I was recently asked by the Community Church of Boston to speak about my personal experiences with the sanctions and their influence on the Iranian people, having traveled to Iran in March of 2012. I had prepared what was to me a very personal talk, which, though it lacked the intellectual vigor which I often like to see in these kinds of works, was genuine and well-received at previous talks. However, just before the talk, I was told that there is a group of "ultra-leftists" who are concerned with the message of my talk, finding it imperialist and reactionary. A radio host on 90.3 FM supposedly invited all of his listeners to go come to the CCB to protest and argue with me because of my stance. The main points that these individuals have is that any criticism of the Iranian government and the Islamic Republic is imperialist in nature because all anti-Iranian government "rhetoric" is part of an American agenda to weaken and destroy the Iranian government. People of this camp believe that the Green Movement was a US backed attempt at weakening the Iranian government.
This position infuriates me, as an Iranian, as an activist and as a person who has one ounce of rational thought. First of all, I think it is sufficiently clear to those familiar with my politics that I obviously do not support the U.S. in its sanctions and stance towards Iran. This much is obvious since I was, after all at the talk on Sunday to speak against the sanctions and the possibility of war. The entirety of my talk was a point by point attack on justifications for war and sanctions on Iran by the United States. However, I find it utterly absurd to make the argument that if we truly stand against the American government then we must support the Iranian regime.
First, let's just see the absurd logic of holding this position. I will put it in simpler words. Saying that one dislikes potatoes does not imply that one must then like tomatoes. Saying that one dislikes the repression imposed on the Iranian people by the Iranian government does not imply that one likes the US's sanctions and war on Iran. The position simply doesn't logically add up. I don't think it is difficult to see this and those who hold this position, I believe, know this but don't care. So, if this in and of itself does not convince them, then let's systematically attack all of the premises and points that they offer in support of their absurdity.
Some state that the Iranian government is not at all oppressive and that most of what you see regarding its oppression of the Iranian people is American propaganda, fabricated to accomplish the US's agenda for weakening Iran and making it into a puppet regime. You must be living in delusion and ignorance on an unprecedented level if you truly believe that Ahmadinejad and his thugs are not repressive. The Iranian regime has been oppressing Iranian people for years. This is obvious to anyone who has walked down an Iranian street or spoken to a few Iranians living in Iran. Since ironically, the majority of those who take this line of reasoning have never once been to Iran, I can instead offer them a huge list of readings from a huge array of sources that outline point by point the history of this repression.
Yes, historical evidence has also shown that the Iranian government, since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has carried out some beneficial reforms. However, these are at no exclusion to its imposition of brutal repression in other areas. The Iranian government today will repress the thought, words or actions of any individual which opposes it in any way using any means that it can. No, not all Iranians are against the government. However, there is a huge population of Iranians, as the Green Movement showed beyond doubt, that are frustrated with, brutalized and trampled upon by the current regime in Iran. To deny the experience of these Iranians, to equate them to imperialists and reactionaries, because of your personal grievances towards the United States government is insanely irrational and incredibly unjust, especially because of the position from which you sit, in your united states home. It is an instance in which either a) white guilt or b) u.s. hatred becomes so crazed and irrational that it perpetuates what it wishes to combat.
Moreover, other supporters of the Iranian government appeal to the fact that it has resulted in beneficial reforms for the poor in Iran. This is an opinion that many of the ultra-leftists present at the talk who disagreed with me like to take. They believe that the current regime is a friend to the poor and is sympathetic to their leftist leanings. However, as the book Mantle of the Prophet by Roy Motahedeh at Harvard University, among thousands of other books, articles and personal narratives beautifully expose, this position is simply unfounded. The current government does not care one bit about your leftist leanings. In fact, as the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran shows, the leftists groups in Iran were brutally squashed out by the Islamic opposition in the years leading to and following the revolution. During those years, there were several varying ideologies, including leftist views, that also stood in opposition to the Shah. Not all of the Iranian opposition belonged to Khomeini ideologues. In order to win the revolution, however, the Islamic opposition, utilizing the pre-existing networks available to them through the presence of mosques and religious gatherings systematically and intentionally cleansed these opposing groups by killing their leaders. The fact that Ahmadinejad hands out free bananas to poor people in order to win their votes in the weeks before an election does not make him a progressive on economic issues.
Then there are those who state that criticizing the Iranian government legitimizes the U.S.'s rhetoric against Iran, making war more possible. I completely disagree with this position. In fact, I believe that not to criticize the Iranian government rationally and truthfully for its brutality towards the Iranian people makes war more possible by delegitimizing anti-war efforts. If the anti-war movement wants to make any progress in swaying public opinion, it cannot display such unabashed irrationality and absurdity. Denying something as obvious as the oppressive nature of the Iranian government alienates a huge majority of people from the anti-war cause. If the anti-war movement as a whole were to take on this character, it would not stand a chance at winning and would become completely irrelevant.
Those who take the position that everyone must agree with the Iranian government and not criticize it for its repression of the Iranian people lack a commitment to any moral principles. They operate on double-standards, forming their opinions as a reaction to their rage against the US government but feeling no true responsibility to human beings. They lack any substantial knowledge of the complex history of the Iranian government. However, perhaps the presentation of these few points will allow these fringe elements to rethink their position and come to the side of rationality. If you are truly committed to the improvement of the world for human beings, I recommend discarding your irrational hatred and looking for something more substantial, more universal, on which to latch your political opinion. Your position is toxic and dangerous. Furthermore, I hope that you can come to do constructive anti-war work instead of continuously inciting unfounded criticism against those who do. In your efforts to expose "imperialist elements," you are effectively and objectively working to destroy the efforts of well-intentioned people who actually do work rather than satisfy their fetish for arguing and criticizing other people.
Shahrzad Noorbaloochi is an Iranian-born, recent graduate of Boston University who has been active in human rights and anti-war efforts in the Boston area for several years.
This op-ed was originally published as a blog entry on Noorbaloochi's blog Emerging Introverted Female.