I haven’t said anything about the situation in Iran, mostly because I don’t feel qualified to speak about it. I’m watching it, though, following the Twitter feeds obsessively and learning as much as I can about Iran’s history. I’ve been finding fellow blogger Richard Jeffrey Newman’s posts over at Alas especially illuminating about the nuances not being covered in the mainstream media.
I had to think hard about posting this here at ABW, though, because for awhile I wasn’t sure whether the situation in a Persian-dominated country halfway around the world, which has its own entirely different racial issues, was on-topic. Then I remembered a book I’d read a few years back, and considered the historical context that’s a constant undercurrent of the Iran situation, and realized it’s completely spot-on for a discussion of racism.
Because modern racism’s roots, we must remember, lie in European and American imperialism. The many hideous dehumanizations of people of color started centuries ago as an attempt to justify the slave trade and its cruelties. These dehumanizations continue today for the purpose of justifying American financial interests (primarily in oil). We’ve seen this again and again, to most devastating effect in Africa and Latin America, but in other parts of the world as well.
Iran belongs in this category. I was aware that the CIA had helped to overthrow Iran’s last democratically-elected government in the 1950s, replacing it with the tyrannical Shah — which itself touched off the Iranian Revolution and seated the government that is now oppressing its own people. What I hadn’t realized was just how cynical and deliberate the imperialist process was, until I read
Now, I didn’t like this book. Perkins, who spent the 1970s and 80s working for Chas T. Main, an engineering consulting firm — think Halliburton today — spends a little too much of the book glamorizing himself as some kind of geeky James Bond, lunching with power players and banging his way through the fairer sex; he reads to me as a guy on an extended midlife crisis. That said, the book is spot-on in revealing the ways in which American imperialists function in the modern day. Perkins explains that the NSA, CIA, and US business interests have repeatedly worked together to bribe, blackmail, frame, addict, overthrow, and if necessary, kill the leaders of other nations, so that ours can make more money. He touches on Iran, though only glancingly, but he provides enough other examples in Latin America and Asia, and shows enough of how the pattern works, that anyone who reads this book will have a clear idea of how American fucked up Iran.
And then compounded the initial assault over the next 30 years. Like many of us, I grew up thinking of Iran as “the country of religious fantatics who took American hostages, had something to do with the Contras, and just generally fucking hates us.” This was the framing of Reagan and his cronies, who — as imperialists themselves — had a vested interest in “othering” Iranians. There was frequently a racial component to this othering*, although sometimes it was just matter-of-factly self-serving.
I read Perkins’ book years ago, but I have to admit — I kept thinking of Iranians as a somewhat scary “they” and “them”, even though the book illuminated many of the ways in which they were us. If the US could have done so, it would happily have enslaved the Iranian people — economically if not literally — and frankly, some Americans are still trying. This, I suspect, is what’s really behind the inexplicable demands by Republicans that Obama make a stronger effort to endorse the protesters in Iran, even though this would be the equivalent of shooting the protest movement in the back. My guess is that they want Mousavi’s supporters to be suppressed — so that they can later send in “hit men” like Perkins to offer the same Faustian bargain that got offered to the Taliban of Afghanistan, and Saddam Hussein of Iraq. This is their favorite tactic, according to Perkins: cultivate a disgruntled minority and then use their desperation for profit. The hit men arrive bearing gifts and a message of hope: Promise to support our interests and we’ll help you gain power, and then you’ll be free to keep that power in whatever fucked-up way you want.
But this is why I’m so hooked on the Twitter feeds. I no longer think of the Iranian people as “them,” and I don’t think I’m the only person to feel this way. Here’s an excerpt from Twitter Ripped the Veil Off ‘The Other’ — And We Saw Ourselves:
All the accumulated suspicion and fear and alienation from three decades of hostility between Iran and America seemed to slip away. Whatever happens, the ability of this new media to bring people together – to bring the entire world into this revolution on the streets of Iran – has already changed things dramatically.
So fight on, people of Iran. I know you don’t like me much; that’s cool. You got cause. I still wish there was more I could do to help — but I think the best thing I can do right now is write to my own American politicians, and urge them in the strongest possible terms to shut the fuck up. And I’ll keep watching. God be with you.
* I’m really, really sorry to link to a post on Michelle Malkin’s site, folks. Unfortunately, it’s a great example of the nastiness that’s out there.