Monday, June 15, 2009

Understanding what is happening in Iran

In trying to understand what has happened in Iran since the election results came through, there is a need to avoid two temptations of the Western observer following this through the Western media:

  1. The temptation to assume that people in countries where there is anti-Western feeling only vote for leaders who express that feeling because they are manipulated by the media and the government. Not only does this ignore the extent to which manipulation occurs in Western democracies; it also obliterates the significance of the history of colonialism and the manifest inequalities in the global system;
  2. The temptation to align with the candidate who people support who seem to be "most like us". This can become particularly easy if they also make use of the Internet, Facebook, My Space, You Tube, Twitter etc. Not surprisingly, this will be the younger middle class.
While both of these are possibilities with the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran this weekend, the extensiveness and spontaneity of the uprisings that have followed suggest that a real fault line has emerged in post-1979 Iranian society, and that the suppression of popular feeling has reached a critical mass.

Soem of the online coverage of this has been excellent. Via Andrew Sullivan's site, there is an analysis of the official figures from Nate Silver that suggests that these figures verge on the completely impossible. Juan Cole points to problems with the assumption that the poor voted for Ahmadinejad, and the vote for Mir-Hossein Mousavi is an urban middle class phenomenon (which has become the quasi-official line). Interesting discussion on this site as well.

Excellent coverage from the BBC and John Simpson in Teheran. Not so CNN which has been attacked for failing to pay attention to the story as it was breaking very publicly and very visibly.

Aside from SBS, the Australian coverage has generally been poor, despite the significant number of Iranians living, working and studying in Australia.

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