Beware Of Western Interpretations
Events overseas often get interpreted according to values that have little to do with the events themselves. A recent example of that was this Bloomberg tweet about the protests in Iran, where some NGO founder worried about the impact on Iran’s economy of women not being in the workforce.
It seems unlikely that women in Iran are protesting for the right to work in cubicles and take SSRIs, but maybe this NGO founder who has a Persian name knows what she’s talking about it. Who is she? Her site describes her as a “humanitarian and philanthropist” who was born in Iran but raised in the UK since she was nine. Some of her photos are reminiscent of the “Humanitarians of Tinder” trend.
Given her apparent youth and the lack of mention of any successful business venture in her past, presumably, she has a wealthy father who supports her desire to do good. But perhaps she doesn’t quite have her finger on the pulse of today’s Iran.
It’s possible Nima Cheraghi doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of it either, but he published a thought-provoking essay this weekend about how revolutionary movements in Iran have often been misinterpreted by outsiders. I’ve posted it in full below, before that, a brief market comment about silver.
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Now onto Nima Cheraghi‘s piece on the Iran protests.
Revolution In Iran
Things are happening in Iran. Maybe you’ve heard of them. Maybe you’ve read some things by people who became experts on Iran overnight. Unsurprisingly, much of the narrative around the protests is intended to construct a narrative around the protests. This narrative is being designed to legitimize future actions, namely revolution. Don’t confuse this article for a defense of the Islamic Republic. Be it far from me to support regimes that make the proselytizing of Christianity illegal. Rather, it’s worth knowing why a sizable percentage, perhaps a majority of Iranians desire regime change, why major powers also seem eager to overthrow the Islamic government, and the incompatibility of these desires.
Media would like us to believe that the recent protests in Iran are motivated by the death of Mahsa Amini, a young lady who was killed by the Islamic Religious Police. As a consequence of her death, the story goes, brave Iranians flooded the streets in feminine unity to demand the sexual emancipation of women and along with that the emancipation of queers, transgenders, and every other magical group. This, of course, is nonsense.
On some level, it may be true that Mahsa Amini’s murder reminded people of the regime which they live under. However, public chimp-outs are never the consequence of what lies immediately on the table. Instead, there exists a genealogy of events which lead people to take action. To forget the path taken to get here is to forget where we are. It’s important to keep in mind that Iran is a poor country with high unemployment, poor medical care, and increasingly unaffordable basic commodities like food. Imagine you’re an unemployed poor person; would the prospect of a feminist revolution animate you to risk your life? Is that even something that would even come to your mind?
The luxury of being a devout feminist is not one that most Iranians can afford. Videos of blue-haired people protesting in Iran, Iranian women living in Paris taking their shirts off, or members of the media apparatus with Iranian heritage fueling revolutionary rhetoric, tell a story we have become accustomed to in the west: people disconnected from reality being out of touch with the people they purport to support. The media in turn does its job and displays the girlboss as the face of revolution. DON’T YOU SEE!? THE IRANIANS DEMAND DRAG QUEEN STORYTIME!
What seems more likely to you? People who have been impoverished by their government protesting because they can barely afford food or because they demand allyship? To assume that the protests in Iran are about the hijab or other social justice grievances is to make the same mistake as assuming the Islamic Revolution was about Islam, a mistake all the recent Iran experts make. Similarly, the Islamic Revolution wasn’t a sudden yearning to break 2500 years of tradition for Islamic law (vilayat e faqih) but rather the consequence of the Shah subverting traditional society.
I don’t mean to say that Iranians are unbothered by the hijab, or other “civil rights” issues. Persians have always had a precarious relationship with Islam. Iran was one of the few places to resist speaking Arabic during the Muslim conquest thanks to Persians having a strong literary tradition, unlike the Arabs, perpetuated by people like Ferdowsi and Daqiqi. Pre-Islam Persian philosophy had shared a tradition with the Greeks; unsurprising considering much of Greece had periodically been part of the Persian Empire. When Islam made its way to Iran, many hearts were never truly converted. To this day, most of the Zoroastrian cultural relics persist despite the efforts of the clergy. An Islamic life has never been the ideal for most Iranians. The Islamic revolution was only tolerated as an alternative to a Shah who demonstrated little respect for the values of many Iranians.
I’m open to revolution in Iran. Controversially, I believe that the state having the authority to arrest and kill dissidents is bad akshually. However, on this principle, western states lose their moral authority. As a matter of fact, “foreign intervention” is well present in the recent protests. Israeli intelligence has explicitly stated that they plan on preventing a new “Iran deal”. The American government has spent the last 30 years creating a media apparatus that includes publications like Radio Farda and VOA to influence the minds of Iranians. Recently it has even suggested deploying Starlink in Iran. The authenticity of many of the protests remains very questionable. In a city like Qom, a very religious city, protests evoke memories of BLM protests in small conservative cities like Boise where pallets of bricks magically appeared on the streets. It’s not like this would be the first time foreign actors have attempted a coup in Iran.
If we accept that Iran may be revolution bound, which it indeed may be, it brings us to the most important consideration when discussing regime change in Iran, a question central to this “discourse” since 1979. What happens after revolution? Two solutions are commonly suggested: liberalism or monarchy. Both proposals fall short of satisfactory for similar reasons. The end goal of both is to transform Iran into a western social justice regime. Images of Persian girls in skirts comprise the corpus of RETVRN rhetoric for both camps. While Persian girls in skirts may be enough reason for some to pursue regime change, I for one, desire a little bit more of a plan than just handing out skirts.
A return to monarchy sounds good but only if the monarchy could be sovereign. However, it is by no means a certainty that it would be. On the contrary, it seems most likely that the monarchy would become an American vassal just as Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was post-Operation Ajax. The current crown prince has often expressed opinions about liberalizing Iran and riding the girlboss wave. You could perhaps argue that he is laying low until his opportunity to strike arises and once that happens he will become the King of Kings (shāhanshāh) returning glory to the Persian Empire, but this seems unlikely. Figures of the western media apparatus have entertained the idea of a return of the Shah which they would not do unless they believed that they would be the beneficiaries.
The turn to democracy presents the same problem. The reality of democratization is that it only exists to legitimize the modern liberal narrative. If prop 8 taught us anything, it was that democratic choice is only respected insofar as it affirms the corruption of tradition. If the demos rejects liberalism then it opens itself to foreign propaganda campaigns and the Hungary treatment. The only options then become to once again incur the wrath of sanctions and propaganda which breaks down society from within or quietly accept your new masters. To welcome the new masters would effectively mean the end of Iranian sovereignty, culture, and tradition.
However, it isn’t obvious that a majority of Iranians would tacitly welcome liberalism as some may suggest. Much of what fueled the Islamic revolution was the last Shah’s reforms towards liberalism which he called the “White Revolution”. Among these reforms were the end of feudalism and introduction of women’s suffrage. While Iran was not necessarily a particularly Islamic society it was certainly a traditionalist society. The Shah acted in defiance of the values of much of Iran concluding in his abdication. The new liberals promise that this won’t happen again. Don’t you get it? Iranians WANT their own version of CRT now! They’re yearning for it!
Finally, it’s always worth wondering why people act the way they do. Why exactly do western governments seem to be so eager to overthrow the Iranian government? Quite frankly, I don’t believe that they’re simply altruistic actors that care for the liberty of Iranians. There are many less-than-free states which operate with the consent of the international Core. Rather, Iran is a case of international opposition to the Core. The desire to overthrow the current Iranian regime has little to do with civil rights and a lot more to do with eliminating international opposition.
Not only would revolution in Iran, as the situation currently stands, not benefit Iranians in the long term, but I also suspect an artificial color revolution wouldn’t even be in the best interest of the US and Atlanticism. The US is increasingly finding itself falling for one Thucydides trap after another. For a state to maintain global hegemony it requires some sort of global peace or at least some order. When conditions become chaotic, the cost of maintaining global order rises for the hegemon and the cost of adhering to the global order rises for the periphery; states then seek alternatives to the current hegemony. You can read more about maintaining hegemonic order in a previous substack.
It is, in fact, possible to be unsatisfied with the current regime, as I am, and simultaneously expect some sort of plan before launching a putsch that leaves behind either another power vacuum in the Middle East or perhaps worse, another soulless puppet state. Every nation has the right to revolt against tyrannical governments. But, for what comes after revolution to be stable and legitimate it has to come authentically from the people who will endure the consequences. Revolution cannot be gifted.
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