Saturday, February 12, 2005

Raising Questions

Sima Shakhsari*

It always amazes me when people come up with percentages, as if numbers thrown here and there will make their claims more scientific! One of the comments in response to Reza Nasri comes from “Frieda” who writes, "There is nothing wrong for America to support the regime change in Iran as you know 90% of Iranian people want the same."
Where does this 90% come from? Who did the math? Even if “90%” is meant to connote the vast majority of people, why do we assume that this is common knowledge ("as you know")? How do we know that the vast majority of people in Iran want "America" to support regime change in Iran? And who is this "America" that we so un-problematically speak about?

These generalizations about Americans and Iranians that camp them into "us" and "them" binaries are extremely dangerous and flawed. They are informed by Sam Huntington's "clash of civilizations" mentality that camps people into dichotomies and does not allow any in-between positions. Tim's claim that "Our sense of urgency is based on fear of the death of our civilization as some Islamic leaders issue declarations that say just as much," reveals that the civilizational thinking has naturalized itself as the truth. That, in my opinion, is what needs to be challenged.

As many writers of this blog have shown, the reality of many people's lives cannot be reduced to such sharp binaries. Ledeen and his ilk seem to ignore this fact. The reincarnation of the post-World War II civilizational thinking after September 11 is often used to justify occupation under the name of “liberty” and “freedom” in the “West” as opposed to “repression” and “theocracy” in the Middle East. Have we forgotten that Christian fundamentalism is what leads George Bush and co.? Many of us in the U.S. can testify to the fact that these abstract notions of liberty and freedom do not mean much and are nothing but lip-service.

Pointing to exclusionary practices of U.S. democracy is not to cry victim-hood (unlike what Tim claims in his comments to Omid’s last post). On the contrary, it is the desire to “rescue” people in Iran, Iraq, or Afghanistan that perpetuates this “victim” mentality and assumes people in these locations to be powerless victims rather than active people fighting for their freedom. The mentality of “things are not great here, but they are better than over there,” needs to be questioned. It is this attitude that posits “terror” over “there,” and legitimizes intervention from “here.” “We” become the heroes of salvation.

Perhaps what some people refuse to see is that “they” are specters of “us”; that “they” are “our” obscene underside. This refusal to see may be the reason why it is easier to leave problems at home and go elsewhere on a rescue mission. Of course, there is a lot more in it for people such as Ledeen and institutions like AEI. That is perhaps why Ledeen can’t wait and cries, “Faster please”!!! It seems like access to resources in the region cannot wait any longer! Mike Ledeen, hold your horses! Despite what your monarchist friends in exile may have told you, people in Iran have the capability to fight their own struggles. Spare us (and by us I mean many people in Iran and in America) of your intervention.

* Sima Shakhsari is a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford and teaches at SFSU.