Sunday, February 11, 2007

Iran's War on Dissent: An Update

Writing in the February 9th New York Sun, Steven Stalinsky of MEMRI provides an overview of the Iranian regime's war on internal dissent:

Iranian opposition to President Ahmadinejad is on the rise following a series of recent setbacks, including election losses for his candidates and criticism of his handling of the nuclear crisis. As discontent increases, however, Mr. Ahmadinejad's regime is going to spectacular lengths to purge and silence its opposition, much as Nazi Germany did in consolidating its power.

This purge includes the banning of books, reformist papers, Web logs, and satellite TV channels, as well as working against groups such as labor unions and student and women's organizations.

In the first week of December, Iran cut off its citizens' access to YouTube and; it had earlier blocked Wikipedia and the New York Times. The Iranian authorities did this, they said, to "purge the country of Western cultural influences."

In the reformist daily Rooz of January 25, Nooshabeh Amiri discussed the attacks on freedom in Iran and warned that the country will "become a sanctuary for devils and beasts."

In a February 1st interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Hajar Smouni from Reporters Sans Frontieres discusses how the Iranian autocracy has cracked down on press freedom in particular:

Iran is one of the repressive regimes against journalists and against the media. What we have noticed in 2006 is that there was a new form of pressure. If you look at the statistics, you're going to see that [fewer] journalists have been jailed in 2006. You're going to see that [fewer] of them have been [convicted].

But there is a new form of pressure that they are facing that is not less dangerous or less repressive. What we've noticed is that journalists are being arrested, they are being questioned by prosecutors and then they are being released on bail, without having a date for a trial set, or without having the possibility to express themselves or to defend their case. And so this threat, this trial stays as a menace in case they write something that will displease the regime again.

In light of all this, you would think that American liberals and leftists would be adamant about the need to stand up for free expression in Iran. You would be mistaken, as this piece by Scott McLemee from Inside Higher Ed illustrates (link courtesy of Phi Beta Cons):

“In hundreds of conversations I’ve had with Iranian intellectuals, journalists, and human rights activists in recent years, I invariably encounter exasperation,” writes Danny Postel in Reading “Legitimation Crisis” in Tehran: Iran and the Future of Liberalism, a recent addition to the Prickly Paradigm pamphlet series distributed by the University of Chicago Press. “Why, they ask, is the American Left so indifferent to the struggle taking place in Iran? Why can’t the Iranian movement get the attention of so-called progressives and solidarity activists here? Why is it mainly neoconservatives who express interest in the Iranian struggle?”

Postel, a senior editor of the online magazine openDemocracy, sees the Iranian situation as a crucial test of whether soi-disant American “progressives” can think outside the logic that treats solidarity as something one extends only to people being hurt by client-states of the U.S. government.

“Of course we should be steadfast in opposition to any U.S. military intervention in Iran,” he writes; “that’s the easy part. But it’s not the end of the discussion. Iran is, as the Iranian anthropologist Ziba Mir-Hosseini puts it, ‘a state at war with itself.’ Progressives everywhere should take sides in that war and actively support the forces of democracy, feminism, pluralism, human rights, and freedom of expression.”

To be fair, the McLemee article is full is hysterical pronouncements about "neocons". Still, it's nice to know that there are at least a few on the left who are willing to support Iranian dissidents even if it means being on the same side of an issue as the US government. I just wish more of their compatriots would do the same. To quote Stalinsky:

As Iran takes another page from Nazi Germany, one must ask where the Western student groups, women's right activists, union members, journalists, and other freedom-seeking individuals are, when their Iranian counterparts desperately need support. Many things are possible through the Internet and e-mail.


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