can hand pick the leaders.  We give billions of dollars to governments, regimes and dictators all over the world, that conduct crimes and shed blood in ways that makes the current events in Iran (all due respect to those who have been injured or killed and their families) look like child’s play.  It’s all good as long as it serves our economic interests.  More bad karma.
  4. Every civil rights movement unfortunately has a death toll.  A brief look at U.S. history shows us that protestors, from civil rights activitists to the gay rights movement, almost always have serious backlash and crackdown from authorities and opposing parties.  What is going on in Iran is no different, except that for Iranians, the risks are generally greater because freedom of speech is less.  It is a painful part of the process.  In the current movement in Iran, the best outcome is not an overthrow or a civil war, but a home grown, honest expression of defiance by the people, that is helping them gain national and global respect, which will result in positive changes.

There is so much more to say, but time is of the essence, so I will wrap up with two concluding remarks.

1. In Iran, The Message has Gotten Across and the Balance of Power is Shifting. It may not come in the form of a regime change, but I think that a clear message has gotten across to the world and Iran’s ruling elite.  THE IRANIAN PEOPLE WANT CHANGE. I foresee changes taking place in Iranian society.  People won’t be told what to do anymore.  They will utilize this platform and the leverage that they have gained from it to push for and achieve more civil liberties.   The powers that be will yield on a number of matters in order to appease people, thereby finding a healthier middle ground between religious ethics and civil liberties.  I do not believe that these are diametrically opposed forces (theocracy and civil liberties), and I think that they can co-exist.  The Western Democracy Template cannot be so readily pasted onto Iran – in fact, it’s not possible.  Iran has to do Democracy its own way.

2. The U.S. Needs to be Smart...and basically stay out of it.  President Obama knows this and is therefore doing, at least publicly, what I believe to be the right thing for the world’s greater good.  Now what the CIA and covert operations might be doing behind the scenes – that is another story that I’m sure we’re not going to get “the memo” on for another 30 years.  Essentially, although the United States has significant interests in Iran and in this outcome, the best move that the U.S. can make is to stay away and let the Iranians deal with their own business.  Our (U.S.) karma is bad enough, and the world knows it.  I like this quote, from a citizen of Tehran, and hope that whatever takes place will remain, to as large an extent as possible, an affair that is handled domestically:

“You must see the people, this is a people united, all groups and sections are out there, war veterans, old revolutionaries, housewives. The first girl I saw beaten yesterday was wearing a chador, this is not a western thing here, this is a domestic issue in which Iranian people have the right to demand a new election.”

Whether or not they get the new election, all will not be lost.  This is my belief, objective assessment and sincere hope.

(For further reading, an article written by another author on this topic that I tend to agree with – To you The New ‘Expert’ on Iran)

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 22, 2009 1:39 am

    Thank you for writing your thoughts. I was waiting for you to write something on this subject, I am glad you have.

    I completely agree that the best thing for the US to do is to let things unfold on its own and not get involved. I must say that I am pleasantly surprised by the kind of resolve and passion that Iranian people has expressed in the past couple of weeks… demanding fairness and basically shaking the very core of its theocratic government. The nation of Iran no doubt has matured in a manner unseen anywhere else in the Muslim world. The throngs of people walking and protesting peacefully in the streets of Tehran wearing the green scarves on their mouths, not uttering a word in defiance, truly demonstrated a very mature and powerful group of people. No where have you ever seen this type of social disobediance anywhere else in the muslim world.

    What exactly does this mean for the future of Iran? Is this the begining of the end of the Ayottallah era? Are we witnessing a budding democracy in Iran. One thing is for sure, whether or not Ahmadinejad really won the election or not, his power and influence on the people and the supreme leader is over.

    Iran is, and continue to be, a theocratic state ruled by a supreme leader “a grand Ayottallah,” who unlike the president of Iran, can neither be nominated nor impeached by its people. The president of the Iran is elected by the people and affirmed by the grand Ayottallah. The Ayottallah is like a constitution and a supreme court in one, where the Ayottallah is the sole judge and the interpreter of what is right for the people of Iran. To me the Ayottalaism is no different from a Monarchy of thirty years ago, same methods but different ideals.

    Many Iranians feel that their vote did not count. That the election was unfair or stollen. Whether this is actually true or not, one thing is for sure, that Iran now has a very strong opposition to a current government of Ahmadinejad which would prove to be a strong force to be reckoned with in the near future. The situation in Iran would be very interesting to follow in the coming years. How the US reacts to some of Iran’s changing realities, will set the tone between the two countries in the near future.

    Its seems almost like Iran is leading this “cultural evolution” of the sorts. It was the first nation to have led the revolution to overthrow a secular monarchy and replace it with the Utopian ideal of the true Islamic state. Now after 30 years into it, it seems it may be the first one to have gone full circle and reach a conclusion of moving away from the Utopian ideals, and be led by a more mundane set of rules made for and by the people. I admire the true dynamism of Iranian nation and fondly await to see the further unfolding of this saga.

  2. Khan Safia permalink
    June 22, 2009 12:18 pm

    Arman jaan- this is by far a good and un-biased article on Iran- I will definitely be tweeting about it. I especially like that stated fact that ” THE IRANIAN PEOPLE WANT CHANGE”, now the exact channel whether it’s with existing regime or a new government remains yet to be determined.

  3. Aravind permalink
    July 10, 2009 11:27 am

    Arman:

    Your father printed out your blog and encouraged me to read it this past Independence Day weekend. He spoke very highly about your insight, analysis and treatment of this topic and thought it may prove illuminating to me as I have been questioning people “in the know” for answers about the recent events in Iran—a topic which I am woefully uneducated about. I am sorry to say that I did not read your blog until today—thus missing out on an opportunity to speak directly with your father on his thoughts. However, based on what I have read in the past from various sources, I thought I would offer some of my thoughts on your writings for your consideration. (By the way, Sep is extremely worried that I may be too confrontational, as my usual modus operandi is to be skeptical and question everything that I read.)

    In your blog, you began with proposition that countries have “karma” much in the same way as individuals. On this point, I agree with you, but differ in the philosophical underpinnings of such a concept. While some may believe that the universe is nothing more than a confluence of chaotic and random events—no order or form except for perhaps a mathematical probability of all possible events eventually occurring—I choose to believe that a higher power does exist. Some of the karmic realities, in my opinion, are entirely within the control of man. For example, the aggregated outcome of slothful living is financially distress, insecurity and uncertainty. The outcome is not guaranteed, but the possibilities are more certain with each passing day of laziness. To give life to your proposition of “karma”, however, one needs to ask: what sins were committed in the past by Iran and its people to have tipped the karmic scales to its present position? I would humbly propose to you that the only “sins” are lack of vigilance and ignorance.

    History is a funny thing. As time elapses after an historic event, one would expect the passions of the moment to have dissipated, allowing for dispassionate, objective analysis. That is not always the case, however. For example, no one doubts that Archduke Ferdinand died on June 28, 1914. However, even now, almost one century after his death, historical scholars are still debating whether his death was the cause or the catalyst for World War II. In the context of Iran, notwithstanding the 1953 overthrow of Mosaddeq, the Islamic Revolution of 1979 played the biggest role in the present situation in Iran. The people of Iran rose up and revolted against the tyrannical rule of Pahlavi. The people supported and installed Khomeini as the leader of its theocratic government. To be sure, the people did not support freedom over tyranny—that much is certain. (Ask yourself this: what did Khomeini ever say or do to make the average Iranian believe that theocratic rule would offer him/her greater freedoms than under the Shah?) It is my belief that perhaps the Islamic Revolution was an almost “knee-jerk” reaction (albeit, long simmering) to widely held anti-Shah sentiment. I’m sure you’d agree with me that it is illogical to believe that the diametric opposite of what you hate must be what you love. Such was the case in Iran. I don’t think that the people’s hatred of the Shah meant that they loved Khomeini and the brand of theocratic rule that he brought. Anti-Shah sentiment trumped logic and cold, reasoned analysis.

    Although I have a belief, I have not closed the chapter on what I can learn about Iran. However, just because I have not learned everything there is to learn about Iran, it does not necessarily follow that I am not entitled to hold a belief. As such, I want to point out some things that are counter to the four key historical facts that you cite.

    1. Our elections in 2000 were not rigged. Having witnessed the Chicago political machine, (a la Mayor Richard J. Daley) I can tell you what rigged means in the context of American elections. Florida 2000 was nowhere close to what Chicago remains to this day—a corrupt haven for political hacks. If Chicago is not corrupt enough, try New Orleans or Atlanta or New York or ….. (you get the idea?) The reality is that a person is more inclined to believe that fraud occurred if their defeat was by a narrow margin. Corrupt political machines tend to gin up enough votes to give them a comfortable margin of victory—thus few tend to cry “foul”. Contested votes in Florida were recounted six ways to Tuesday and every single independent recount (conducted by respectable news organizations like the New York Times, among others) resulted in the same outcome—George W. Bush won. If there was fraud in the Florida election results, the Republicans were pretty stupid to rig the election results to win by only 537 votes! (They should have done it Chicago style.) In any event, if the American voters were so clearly against Bush in 2000, why did he win by an even larger Electoral margin in 2004—gaining nearly 12 Million more votes than he did in 2000? Surely, you’re not disappointed that we did not riot after the United States Supreme Court shut down the un-Constitutional actions of the Florida supreme court, are you? We are a nation of laws. That is why we did not riot. That is why we will not riot after Al Franken (ugh!) was recently sworn in as the junior Senator from Minnesota. (Yes. The same state that elected Jessie “The Body” Ventura as governor.) Elections in the United States, as imperfect as they may be, are “failings” of representative democracy, but democratic nonetheless. Incidentally, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will be approximately $1.3 to $1.7 Trillion through FY 2018—at 2008’s enhanced troop levels, not the “trillions” that you cite, but I too would rather not fight any wars, if at all possible. To date, including the residual costs (V.A. benefits, etc.), the CBO indicates that we have expended approximately $904 Billion for both wars—an awful lot of money, to be sure, but not the “trillions” that you cite. Unfortunately, it is only through the effective use of military force that man has been able to achieve “peace”, such as it may be. The question to ponder is how much we are willing to sacrifice for “peace”. Not one life would have been lost, for instance, if we had just followed the lead of PM Neville Chamberlain. After all, Hitler just wanted some of Europe.

    2. Yes. Mosaddeq was overthrown by the Iranian military with the assistance of the CIA. There is much more to that story, however. Post World War II considerations, including the Soviet expansion and Iranian flirtation with socialism/communism also played a part. Iranian oppression of ethnic minorities like the Azari and Kurdish played a part. Mosaddeq’s extra-constitutional invalidation of the 1952 elections he was losing played a part. Mosaddeq’s suspension of the constitution in 1952 played a part. Mosaddeq’s extension of the emergency rule in 1953 played a part. Mosaddeq’s threat to nationalize the oil fields and take private property without any compensation played a part (a very big part). Many years ago, I read The Persian Puzzle by Kenneth Pollack (with the Brookings Institution, a liberal think-tank) and found his treatment of the overthrow instructive. In summary, Pollack wrote that the legacy of the coup exposes the ignorance of Americans (and Brits, because they know nothing of the coup) and the romanticized fiction conjured by the Iranians about the actual facts and legacy of Mossadeq and the coup (because they remember little of the illegitimacy of his regime).

    3. America has long supported the world’s largest democracy—India, although it rarely agreed with its policies. Not once, however, did the Americans “hand pick” India’s leader. What I think you overlook is that every country in the world has supported “friendly” dictators and governments—so long as some national interest was served. Iran, for example, once supported Hitler by harboring German troops used against the Allied Forces. This was during a time in World War II when Germans were well into the extermination of more than 11 million people because of their ethnicity or religion. It took a British and Soviet led invasion and overthrow of Reza Shah Pahlavi to “convince” Iran to join the Allies. Policies change, as do governments. On balance, America has been the greatest power for good in the known history of the world. America has liberated more people from oppression and tyranny than any other country in the history of mankind. America has fed millions of starving people in the poorest countries while the rest of the world only watched. America holds dear as a basic tenant the belief that some rights are inalienable, endowed to us by our Creator, including the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These are not “western democracy templates” reserved for only Americans—alien and unnatural to non-Americans. Listen to oppressed people in any corner of the world—they yearn for freedom. Sometimes “freedom” for them means access to the most basic life sustaining items—like food or clean drinking water. Sometimes it may mean more, like freedom to think and express ideas without fear of government reprisal—like freedom of the press. Mohandas Gandhi once remarked that oppression of the Indian people by the British rulers was no worse than freedom from all British subjugation if an Indian mother still could not feed her hungry child in a “free” India. American exceptionalism makes us great and kind and good and charitable. We are not motivated to act for good because we have a hidden agenda and want something in return (although sometimes we do). That is why we provide humanitarian assistance to our enemies. That is why we eschew bigotry, racism and all forms of injustice, even though we do not have a perfectly clean slate ourselves. I wish we were 100% consistent in our policies, but we are not. However, I have no problem exporting our “democratic template” to all those who yearn for it. Let them choose after they see it for themselves. That is the best karma possible.

    4. Arman, I agree with you wholeheartedly that every movement for freedom has a death toll. I completely disagree with you that we should idly stand by while innocence is slaughtered. I also disagree with you, as does history, that change for the people will come through expressions of defiance and nothing more. History has shown that peace (and change) can only come through the effective use of force. Whether the abolition movement here in America, or the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, or the independence movement in India—effective use of violence and force brought about real and meaningful change. Without the use or force, or the credible threat of force, an oppressor may be moved to do little more than offer token expressions of “freedom” to quiet and appease the masses. Democratic movements often begin with resistance and defiance. If the movement stops there, freedom does not naturally or logically follow. On the contrary, it is an expression of the movement’s weakness. As for your contention that defiance by the people of Iran will help them “gain national and global respect”, and will further help them achieve “positive changes”, I couldn’t disagree with you more. First, I think that among freedom loving people around the world, the acts of courage displayed by the Iranian people in the current situation are already recognized and admired. So what? If I admire the courage Nada exhibited but do nothing to support change, especially if I have the means to effect change, am I not the least bit culpable when the next courageous and admired dissident is needlessly slaughtered? Look at the civil rights struggle in this country. Do you honestly believe that Blacks marching for equality would have achieved success if Whites who already had “equality” had not supported and joined in the struggle? If the world does nothing more than admire and respect the political courage exhibited by the Iranians in their current struggle, do you honestly feel that defiance and the respect of the world population alone will change the ways of the current regime? Regime change may happen at some time in the future, to be sure. But at what cost to innocence?

    Arman, I would like to believe that the balance of power is shifting, I think that unless the United States and other governments step up to the plate and do more than placate their political base with carefully crafted words of “outrage and condemnation”, this event will be a blip on the proverbial screen of history. The worst karma of all.

    The U.S. needs to be smart and supportive. Read Steve Grove’s 2009 piece “Advancing Freedom in Iran” (Heritage Foundation) or Maryam Rajavi’s 1995 speech text (iranfreedom.net) and you will find striking similarities in their beliefs that freedom cannot be achieved in a vacuum. Nor can it be achieved while those with the means to assist idly stand by and do nothing to help. Our president made a political decision not to become involved in “the internal politics” of a sovereign nation. Mere weeks after his deafening silence on Iran, he immediately and vociferously decried the actions of the Honduran supreme court, its congress, the military and the people when they ousted President Zelaya (for trying to install himself as president for life, a la Hugo Chavez). Hypocrisy is bad Karma also. As for the assertion that the US is being “smart” by treating this latest Iranian uprising as purely a “domestic issue”, I like the statement made by Iranian dissident Amir Abbas Fakhravar in response to a journalist’s assertion that the people of Iran do not want the United States to publically support the resistance and freedom movements in Iran:

    “Please don’t ever say that the people of Iran are going to have resentment or anger in their hearts toward America or Western countries for doing this. That is 100 percent false. To see this, all you need to do is contact some Iranians inside the major cities. Just send your journalists to interview the people in the streets and ask them.”

    I await the answer to the people’s “demand” for new elections in Iran, although I think I already know what it will be.

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