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Can We Truly Understand What's Happening in Iran?

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While we watch video and images from Iran, blog and tweet and become transfixed and mesmerized by what is unfolding, how possible is it for us to understand and grasp what is really happening in Iran?

The Huffington Post, the Lede, Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish, Juan Cole’s Informed Comment, the Daily Kos, the NIAC Blog, and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran all have posted a myriad of rumors, video, photos, tweets, hearsay, interviews, reports, emails, etc from Iran. But, what are we to make of all of this information?

The reality is that we Americans have been conditioned to react to the outcome of this election in a manner that could do more harm to the people of Iran than the anti-riot police are doing as they respond to the public’s opposition to the outcome of the election. How many of us followed coverage of Iran excited about the possibility that Obama wouldn’t have to put up with a cocky Dubya-like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if he lost?

Americans suffer from what Juan Cole terms “Islamic Anxiety.” We believe leaders in Iran are obsessively anti-American, pursue nuclear weapons, send terror cells into Iraq to blow up our soldiers, and sponsor terrorism in Israel through groups like Hamas and Hizbullah.

We hear countless news reports from print, radio, and local and cable television inform us that Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier and that he wants to “wipe Israel off the face of the map.” [*This is despite the fact that this is a gross translation of what Ahmadinejad really said.]  

Some of what Americans believe is true. But, it doesn’t matter what is true. What matters is what Americans believe because what we believe determines how we act and react.

Many, many, many Americans believe Iran to be scary and frightening and fear Iran will use nuclear weapons and attack Israel. They watch what is happening after this election and are primarily interested in how Obama will bring Iran’s largely non-existent nuclear weapons program that they think exists to a halt.

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I, like many Americans, want to cheer on the Iranian people and see truth and justice prevail. I, too, would like Ahmadinejad to be out of power. But, I do not know if what we are seeing is a revolution like the revolution that occurred in 1979 and I do not know if we really want Moussavi to be in power instead of Ahmadinejad.

According to Pierre Tristam, Moussavi, as prime minister of Iran in the 1980s, helped build “militant groups into international terrorist forces, sending money, weapons and manpower to Lebanon to beef up Hezbollah and telegraphing their targets, including that string of American and European hostages Hezbollah held for most of the decade---and Mousavi traded for, haggling over anti-tank missiles and money with Oliver North and Bud McFarlane, in the infamous Iran-contra affairs.

Ana K. Sami, a specialist on women’s and human rights issues in Iran, wrote a “Views” piece for al-Arabiya (which recently had its Tehran bureau shut down by the Iranian government) titled, “Students and the paradox of elections in Iran”:

“…it is paradoxical to use the term “election” as the general understanding follows that there is somewhat of a choice between candidates as decided by a state’s citizens. In Iran, these candidates are in fact pre-selected before an actual national “election” takes place. Amongst those who are barred from running are of course women, and those who do not pass the rigorous litmus test of the Iranian government’s Guardian Council. A true power base, this elite group consists of six theologians appointed by the Supreme Leader (Ali Khamenei) and six jurists nominated by the judiciary, also approved by the parliament. The single most important quality that the Guardian Council seeks to observe in a candidate is their commitment and loyalty to the established authoritative hierarchical structure, the most important of which is unquestionable loyalty to Khamenei.”

Many Americans who have watched in prior elections as the ruling elite powered by a lapdog media whittle the field of candidates deemed acceptable for the office of President down before the primary elections know how the rigging can happen before the election even takes place.

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Perhaps, we are seeing in Iran a backlash against the way Iran has been handling its elections.

It’s easy to empathize with a population that desires free and fair elections and publicly demonstrates and refuses to accept the results because they know the government probably didn’t even count the votes and may have, in fact, brazenly engineered a coup, but as much as we may want to, we cannot intervene.

We must let the Iranians channel the backlash into a rapid or slow movement toward a more healthy democracy on their own without Western interference, even if we hear reports of Iranians claiming they want us to get involved.

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Kevin Gosztola is a writer and curator of Firedoglake's blog The Dissenter, a blog covering civil liberties in the age of technology. He is an editor for and a former intern and videographer for The Nation Magazine.And, he's the (more...)

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... especially the Iranian exiles in Canada, and y... by B. Ross Ashley on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 10:19:03 AM
It depends on who wants to understand. If it ... by syed mahdi on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 10:27:19 AM
Lots of people would not make this comparison, but... by Ruth on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 10:47:54 AM
We the people of the world must take responsibilit... by Ruth on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 10:56:14 AM
I surmise that the same thing happened in Iran tha... by Dick Hudson on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 12:55:46 PM
With Obama's approval, Natanyahu offers a two-... by Jason Paz on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 1:32:24 PM
state Netanyahu has offered..... after sixty years... by richard on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 3:05:08 PM
Barack Obama urges everyone to end the ambitions o... by Jason Paz on Tuesday, Jun 16, 2009 at 12:38:45 AM
[[IRA]]... by Allan Wayne on Tuesday, Jun 16, 2009 at 1:39:47 AM
If you want to understand what's happening in ... by McMicah on Thursday, Jun 18, 2009 at 10:09:54 AM
What bothers you so much about the Iranians? I... by Kevin Gosztola on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 3:06:27 PM
Grown-ups do not explode 8000 missiles on ordinary... by Jason Paz on Tuesday, Jun 16, 2009 at 12:15:12 AM
I have no idea what's going on in Iran, but I ... by wagelaborer on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 3:10:49 PM
that we are already in the 'slow-mo' early stages ... by richard on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 4:21:44 PM
From my travels in Iran (when the Shah ruled), it ... by Allan Wayne on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 3:22:30 PM
'But, what are we to make of all of this infor... by brian on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 5:06:26 PM
Brian, You out of all people should be against a... by Kazak Tan on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 9:48:28 PM
Sorry but your article is filled with contradictio... by Eric Pottenger on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 7:44:58 PM
But, I think your BA in History might help you ans... by Kevin Gosztola on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 8:29:37 PM
I'll ignore that cheap shot about my history d... by Eric Pottenger on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 10:17:26 PM
But the cheap shot was made because of the way you... by Kevin Gosztola on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 10:59:52 PM
Nice to meet you kevin, my name's Eric. and t... by Eric Pottenger on Tuesday, Jun 16, 2009 at 1:33:25 PM
If I had to guess, I would wager that the Supreme ... by Eric Pottenger on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 11:02:11 PM
"first you suggest that Americans don't know anyth... by Reamen on Tuesday, Jun 16, 2009 at 4:09:21 AM
although, perhaps...just perhaps...perhaps Kevin d... by Eric Pottenger on Tuesday, Jun 16, 2009 at 1:08:39 PM
"The Iranian People SpeakKen Ballen and Patri... by richard on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 8:36:34 PM
Terror Free Tomorrow Poll Did Not Predict Ahmadine... by Kevin Gosztola on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 10:16:58 PM
Laura Secor over at the New Yorker website writes:... by Kevin Gosztola on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 9:20:33 PM
One thing I do know for a fact – ALL of the ... by boomerang on Monday, Jun 15, 2009 at 9:36:19 PM
  Destine        &nb... by Nemo on Tuesday, Jun 16, 2009 at 1:23:13 AM
Kevin, I very much appreciate your approach to thi... by Bryan Emmel on Tuesday, Jun 16, 2009 at 2:45:04 AM
     I too do not know. &... by mary sunshine on Tuesday, Jun 16, 2009 at 2:54:24 AM
is typical of a U.S. infiltration and disinfo... by Peter Duveen on Tuesday, Jun 16, 2009 at 9:07:30 AM