Reading Danny Postel in Tehran

Scott McLemee’s interview with Danny Postel is a must-read.

“In hundreds of conversations I’ve had with Iranian intellectuals, journalists, and human rights activists in recent years, I invariably encounter exasperation,” writes Danny Postel in Reading “Legitimation Crisis” in Tehran: Iran and the Future of Liberalism, a recent addition to the Prickly Paradigm pamphlet series distributed by the University of Chicago Press. “Why, they ask, is the American Left so indifferent to the struggle taking place in Iran? Why can’t the Iranian movement get the attention of so-called progressives and solidarity activists here?” Postel, a senior editor of the online magazine openDemocracy, sees the Iranian situation as a crucial test of whether soi-disant American “progressives” can think outside the logic that treats solidarity as something one extends only to people being hurt by client-states of the U.S. government.

Let’s hope so, because that logic ain’t no logic, and the US government isn’t the only source of oppression and misery in the world. It does its bit, but it does not have a monopoly.

[A]fter reading this short book, I had to wonder if there might be another legitimation crisis under way – one affecting American scholars and activists who see themselves as progressives, who thrill to that oft-repeated demand to “speak truth to power.” An unwillingness to extend support to the Iranian opposition puts into question any claim to internationalism, solidarity against oppression, or defense of intellectual freedom.

It does. Then again, Scott asks in the interview portion, ‘isn’t the desire to avoid saying anything that could be useful to the neocons at least somewhat understandable?’

Yes, I do think the desire to avoid saying things that could be useful to the neocons is somewhat understandable. But it can also be a cop-out. It was actually more understandable back in 2002-5, when the neocons were endlessly frothing on about their support for democracy and human rights in Iran and it wasn’t as clear to the naked eye how bogus those claims were. Over the last year, however, there’s been a palpable and significant, though largely unnoticed, shift in neocon rhetoric about Iran. They rarely talk about democracy and human rights anymore.

Now it’s all about security, and threatening rhetoric.

That puts them at direct odds with the democratic dissidents and human rights activists in Iran, who are unequivocally opposed to any U.S. attack on their country…What the neocons want in Tehran is a pro-U.S. and pro-Israeli regime; whether it’s a democratic one or not is an entirely secondary matter to them. And Iranian dissidents know this, which is why they want nothing to do with the neocons…Due to intellectual laziness, a preference for moral simplicity, existential bad faith, or some combination thereof, lots of leftists have opted out of even expressing moral support, let alone standing in active solidarity with, Iranian dissidents, often on the specious grounds that the latter are on the CIA’s payroll or are cozy with the neocons. Utter and complete tripe.

Okay then. I got worried about that, as I think I’ve mentioned here, when Ramin Jahanbegloo was released from prison and gave that interview to the students’ news agency, saying he’d been deceived by human rights groups in the west and urging other Iranian intellectuals not to be deceived. I got worried I might taint dissidents inside Iran via solidarity or publication or signing petitions – not because I’m a neocon, but just because perhaps any western contact would be a taint. I wasn’t sure what to think. But Maryam Namazie made short work of that worry when she interviewed me. She said no, definitely not, dissidents want the solidarity and support; never mind about any taint, just as the struggle against apartheid didn’t. Okay then, I thought. And it became a little clearer that Jahanbegloo’s interview was coerced, thus what he said there had to be discounted. Okay then.

Leftists should be arguing not that we might say things that the neocons could put to nefarious ends but, on the contrary, that neocon pronouncements about Iran are fraudulent and toxic. The neocons are hardly in a position to employ anyone’s arguments about human rights and democracy in Iran when they themselves have forfeited that turf. Indeed it’s not the neocons but rather liberals and leftists opposed to attacking Iran who turn out to be on the same page with Iranian dissidents on this Mother of All Issues. It is we who stand in solidarity with Iranian human rights activists and student protesters and dissident intellectuals, not the Bush administration or the American Enterprise Institute.

Count me in.

There’s The Third Camp for one. Caroline Fourest has signed, so has Taslima Nasreen, so has Terry Sanderson. I got in early. Arash Sorx did an interview with me – it’s there (scroll down) but it doesn’t seem to open.

Read the whole interview; it’s great stuff. Solidarity with the dissidents of Iran.

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