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Note on the complexities of solidarity

June 16, 2009

It is becoming clear that the events in Iran are no longer about actual behind-the-scenes political machinations but about manifestations of built-up (and real) public grievance and emotion, a Carnival in the best and most political use of that word. When I use the word ‘Carnival’ I am not talking about the naked, topless women in the Sambodramo, but about the Portuguese verb ‘desabafar’ for the venting of political anger about social and economic grievances that people exercise in sequins and costumes for three days a year. It is an affirmation, not a dismissal, of grievances.

On a personal angle, that the perception of fraud has become much more important than the actual existence of fraud has revealed some major complexities about solidarity. Now as ever I’m with the people of Iran: not only with cousins, friends, and fellow Tehranis facing enormous consequences to their protests and arrests, but also the people who voted for the incumbent, people who cannot butter their bread and face even graver livelihood injustices in other regions of Iran.

How could anyone dismiss the protests, especially in the past few days when there have been deaths? Who is not revolted by riot cops? (The majority of the violence against unarmed protesters–and many of them women, who are leading so many of the protests–are by the armed and plain-clothes Basiji militiamen.) The right of assembly got suspended (and again, the dance: reinstated) many times and in reactive and preventative fashion. I am extremely glad people are openly disobeying permit orders: they should be disobeyed anywhere in the world where they are illegitimate.

But in the U.S. almost every protest large and small requires a permit, and in my own participation at anti-capitalist demos like the World Economic Forum in New York or the FTAA meeting in Miami, military riot gear/tear gas/tanks/undercover officers were unleashed on ‘permitted’ protests to zero accountability. The Republican National Convention in New York in 2004, where I shot video for Steve Stasso’s film Situation Room #2, saw almost 2000 people arrested, beaten, and jailed (the highest number at a political convention to date) with the near-total silence of the favorite ‘non-governmental’ liberal newspaper, the New York Times.

The call for the best information that the day allows, a caution and prudence about rumors (even if they are about asshat politicians), and the instinct to compare hypocritical standards for North and South is a consciousness that solidarity is complex and not knee-jerk.

And for the neoliberal U.S. pundits who have for years advocated ‘Bomb Bomb Iran’ and have suddenly doused themselves in green fabric: the greatest wrath is for you.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul permalink
    June 16, 2009 17:58

    What a joke!

    You compare the riot police in American and European cities during protests to the heavily armed thugs suppressing freedom of expression in Iran right now!?!

    You ever see those American riot police fire wildly into the air or the crowd with live ammo during protests? When’s the last time someone died in the U.S. during a political protest? Even during the much lauded Battle of Seattle, nobody got killed.

    You’re an apologist for anything going wrong in the developing world. Just blame it on the Americans and Europeans, capitalists, democracy, etc. Grow up.

  2. Akbar permalink
    June 17, 2009 03:26

    Paul oversteps, but so does Nazir. Those on the far right and far left often make very similar arguments.

  3. southissouth permalink
    June 18, 2009 00:27

    Paul: thanks for meeting my measured analysis and tone with belligerence, and for assuming you know about me, what the IRI has done to my family, or what my experience of civil disobedience inside the U.S. has been.

    Akbar: If you are using ‘far left’ in order to dismiss, so be it. But the effect of ignoring virtually every major protest within the U.S. in recent memory–historic numbers that include anti-Iraq war, labor, students, unwaged, middle class, etc.–is analogous to the effect of suppressing protest in IRI.

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