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Jun. 15 2009 - 4:16 pm | 28 views | 3 recommendations | 9 comments

This is no green revolution

"We Write Mousavi, They Read Ahmadinejad&...

Image by ☞ John McNab via Flickr

In all the hundreds of thousands of words I read this weekend in the media about the Iran elections, it wasn’t until Monday morning, when Christopher Hitchens at Slate weighed in that I finally saw something in Western media that wasn’t dipped in chartreuse. 

Hitchens eviscerated the idea of “free and fair” elections in the “Iranian Republic” (his quotes, not mine) — and rightfully so. Can a country whose unelected religious governing body picks the candidates, and where no Christians, Jews, seculars, women or even Sunni Muslims can be considered for election, really be called “free and fair”?

“Four hundred people applied to run for president and only four were accepted as legitimate candidates,” says Kaveh Shahrooz,  a lawyer and Iranian activist who has written widely on the massacre of political prisoners in Iran in the 1980s.  ”It’s counter to the idea of a free and fair election, and the Western press will acknowledge this, but then in the same breath talk about an emerging freedom in Iran. And that’s ridiculous.”

Since the results of the election were announced, Shahrooz had struggled to stay on top of the news that’s coming out of Iran. His remaining family in Iran are among those protesting last week’s election results. And while he supports the protestors, he wishes they would use the attention of the Western world to push for real demands for freedom, rather than simply rallying around the failed election of  Mir Hussein Mousavi.

Western bloggers like Andrew Sullivan have feverishly chronicled the fall-out in Iran in the days following the election. Sullivan is among those in support of the elections, but not in support of the results.  Today, to show his solidarity (or perhaps lack of solidarity) with Iran, Sullivan colored his blog green, the campaign color used by Mousavi.

But the Western connotations of green — as earth friendly, progressive and perhaps even revolutionary — neglect the heavy religious significance of the color in Iran, says Shahrooz. There the color green has a long history, and in Muslim cultures in general, where it is typically adopted in the state flags of Islamic nations. It was partly associated with Mousavi during his campaign because of his long Islamic lineage — which can be traced back to the prophet.

This color-blindness has obscured Mousavi from view from the Western press, where pundits and journalists have voiced their support for him over the radical militant Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  It has perhaps even blotted out questionable parts of Mousavi’s past: that some of the worst human rights abuses in Iranian history occurred while he was prime minister of Iran in the 1980s and that Mousavi refuses to answer questions about his role in the dark days of the Islamic Republic of Iran even twenty years later.  

In reality, the lime-light of the Iran revolution illuminates the very problem with the Islamic Republic in general: the Iranian people are not being given a real chance to change the fundamental regime of Iran, which still rests in the un-elected Shiite theocracy.  

But this is perhaps more a failure of the movement than Mousavi himself — which has now tethered itself to the candidate, for better or worse. 

“The protestors should use this moment to make real demands instead of rallying around Mousavi,” says Shahrooz. ”Mousavi is just change around the margins.”


Like this post on the Iranian election aftermath? Check out these other posts from True/Slant contributors:

Phil Zabriskie: ‘Winds of Tehran Part II’
Jonathan Curiel: In droves, Iran’s women have come out of their political closet
Mark Drapeau: How the Iranian Elections Turned “CNN Fail” Into a Media Success
Joshua Kucera: What if Twitter is leading us all astray in Iran?
Ethan Porter: Obama engages by not engaging
Marc Herman: How Iran ‘Jams’ Election News
Ryan Sager: Iran: Knowing Nothing


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  1. collapse expand

    I knew none of this about Iran…changes one perspective, thank you.

  2. collapse expand

    Kate, you and Joshua Kucera are making me very glad I read your posts. It is refreshing to hear a tinge of cynicism, without the bitterness that so often accompanies it. You are questioning this, because it should be questioned.

    It seems like the Iranians are all for one guy, because he doesn’t suck as bad as the guy who is in power. We’ve seen this before, perhaps even fallen prey to the lure of accepting the mediocre, because we don’t think we can get anything better.

    Thanks for the great coverage, keep it up!

    • collapse expand

      Thanks for the feedback. I agree with you about the coverage. I think there’s been a big call for unity between journalists on this — a real sense of let’s work together to get this done.

      I don’t always think that’s a bad thing, but I don’t understand why you can’t be for something while still asking questions about it. I don’t think being in support of Mousavi has to mean not criticizing his past or his qualifications or the change he’ll make in Iran. That might be a naive view — I know a lot of people believe that you have to diminish fodder for factionalizing a movement — but I don’t think that’s necessarily responsible journalism, or journalism at all.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    Hitchen’s revelatory article is refreshing. Unfortunately, he lifted Oscar Wilde’s insightful quote “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue” without due acknowledgment.

  4. collapse expand

    I’m struck not by the contrasts but by the similarities to our own system. When was the last time in your recollection we had a ‘Free and Fair” election?

    Free as independents perhaps, but considering the humongous costs involved with our political system, only the wealthiest and most influential can participate. Fair? This is truly not the case. With millions of dollars being thrown about to shape the discussion and influence the market, fairness is the most remote aspect of our system. Obama invested over $750,000,000 dollars in his campaign and outspent McCain by almost 3:1. Were the best people put forth? Or were they chosen?

    We have more in common with Iran than most people would admit. The masses are highly controlled and have very little power. Here, we have the bankers, industrialists and Church. There religious figured rule with an iron fist. Just try having a gay relationship. You’ll find them hanging in the City square. Sure, people will point to all the things we can do here, but stop and think about what choices you have. We may be 100+ years beyond slavery but each and every one of us is owned to one extent or another by the Federal Government. We pay a portion of a our work wages to them and have no say in the matter. Whatever you do you owe the IRS a portion of your hard-earned money. It evokes images of the Sheriff of Nottingham extracting his tax. It used to be only corporate profits were taxed, but in 1913 the politicos made their move and we’ve shackled to the Feds ever since.

    For all the talk of revolution, a cute media balloon, there’s not much revolutionary activity anywhere. Considering the power, size and resources of most governments, the populace is grossly over-powered. Freedom and fairness for all may be the theme, but in practice it’s all very tightly controlled and becoming more so by the day. Remember, we ALL live under the force of every new law created. We’re not freer by any means. We’re just told how good we have it and there’s much work to be done elsewhere. We’re being distracted while the pot approaches the boiling point. A happy band of frogs in the pot we are…up until the point when it’s too late.

    I appreciate the story because perhaps in Iran’s struggles we can come to see our own plight. Democracy requires constant vigilance, effort and sacrifice. If only we can tear ourselves away from the goddamn computer or sports events perhaps we can actually start to make a difference?

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    About Me

    While working at Talking Points Memo Muckraker during the 2008 Election, I covered the Justice Department politicization, voting rights law and the insanity of Alaska politics. I loved the beat which was somewhere between the wonky side of politics and the law. The realization was enough to send me off to law school in D.C. -- which seems to be a perfect combination of both.

    Though I've covered everything from birth control to blenders in my few years in journalism, this blog will be a compilation of stories related to the Supreme Court, federal courts, and the law generally. With an occasional story about Sarah Palin or Ted Stevens thrown in for good measure.

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