In answer to your question: why the Iranian cause isn't attracting popular support.
It is going to be very difficult to make Iran a popular cause. The Iranian regime's position is strengthened by the fact that it is virulently anti-western and therefore, in the minds of many western activists, worthy of sympathy.
I recently received a phone call from passionate and enthusiastic Iranian-American activist based in New York.
During our conversation she expressed her deep disappointment with the lack of popular support the Iranian cause had generated amongst western political activists.
After all, she insisted, it was quite straight forward. Here is an authoritarian theocratic regime that suppresses its people, denies them their basic human rights, rigs elections, kills critics and sponsors terrorism abroad. Furthermore, Iran has a vibrant and growing pro-democracy movement that is getting more organised and emboldened by the day.
Surely Iran has all the right ingredients needed to attract the attention of the politically aware and active around the world? So why isn’t the Iranian cause attracting popular support?
What my Iranian-American friend probably didn’t fully appreciate was the contemporary nature of western political activism.
The politically active classes today, led by the liberal-left, take their shopping trolleys and enter the supermarket of political causes. The only causes that attract their attention from the shelves are those in which western governments are complicit or perceived to be complicit.
How else do you explain Palestine becoming a cause de celebre amongst young politically active students who couldn’t even point to Darfur or Kurdistan on a map? How else do you explain anti-globalisation protestors solely focusing on western targets whilst ignoring the excesses and state supported abuses of Chinese and Russian corporations?
Familiarity breeds contempt and political activism today is not so much about values but about rebellion against the existing political order within which you live and are bitter and resentful towards.
It is parochial, isolationist and solipsistic. In standing up for select international causes, political activists are in fact acting like the over-privileged spoilt child who despises his/her parents and loses all sense of perspective.
The dark cloak of moral relativism and consumer feel-good activism has replaced the principle driven activism of yesteryear and left Iranian, Kurdish, Syrian, Darfurian and Zimbabwean activists feeling baffled and lonely.
Nick Cohen, in his excellent book ‘What’s Left’, encapsulates this sorry state of affairs by asserting “We no longer believe in internationalism and fraternity. Sticking by your comrades is as absurd a notion as staying loyal to Microsoft when Apple has a better product. Join us, and revel in the righteousness of your solipsistic anger”.
So in answer to the question posed to me, it is going to be very difficult to make Iran a popular cause. The Iranian regime's position is further strengthened by the fact that it is virulently anti-western and therefore, in the minds of many western activists, worthy of sympathy.
The regime in Iran knows this all too well and plays the anti-west card every time it feels under threat from pro-democracy activists. It even has an English language mouth piece in Press TV which spouts hopelessly biased political propaganda and is fronted by disillusioned leftists such as George Galloway and Yvonne Ridley who continuously rail against the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, citing 'colonialism' and 'imperialism' as their baseless concerns.
Creating support for Iranian pro-democracy activists in the west is going to be tough because it requires, as a pre-requisite, a cultural revolution that hasn’t even it started yet. However, the stakes are too high and we can’t ignore the plight of suffering peoples, whether the west is complicit or not.
Ghaffar Hussain is an expert on counter-extremism.
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