An Important Op Ed from a Student in Iran

You really should read this op-ed piece the NY Times, especially given the maybe-the-election-wasn’t-stolen-rhetoric coming from some sectors here in the US. An excerpt:

For instance, some American analysts assert that the demonstrations are taking place only in the sections of Tehran — in the north, around the university and Azadi Square — where the educated and well-off reside. Of course, those neighborhoods were home to the well-to-do … 30 years ago. The notion that these areas represent “the nice part of town” will come as a surprise to their residents, who endure the noise, congestion and pollution of living in the center of a megalopolis.

People who haven’t visited a city in decades are bound to give out bad directions. But their descriptions of where the protests are taking place, and why, also draw on pernicious myths of an iron correlation between religion and class, between location and voting tendency, in Iran.

This false geography imagines South Tehran and the countryside as home only to the poor, those natural allies of political Islam, while North Tehran embodies unbridled gharbzadegi (translated as “Weststruckness” or “Westernitis”) and is populated by people addicted to the Internet and vacations in Paris. It is as if political Islam withers north of Vanak Square and the only residents to be found are “liberals” who voted for the opposition leader, Mir Hussein Moussavi.

We must not assume that the engagement of members of society with their religion is uniform or that religious devotion equals automatic loyalty to a particular brand of politics. To do so is certainly to deny Iran’s poor the capacity to think for themselves, to deny that the politics of the past four years may have made their lives worse — and plays right into Mr. Ahmadinejad’s dubious claim to be the most authentic representative of the 1979 revolution. Mr. Moussavi was, let’s not forget, a favored son of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and a member of Iran’s original cohort of revolutionaries, and he remains a firm believer in the revolution and the framework of the Islamic Republic.

But the United States seems able to view our country only through anxieties left over from the 1979 revolution. In the “how did we lose Iran?” assessments after the overthrow of the shah, many American intelligence agents and policy makers decided that their great mistake was to spend too much time canoodling with the royal family and intellectual elites of the capital. Commentators now are worried that, by siding with the opposition today, the United States will once again fall into the trap of backing the losing side.

But the fact is, Tehran is not the Iranian anomaly it was 30 years ago. It has become more like the rest of the country. Internal migration, not just to Tehran but to other major cities, has accelerated, driven in part by the growth of universities in places like Isfahan, Tabriz, Mashad and Shiraz, and now nearly 70 percent of Iranians live in cities. The much vaunted rural vote represents not a decisive bloc for Mr. Ahmadinejad but a minimum, one that was easily swamped by the increased turnout of city dwellers, who normally sit elections out.

And, of course, Iran in 2009 — better yet, Iran on June 12, 2009 — is not the same as Iran in 1979. Just as Tehran’s neighborhoods cannot be fixed in time, the cultural lives of Iranians have greatly changed in the past 30 years. The postrevolutionary period has seen the expansion of education, the entry of women into the work force in large numbers, and changing patterns of marriage and even of divorce. These have all shaped Iranian society. The pseudo-sociology peddled by so many in the West would easily dissolve with a week’s visit.

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2 Responses to An Important Op Ed from a Student in Iran

  1. 1
    hf says:

    In the “how did we lose Iran?” assessments after the overthrow of the shah, many American intelligence agents and policy makers decided that their great mistake was to spend too much time canoodling with the royal family and intellectual elites of the capital.

    Um, really? They didn’t think the torture caused a bigger problem? Because I feel thankful that agents of the CIA rarely got out there and ‘listened’ to the common people themselves.

  2. 2
    Lilian Nattel says:

    Thanks for the excerpt. It’s interesting to hear from someone who is there.