The Left quiet about Ahmadinejad. A rebuttal

Dave Riley at Left Click in Australia responds to our recent post about Ahmadinejad.

It is not our job to shore up imperialistic propaganda for the sake of beating the war drum, promoting Islamophobia and maybe invading Iran. And the core question in regard to the Soviet ‘invasion’ of Afghanistan and Iran vis a vis the US killing machine is taking sides. I know it’s not neat nor comfortable nor a simple exercise. Nor does it presume that you remain blind (or lie) to what’s happening on the ground in Iran.

Read the whole thing. This is what blogging is about. Genuine exchange of ideas, even (and especially) if you aren’t always in agreement.


  1. While the core question is indeed about taking sides, there’s a fallacy in assuming there are only two sides to take. In my favorite analogical location, Sri Lanka, the two combatants (assisted by the media) have managed to force upon that nation (and the world) the illusion that they are the only two representatives of the people of Sri Lanka– when, in fact, there are multiple factions and interest groups. The greatest tragedy of all, though, is that the majority of Sri Lankans do not feel represented by EITHER combatant party.

    Similarly, just because Bush and the Iranian government have a dispute does not mean that we must side with one or the other. They are both wrong, and neither represents its constituency’s best interests.

    Rather, to take a position against imperialism and/or extremism is to oppose both leaderships, to demand representative government in both nations, and (perhaps) to stand in solidarity with the Iranian PEOPLE– not their totalitarian, theocratic government.

    I fail to understand how supporting extremism ANYWHERE serves the purpose of progressives. Even seen in the most favorable light, i.e. ignoring the fact that Bush and Ahmadinejad need each other as enemies to bolster support at home, the best that can be accomplished by supporting Ahmadinejad over Bush is the selfish goal of weakening our own president, at the expense of strengthening totalitarianism over the Iranian people. That hardly seems progressive to me.

    One of the greatest sins of modernity is the binary world view: imperial/colonized, Axis/Ally, Capitalist/Communist, etc. It creates abominable local political aberrations, such as Finland allying itself with Nazi Germany when it was attacked by the USSR during the Winter War (since USSR was an Ally), Indian freedom fighters seeking training and weaponry from the Axis against the Brits, and Ho Chi Minh turning to the Soviets though he really wanted to be our ally.

    Hopefully in our post-modern consciousness, we can discard this antiquated idea for what it is: illusory propaganda intended to divide and control. We don’t live in a binary world. Bush doesn’t realize this. I suspect a lot of other people don’t, either.

  2. You see, I disagree with DJ on Sri Lanka too. Maybe because I have too many Tamil friends and been off and on involved with Tamil solidarity for over 20 years.

    There are many things we can say about the Tamil Tigers –just as there is a lot of misinformation about them in the western press — but i’ don’t make it a habit of chasing “Third Campist” positions as ultimately they are a cop out and pander to the arguments of the oppressors.

    I much prefer to defend the Tamil course from those who would denigrate it.

    A first rule of “left” solidarity politics is to offer unconditional support. And thats’ driven by the fact is that you aren’t them. You aren’t the Iranians or the Tamils and you have no direct way of standing in fro them and controlling their perspectives and tactics.

    In the final isntance, you see, history rules the roost.

    In a preferred world the Tudeh Party and other left formations in Iran would still be active and thousands of activists would still be alive and on the streets. But they’re not and the Iranian opposition forces a dissipated and weak.

    But what opposition would it be that calls for a US invasion? In alliance with Saddam that has in fact happened in Iranian politics.

    So you gotta take sides –maybe a lot of sides — but there is no way you can shirk from that by yearning for a position that is untenable while underlying issues are not addressed.

    My argument with Bob was that it criticised the “left’ for its approach to Ahmadinejad — ie: quietness. I think from what I’ve read, they were correct and warranted praise not criticism. Let’s see the end of the Iranian Mullahs — but the getting rid is a task for Iranians neither us nor the Administration of another registered homophobe, George W. Bush.

    It should also be remembered that what bought down the Shah in 1979 was a revolution on massive scale with initial exciting promise and momentum before a Islamist Thermidor set in.

    Thats’ a legacy that enriches the oppositional potentials in Iran today and my guess why the US wants to adopt a heavy handed approach to ensure that occurrence is not replicated there.

    Nonetheless,as the appoach of Venezuela and Cuab doe suggest — the
    attempt to demonize, isolate Iran (and villify Ahmadinejad) leaves a opening for a new alliance against the US mono polar world which also invests the spectre of 21st century socialism, into the Arab and Persian mix.

  3. “Unconditional” doesn’t have to mean “never uncritical.” And to build support for No War on Iran, why not just state the obvious, that which many already have surmised, that Ahmedinajad has some goofy ideas. But then say that the crucial thing is to stop an invasion from happening. I think more people will agree with that than if you say nothing about him and leave them wondering why you didn’t.

    I don’t necessarily agree with all of DJ’s ideas either but his insight that players in a conflict, regardless of what they say, sometimes have a vested interest in it continuing, is, I think, indisputable.

  4. Dave, I’ve spent time with both Sinhala and Tamil expats; both invariably stand in solidarity with the extremists of their own ethnic group. But get out into the villages, and you hear a different tune. Especially in the east– an area no northerner wants to discuss on factual terms.

    The LTTE seeks to supplant a system ruled by one elite group, with a system ruled ruled by two elite groups. That’s not progressive.

    The current system not only fails Tamils, it fails Sinhalese as well. Unless you’re part of the elite or aligned with it. The LTTE proposals would not change living conditions for most Tamils, much less Sinhalese.

    Our work there (in which I am an analyst; the strategy is driven by Sri Lankans) seeks to unite the poor of all ethnic groups and all regions to seek a democratic solution. Tamil villagers have much more in common with Sinhala villagers than either has with their elite “leaders.”

  5. I agree with your assessment DJ both for Sinhala and Tamil — but then I’m as keen as before to argue for the Tamil cause.

    But the main divide in there is the same divide that was orchestrated in Ireland & Fiji as elsewhere — a conscious divide and conquer exercise played out by the British.

    One of the main problems of Sri Lankan politics is that political parties accommodate to Sinhala chauvinism. Even supposedly radical outfits like the old JVP were Sinhala chauvinist — so this is the prism that determines so much of the political terrain regardless of what shared existence may be like at the village level there or throughout both communities in Belfast or on the streets of Suva.

    Thats’ a fact of political reality –and unless the underlying inequalities are addressed there is no ‘democratic’ solution. You could in effect say the same thing about Afro Americans & poor working class whites in the US as you can about villagers in Sri Lanka — but that doesn’t cheapen the justice of the black cause for equality, nor the imperative of trying to get non blacks to support civil rights and Afro American demands.

    The same applies here in Australia in regard to indigenous and migrant issues.

    [I grant you that often the tactics of the Tigers don’t facilitate that quest for solidarity. As you know as a means to play up to the US the Sri Lankan government has declared Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam a terrorist organisation. And here in Australia Tamil activists are being fitted up on terrorist charges for raising funds for the Tigers. So your quest for an even handed solution is up against a very coarse reality.]

    Another way out of left field example of this, is the long time struggle in Aceh for a separate homeland on the tip of East Java. No minor struggle this one since it has gone on for over fifty years in recent times and now is in cease fire mode.

    But do you/we support it as a matter of course — despite its roots in cultural Islam ? It’s like the Tamil Eelam situation as it advocates a separate state and like Timor Leste and West Papua is another hot spot threatening to break up the archepelago nationalism of the Indonesian state.

    “never uncritical”

    As for being “never uncritical” — I don’t think that was in fact the point.The point was that the left was supposedly wrong for being quiet in regard to Ahmadinejad . And the case in point was the way that the attitude of Iran to homosexuality and the Holocaust was represented in the US media through the figure of Ahmadinejad — goofy ideas or no.

    If you check out Susan Faludi’s new book –and this week’s interview with her on Democracy Now — you’ll be given a very good exposure to the way the Bush administration used womens rights as an excuse for the US invasion of Afghanistan.

    As for saying “nothing” I don’t think that was indeed the case. I think, for instance, the article in SW was a very well argued piece that was not “quiet” in the way you infer —Behind the media frenzy over Ahmadinejad:

    “THE ANTI-Ahmadinejad crusaders exploited genuine disgust with the Iranian president’s reactionary political views–particularly his highly publicized comments doubting the Nazi Holocaust of Jews during the Second World War–in their campaign to demonize him….[These reports are reviewed and the point is then made. ]Not once did he recognize the basic fact that Iran’s political system is far more democratic than those of U.S. allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia–or, for that matter, the monarchy of the U.S.-backed Shah, overthrown in the Iranian Revolution of 1979….
    The stakes in this controversy are high. The disastrous occupation of Iraq has stretched the U.S. military to the breaking point, but an attack on Iran–once thought to be an inevitable next stop in Washington’s “war on terror”–remains an all-too-real possibility, whether in the near or long term.
    Indeed, while the media were focused on Ahmadinejad’s upcoming appearance at Columbia, Sens. Jon Kyl and Joe Lieberman proposed an amendment to the 2008 defense spending bill to make it official U.S. policy to “combat, contain and roll back” Iran–similar to the law passed under Bill Clinton that made “regime change” in Iraq official policy, creating the framework for Bush’s 2003 invasion….
    “Why has the president of Iran become a cartoon villain in American politics?” Columbia student Monique Dols and alum Dylan Stillwood wrote in an op-ed article published in the Columbia Spectator newspaper.
    “He’s a repressive ruler who holds reactionary views, but the same is true of many dictators and monarchs that the United States has supported, such as the Taliban, Saddam Hussein and the House of Saud. The U.S. is not a principled opponent of repressive governments. The real origins of the recent saber-rattling lie in Iraq.”
    The campaign against Ahmadinejad isn’t about opposing his political views or standing up for the victims of Iranian government repression. It is about advancing an agenda of war and repression at home by whipping up a hysteria against a new bogeyman.

  6. “Even supposedly radical outfits like the old JVP were Sinhala chauvinist…”

    The JVP, formerly responsible for tens of thouands of Sinhala deaths and now a partner in government, has always used the hammer and sickle as its symbol– and yet has never been Marxist. It was, is, and most likely always will be a right-wing Sinhala chauvinist organization. But it did fool some on the foreign left for a while.

    But here’s the thing: JVP recruits from the deepest poverty of the South, where LTTE recruits from the deepest poverty of the North– and Karuna now does the same among Tamils in the East, where radicalizing Muslims affected by the war are also beginning to organize. Surely the roots of the conflict can be found in British divide-and-conquer tactics. But the effects respect no ethnicity. Virtually all the footsoldiers of all the groups (and to see SL as a binary conflict is myopic) originate in the depths of poverty, while their elite leaders drive around in armored SUVs and such.

    My field research in the ethnically-mixed east suggests at least ambivalence to the LTTE. Cultural differences and the LTTE’s colonial attitudes toward the east have driven them to desire their own self-determination– under neoither GOSL nor LTTE. Hence early support for Karuna, and though that support has waned, the desire remains.

    Once again: the LTTE seeks to replace a system dominated by one set of elites, with a system dominated by two sets of elites.

    Groups like Sarvodaya, on the other hand, seek to supplant the elite-dominated pseudo-democracy with a true, village-up democracy with local self-determination for all. And they seek it without killing civilians.

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