Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Cross posted from LI

After Louis Napoleon had finally crushed any hope for revolution in France, Herzen published a letter – which he included as his fourteenth letter in the Letters from France and Italy – in which he draws some conclusions about the morphology of revolution. Some of his observations seem particularly applicable to Iran – which is no surprise. As Herzen observed, revolution no longer has a definite place, but, like a drop of mercury in a heated pan, jumps from one place to another. I found this passage pertinent – as pertinent as a knife in the heart:

“It has at last fallen into ruin, that decrepit world which survived its own self [this sounds much better in French: Il s’est enfin écroulé, ce monde décrepit qui s’était survècu a lui même] , which dissolved itself, which divided into two opposing principles, clever world, which at last came to lying and the confusion of all ideas, to pussilanimous concessions, which was arrested before impossible combinations. Everything that this world had reconstructed of the past, everything that it had painted freshly on varnished wood, all the productions of its old age second childhood – all this has fallen into ruin like a house of cards. There are no more confused reticences sustaining false hopes. The black night that one awaited has come – we advance with small steps towards the morning.”

Herzen’s vision was cleared by being in exile from one decrepit world – my vision is clouded by being part of a world that is in the midst of surviving itself as it faces the consequences of its own impossible economic combinations, its consumer society feudalism. But my eyes are clear enough to see that perception does not bring into being the nature of things. The U.S. establishment has settled it among themselves that the reformers were aiming at Americanizing Iran; for the U.S. establishment firmly believes in the Americanization of our enemies, while quietly supporting the non-Americanization of our friends. Thus, the outpouring for the demonstrators who have been killed in Teheran and Isfahan, and the turning away from the inhabitants of Gaza who, a mere six months ago, were treated to a terror war and died in their hundreds. In its search for comments from the “Arab” world, the New York Times published a Syrian activist, Rime Allaf, who spoke the obvious:

“Images like the distressing video immortalizing Neda Agha-Soltan as she lay dying in Tehran, inexplicably murdered, have also triggered conflicting emotions and sad questions on whether she died in vain. With so many people not actively espousing the position of any side, reluctant to shake a status quo, which, for all its problems, remains safer than the alternatives seen from Iraq to Afghanistan, the burden of experience is heavy. Dissent of any kind — even mild civil disobedience — has been brutally repressed throughout the Arab world replete with its own religious rulings, kangaroo courts and sham elections.
To add insult to injury, not only has people’s self-determination never received the backing of the international community, it has also been suppressed with the blessing of the world’s superpowers, eager to keep friendly regimes in power.
This is perhaps why Arab reactions to Iranians’ turmoil have been somewhat subdued. If the Iranians are so strongly supported in their quest for freedom, they wonder, why have Arabs’ own struggles been ignored, their own suffering been dismissed and their own Nedas been nameless? Why were Arabs’ own cries invoking God incessantly reported, in English, as calls to “Allah” in a perceived attempt to further alienate them, as if they believed in a different god, while Iranian cries of “Allahu akbar” have been correctly translated as “God is great” and repeated in unison by twitterers around the world?
With the wounds of Israel’s war on Gaza still open, many Arabs are particularly stunned that the indifference with which Palestinians deaths were received has turned into an international solidarity campaign for Iranians throwing rocks at their oppressors and shouting “we have become Palestine.”

Just as Americans look for Americanization to end the tv show dramas of other people’s history, the left looks everywhere, now, to see its own image. It is the narcissism of a corpse. The first question of a healthy political movement is – how do we support emancipation? The first question of a sick political movement is: what do we, as a movement, feel about supporting emancipation? My own answer to that is: fuck you. Those who have to enroll their immediate responses to the world in some baroque and pointless schemata have deadened the very nerve of politics.

Who can predict what happens next in Iran? We see the absolute dark, but it is not us, not LI, who must make the small steps towards morning. In relation to the U.S., we stand as we have always stood: abolish the sanction regime, recognize reality. This step should have been taken in 1990 – by not taking it, the U.S. has stripped itself of credibility and the instruments that could support those having to take the small steps. The demonstrations were a blow against the corruption of the current Iranian regime, but also a blow against the monstrous mechanism that keep blindly at work in the Middle East, spinning oil into blood.

Amie sent me a video and a poem by Forough Farrokhzad: The Wind will carry us. She suggested I link it, in honor of Neda. The link contains the words of the poem, which begins:

“In my small night, ah
the wind has a date with the leaves of the trees
in my small night there is agony of destruction
do you hear the darkness blowing?
I look upon this bliss as a stranger
I am addicted to my despair.”

How many have become addicted to despair! Me, something hollers within. How about me! However, I looked around and found, as well, a more streetwise ballad by Kiosk, Eshgh e Sorat. It is pretty fantastic. The video was made by Ahmad Kiorastami, who talks a bit about it here.


Brian M said...

I like the discussion at Lenin's tomb, roger. I think I am guilty of what "Lenin" is complaining about here:

It's never clear whether the anticapitalist or environmentalist protests being kicked around by riot cops are going about it the right way to achieve their own goals. It wasn't clear whether the Indonesian students were doing the right thing in 1998. It wasn't clear whether Iranian students were doing the right thing in 1999. We can't tell if it's a hit or a miss until someone decides to 'suck it and see'. And when people do resist an undemocratic state, especially when they face such risks, we should be on their side. The difficulties they face are not an excuse for the cold distance, stupid caricatures, and condescending criticism that many have levelled at the protesters.

Roger Gathmann said...

Brian, I've no doubt your heart is in the right place, no matter where you end up on this issue. One of the problems with trying to form any opinion about the Middle East when you live in the belly of the beast is that you are afraid to look out with beast's eyes at what is going on - you don't want to wake up someday agreeing with Paul Wolfowitz!

Luckily, the beast's vision is amenable to checks from the inside.

Brian M said...

Of course...ultimately it does not matter where my heart is. The Empire will do what the Empire does. Hopefully, it will allow Iran to sort itself out. We may sympathize with the protestors (and I despise theocratic Islam) but it is not ultimately about us. :)

Roger Gathmann said...

But it matters where your heart is to me!