The regime [in Tehran] is dangerous mostly because it is willing to brutally trample on the democratic and human rights of the Iranian people. ... The real goal of the nuclear program is to make these policies permanent.
I don't mark this 30th anniversary of the 1979 revolution in any particular way except for a deep sigh. Having lived outside Iran for a while, I am relieved not to be bombarded by a constant stream of deafening propaganda on TV, radio, work, school and elsewhere in the public.
The sigh then is one of relief as well as grief. Grief for those who perished in the years leading to the revolution. For those whose idealistic hopes were dashed by the Islamic Republic, including the ones of those who actually supported it back then.
For those who were executed, jailed or forced into exile by the Islamic Republic since its inception. And for those whose lives in Iran today consist mostly of a seemingly futile struggle to lead what is considered a basic, normal life in the free world.
I just hope that the unrealistic world views and the intellectual clutter 30-some years ago that led to all of this now, and the yoke of theocracy, go away soon and my countrymen can one day live freely.
Here is a comment I left on Paul Krugman's post, "The monster years". It hasn't appeared there yet, and I wonder if the moderator will find it "on-topic and not abusive". So here it goes:
I read your post with shameful quiet a few times. I was saddened by your de-humanizing tone and insensitive idea but having read many of your public writings at least I was not surprised. However, I was astonished to see not even a single commenter call you on the cruelty and senselessness of your words.
To demonize the people we don't like or disagree with is the way of hatemongers. When done systematically, its logical conclusion throughout history has been banishing the citizens from their society, putting them away in jail en masse, and ultimately the killing of millions of people. Some of your commenters have already begun on this frightening path. One even calls Ronald Reagan, whose legacy is seen by many an inspired freedom fighter around the world as facing down the biggest tyranny of modern times, in your hateful terms.
Such strong terms must be reserved for the very worst of situations, or else they risk losing any useful meaning. Even then, one must be careful in using them. Even Hitler or Saddam Hussein had a human dimension. For you to de-humanize the likes of Karl Rove and Cheney, however much you dislike or disagree with them, while at this very moment youngsters are hanged and women are stoned to death in my homeland, is beyond any reason. If Tom DeLay is a monster, then what is Kim Jung Il?
That you use the occasion of Obama's win, supposedly a victory for hope and tolerance, to put forward such an intolerant idea only adds to the irony. It perhaps shows your own inner demons. I hope that you reconsider these shameful words. Otherwise, the shame will forever remain on you.
With Obama leading in almost all national and state polls, he seems set to be the next President of the Unites States. For a man whose middle name is the same as Saddam Hussein's last, with mixed racial and ethnic background, and who was virtually unknown at the beginning of his campaign, this is a great moment. It is an historic moment for America as a whole. The world looks at him favourably and so his presidency will be welcome internationally more than John McCain's. The Economist, a rational, analytical magazine and an advocate of liberal values (some of you may know them as neo-liberal or libertarian values, but let's not quibble over the name) has just endorsed him (with some reservations); a significant step for a journal that supported Bush and the war in Iraq.
I know and can guess some of you are also very excited about Obama. If and when he wins, I will be happy with you -- but I have come to the conclusion that Obama, taken at his own words, will be an overall set-back to free life in America and the principles that underpin it. As America has historically been the torch-bearer of freedoms in the world, this would have negative effects for liberties in the world in general, though over a longer time period. With the current economic situation and international resurgence of anti-west, anti-liberal powers, this could even turn into a disaster. I know some of you disagree with me on this statement and on the reasons for it, but at this point I feel I should let them known -- at least for future reference.
The reasons are long and I try to limit the list. In brief, Obama's world view seems to feed from a deeply held conviction about the political and economic organization of the society, and more importantly, the role of government in it that is essentially socialist. Now, of course, he is not a Socialist, and his advisors are probably wiser than thinking flat-out socialist programs are either good or viable. But given the economic situation, and the fact that the Democrats will likely control both houses of Congress, I believe he will have a great chance and an open hand to infuse whatever programs he or the Congress shall draft with this world view. And in politics and economic policy, the spirit and overall design of a program is what ultimately matters the most, much more than the original intentions or specific problems originally meant to be solved.
For instance, he believes "we must not only reward wealth, but the workers who create that wealth," as he just said again in his crowd-packed rally in Cincinnati, Ohio. That sounds good, but it is also the textbook example of a core idea leading to "socialism". It is, in fact, the basis of Marx's theory of economic value, the "surplus value". He also believes we must "spread the wealth around" (this is what started the Joe-the-Plumber Act) because income inequality has deepened. That is also fine at first sight. The tax system already does that to some extent, especially in its current progressive form. The question is, how else? How can a president, the government, spread the wealth around? One can think of changing the tax system to do so. Milton Friedman suggested replacing the welfare system with a negative-tax system. But is that what Obama intends to do? I don't believe so, not least because that proposal is an essentially libertarian idea, designed to further limit the extent of government. He also constantly riles against "economic theories" that did not work, the "trickle-down effect", etc. He doesn't mention their names, but these "economic theories" are the free-market theories. In opposition stand "socialist" economic theories, with the opposite emphasis, namely the "bottom-up effect" that he openly advocates.
On the issue of powers of government, he comes out as a somewhat authoritarian figure. The most memorable quote of the first debate for me was Obama's "No U.S. soldier ever dies in vain because they're carrying out the missions of their commander in chief." That sounds inspiring and grand, like Obama's many other phrases, but it places the value of a soldier's (read a citizen's) effort, not in its intrinsic truth or the broader mission, but in his following the Leader's commands. Couple that with his belief in "community organization for actual coalition of powers" and his view that the constitution's constraints to "negative liberties" are a tragedy of the "court focused" civil rights movement, for which we are "still paying the price", etc. (this is his radio interview of 2001 when he was a state legislator) and we are almost at the full picture. It is this: we must throw away our current, free-market, economic theories, start from the bottom up, spread the wealth around, reward the workers who create the wealth, expand our negative concepts of freedoms to positive rights to be provided by the government, and coalition the power by organizing the communities (the masses) to carry out the missions of the commander. In these hysteric economic conditions programs based on these principles will very likely become deeply entrenched and won't easily go away, just as the Great Depression led to the New Deal, of which Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac descended to shake the financial markets 70 years later.
So why did the Economist, a journal definitely not supportive of socialism, support Obama? Simple: because John McCain ran a placid, unfocused, unconvincing campaign. In contrast, Obama has consistently cloaked his campaign on a single, focused slogan: "change". The Economist Leader article was remarkably thin on actual analysis of the content of the ideas put forward by the candidates. One plus they counted for Obama was this: "It would be far harder for the spreaders of hate in the Islamic world to denounce the Great Satan if it were led by a black man whose middle name is Hussein"!! I was left speechless by this wishful thinking. Examples to the contrary abound, but just as a sample, how difficult was it to kill, imprison or exile many mullah's -- not only fellow muslims -- with longer names full of saints' names in Iran's Islamic republic?
Maybe nothing bad will happen. Maybe. But it is distressing to see the comeback of, and a "change" laden with, bad ideas.
Akbar Ganji, "someone who spent six years in Tehran's Evin Prison on a bogus charge of endangering national security," has published a column in the Washington Post (translated from Farsi) to clarify "why Iranian pro- democracy forces oppose the $75 million the U.S. government provides to aid civil society in their country."
But even the very title and the starting point is presumptuous. First, why should Ganji think he can represent such a vast group of people as "Iranian pro-democracy forces"? Second, why is being an Iranian democrat taken to be synonymous with "shuning foreign aid"? What, then, are Akbar Atri, Ali Afshari, and countless other activists? Ganji also claims that in any Middle Eastern country other than Iran people would choose fundamentalists in a free and fair election. Why? This is pseudo-intellectual nonesense! In fact, this statement has already been proven wrong in Iraq. But the problems with Ganji's piece are much deeper than this.
After a string of incongruous expressions of facts and opinions-dressed-as-facts about the situation in Iran and the Middle East and what people want or don't wan't, he reaches the following culminating point:
So here is our request to Congress: To do away with any misunderstanding, we hope lawmakers will approve a bill that bans payment to individuals or groups opposing the Iranian government.
This rhetorical request has a deeply sensational tone. But it is a foolish thing to say, void of any logic. Why should anyone hoping to help a group of people (Iranian pro-democracy forces here) ban transactions with them? How could such outright blocking of aid possibly help?
But it gets even worse. Ganji charges the (collective) West of helping Iran's government to restrict and filter the Web. (This, of course, confounds private companies with governments, but that's a minor offense.) Then, he proceeds to say that all Iranians really need is free media and TV,
The support we need at this point has nothing to do with funding the regime's opposition but with aiding Iranians in the quest for independent media and accurate information.
Mr. Ganji's piece is apparently in response to an earlier op-ed by Michael Rubin. But he seems not to have read it:
The congressional appropriation has grown from $1.4 million in 2004 to $66 million this year. Of this, $36 million disappears into the coffers of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. The State Department applies an additional $5 million each to visitor exchange programs and to translation of its Web sites into Persian.
VOA Persian and Radio Free Europe (Radio Farda in Persian) are perhaps the closest things accessible in Iran to free media with wide coverage through their radio and TV programs. Mr. Ganji has used VOA's platform several times already to reach his fellow Iranians. Now, he wouldn't want them off, or would he?
Akbar Atri, an Iranian activists now living in exile in the US, writes in the Wall Street Journal,
As I write this, close friends of mine are sitting in cells of Evin prison in Iran. They are suffering from torture, solitary confinement and denial of medical care. Despite their suffering, they write and smuggle out of prison essays about the brutality of Iran's government and about how the democracy movement can stay resilient despite mounting repression.
Here in America, where I have been living since 2005 as an exiled activist, a controversy has emerged over the Bush administration's pledge to provide $75 million in democracy and human-rights assistance to Iranians. Critics of the funding, among them some Iranian-Americans, say the money endangers the lives of activists and gives pretext for the Iranian regime to crack down on their activities. Supposedly speaking on behalf of the Iranian people, these critics claim Iranians do not want and do not need America's help in their fight against oppression.
Then he mentions that similar opinions are expressed by Iranians, such as Akbar Ganji, another activist who is living in the US at this time. (See this related piece.) Mr. Atri continues,
I respectfully disagree. There are many sides to this debate, but one thing is clear: Those in Iran who favor receiving foreign assistance and consider international solidarity essential to the success of Iran's homegrown civic movements cannot speak freely. If they do, they will be subject to immediate retaliation by the regime. The lack of robust, transparent appeals for outside help by civic leaders should not be confused with a lack of need or desire for such help.
Prominent activists in Iran, and even activists recently exiled, fear the repercussions of open appeals for outside support, so they color their statements about American democracy funding in order to protect themselves and their families. This is understandable as a strategy and self-preservation tactic by otherwise brave activists against a regime that prohibits free and open interaction with the outside world.
Criticism of American support for Iran's democracy movement is not defensible when made by those who have barely seen Iran, much less been a part of its struggle for freedom. Despite being an elected leader of the Iranian student movement and an active participant in university politics for 10 years, I do not purport to represent Iranians or even the Iranian student movement. I speak for myself. Yet when Iranian-Americans who have no standing in Iran, and who have received no backing from Iranians, claim to represent the will of all Iranians, I feel I need to speak up.
Those so righteously opposed to funding might have us believe that if it were not for American support, Iranian activists would not be facing intimidation, imprisonment and torture. But since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Iranian regime has been systematically imprisoning, killing and otherwise silencing civic actors -- particularly secular, liberal democrats -- under bogus charges of espionage and collusion with foreign agents. Just this year, Iranian authorities have executed without due process over 100 people, yet none were said to be connected to U.S. democracy funds. There is not much new in the Iranian government's strategy of repression, but what is promising and hopeful to Iran's democrats -- and threatening to the Iranian leadership -- is that there is finally real support from the outside.
And how does the funds get spent anyway?
Iranians have already benefited immeasurably from democracy funding, especially from the Persian-language broadcasts by Voice of America television and Radio Farda ("Tomorrow"), for which a majority of the $75 million at issue now is allocated. These broadcasts offer news and perspectives to the Iranian public that they would not otherwise have, including news regarding developments inside their own country. The broadcasts are popular with millions of diverse Iranians and have successfully broken the Islamic Republic's attempt to isolate the country from external sources of information. The Iranian regime could not be happier to see its popular nemeses -- VOA television and Radio Farda -- exterminated by Iranian Americans and others purporting to do good.
America's best civil-society organizations have also been developing successful links and activities -- independent of the U.S. government and in collaboration with international partners -- to support democratic awareness and civil society inside Iran. To cut Iranians off from the transfer of lessons and experiences gleaned from civic movements globally only strengthens the Iranian government.
And the necessary conclusion is:
American lawmakers and Iranian-Americans who would eliminate financial support for Iran's democrats need to understand the following: Supporting Iranian civil society and the nonviolent struggle toward democracy and human rights is likely the most cost-effective means to prevent a future conflict with Iran or an armed struggle within its borders. Democracy is difficult to achieve. But with its remarkably young, educated population, and a long-stifled yearning for the fruits of modernity and liberalism, Iran has many of the key ingredients for success.
With some help from their American allies, Iranian democrats are brave enough and capable enough to achieve for their country what the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Vaclav Havel achieved for theirs.
Akbar Ganji, the Iranian dissident who spent 6 years in jail and more than 2 months on hunger strike, has written a letter to the UN Secretary General, endorsed by more than 300 intellectuals. In it, he appeals for the human rights in Iran. But he also uses the opening half of the letter to criticize America's policy in the region, writing for instance:
The Bush Administration, for its part, by approving a fund for democracy assistance in Iran, which has in fact being largely spent on official institutions and media affiliated with the US government, has made it easy for the Iranian regime to describe its opponents as mercenaries of the US and to crush them with impunity. At the same time, even speaking about "the possibility" of a military attack on Iran makes things extremely difficult for human rights and pro-democracy activists in Iran.
A Reuters correspondent, Alistair Lyon, informs us that similar opinions are shared by other activitst in the region. We read that
"(U.S.) money is not going to help the democratization process here," said Ebrahim Yazdi, Iran's first post-revolution foreign minister and leader of the banned Freedom Movement.
"The United States has lost a lot of its credibility on human rights because of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and renditions," said Nadim Houry of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch group.
But are these true? Has America lost its credibility with Mr. Yazdi or Mr. Ganji? That question supposes that these people once believed the US was a credible force of good and now they don't. But did they? In reality, the answer is no! These same people, long before "Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and renditions," indeed long before George Bush Sr. and Jr. were ever in power, were hostile to the US. Mr. Ganji joined at a young age in a revolution whose mantra was "we crush the US!" and took more than a decade to go through a change of heart about its worth. Mr. Yazdi is a subtler type: while he and his cohorts in the Freedom Movement decry political repressions in Iran, they were happy to take power in the revolution that ousted their once close friend and last Prime Minister of the Shah, Shapour Bakhtiar of the National Front (a true believer in freedom), and that eventually assassinated him in exile in Paris. They are simply failed politicians after regaining their lost power.
Old habits are hard to kick.
Perhaps it is easy and convenient to blame our shortcomings on outside powers and expect them to be saints who uphold our rights and act for our freedoms even more steadfastly than we do ourselves. But the fact of the matter is that Iranian (and other Mideast) activists have consistently made far more serious mistakes and are far more responsible for their conditions than any outside power. The constant blaming of the US, whether to distance themselves from the West for domestic reasons or to please their idelogical prejudices, is just another one of those mistakes.
The Economist has a fresh "special report" on Iran's politics and nuclear crisis. It gives the so-called "pendulum theory" of Iran's politics, which states that it swings from the conservative to the reformist side with elections in the nation's quest for democracy, a well-deserved beating. But as it seems to be the habit of The Econmist when it comes to Iran, it comes short of, though it gives a hint at, articulating what is its most important factor (even in the nuclear crisis): the rationale of tyranny.
In the past few weeks, Iran's regime has added several new violations of human rights to its record. (See, for instance, Amnesty International's report.) Eighteen students belonging to the central council of Tahkim-e Vahdat, the main elected student political body, have been arrested on the anniversary of the attacks on Tehran University dormitories on July 9, 1999. Their office and homes were raided. Prison and other sentences were issued for women's rights campaigners. Bahareh Hedayat has been a member of both targetted groups. Human Rights First has more info and is asking for your support.
Today, Iran's state-run TV broadcast the first part of a program titled "In the Name of Democracy", which is nothing more than a televised "confession" of two Iranian-American academics, Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, who were arrested a few month ago on (bogus) national security charges. They "confess" to having been involved in a "velvet revolution" project. The move is part of a well-coordinated propaganda campagin with well-rehearsed Goebbelsian tactics. The broadcast was advertised in advance. When it was met with criticism from human rights activists in Iran and the West, an additional "analysis" segment was aired that "questioned" why the program is being criticised -- "could it be that they are afraid of what it shows?"
I always find it baffling when I hear or read about the psychological impact of an event on economy. I don't understand what is really meant by the term. Does it mean that the event in question somehow affects the psychology of the people in some unkown but pathological way and then this unhealthy state of mind impacts the economy? What I usually suppose they mean is that the said event either falsely signals a particular, non-existent situation, or that it is interpreted falsely due to invalid but popular theories. But to take people's reaction in such cases to be "psychological" and its economic consequences to be a sort of "psychological impact" on the economy, especially as a way of analyzing the situation, is hardly worth consideration in a rational, objective theory.
An example is this economic focus article in The Economist, which is concerned with the sensitivity of the Chinese economy to a stock market bubble burst. After giving a detailed account of who in China and how owns shares of the stock market and the proporion of companies and how much they issue shares in the market, The Economist concludes
The direct economic impact of a fall in Chinese share prices would therefore be modest.
But right afterward it continues
Some indirect effects could be larger. For instance, the psychological impact of a sharp sell-off could severely puncture consumer confidence.
But this way of viewing things is fishy. If the detailed analysis leading to the first conlusion is right then there remains nothing left to the psychology of the general consumer. Why should they care about a stock market sell-off if it doesn't affect them? What could be the case is that the consumers are not aware of this analysis. They have their own analyses. They act on them. If the result is a state of severly puncutred consumer confidence when the economic data show it need not be the case, I can't see this as the "psychological" impact of the stock market crash. It is the consequence of widespread false theories of what that crash means. It is perfectly non-psychological in exactly the same sense an otherwise solid consumer confidence would be.
Similar and much worse analyses prevail about inflation and prices in Iran. For instance, Davoud Danesh-Jafari, then head of the Economic Commission of Majlis and now the Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance, has the following theory:
"People expect the prices to go up when the new-year starts and this automatically pushes up the rates."
The fallacy of such claims is apparent on a little thought. Why, for instance, do people expect the prices to go up? As the same newspaper article also notes,
A close and impartial look at the budget statement and reasons behind chronic deficits show that unless the government comes up with ways to put a stop to the unchecked rise in liquidity, inflation will continue to haunt the economy not only during the next year but for years to come.
The psychological theory of inflation, of course, has no room in serious economics.
The last one who saw Hasan Hasani was one of his colleagues. Together with other workers they had gone to Kanaf (hemp) Factory in the morning to stop the evacuation of production machines but they faced the police. After they were beaten by anti-riot police they went to protest at the provincial governor's building. They were scattered by the police again. Then Hasan asked his coworker for some money. "He didn't even have a coin in his pockets." His coworker didn't have more than 500 tomans (less than $1) either. They shared the money. "He said don't count this as a loan. I didn't pay attention to what he said. We had been beaten since morning and just wanted to go home with our tails between our legs. He asked, they took the machines too, so is that it? I said, you saw what they did." He wanted to hear it from someone else that the little glimmer of hope to return to work had been destroyed. "No machine, no work. He knew, poor man! He took a cab with the money to go to the factory faster." At 1pm they found Hasan Hasani dead hanging from a rope in an abandoned factory. His eyes were white and his teeth had cut the tip of his tongue. The factory security who found him said, "he had tightened the noose so strongly I had to cut the rope to bring his body down." Such was his determination to go.
He had not received his wage of less than $200 a month for 11 months.
A horrible blast in Samarra, Iraq has shattered the shrine of two Shiite imams on Wednesday. On this, the Supreme Leader of the the Islamic Republic said the following:
"The disgraceful and blind-hearted agents behind this big crime, whether they are remaining stooges of Saddam's Baathist regime or the beguiled Wahhabi and Salafi fanatics, it cannot be doubted that the intelligence services of the occupiers and Zionist's are the main masterminds of these heinous schemes."
But what causes this incredible certainty? This, he says:
"The occupiers have left the scene open to terrorists and panic-mongers to weaken the bases of the popular government of Iraq and justify their illegitimate presence in that country and are causing discord among Muslim brethren."
Apart from the nonsensical equality claimed between "leaving the scene open" and "masterminding" the crime, His Supreme Excellency sees of course no need to further explain why the occupying forces would even need such desperate justification for their presence. Are they benefitting from it? Even a cursory look at the facts shows this not to be the case. The US is spending hundreds of billions of dollars on its presence in Iraq. That would equal the entire Iraqi oil production in a decade. They have lost in excess of 3000 of their soldiers in Iraq. Even on a personal and political level, G. W. Bush is greatly unpopular because of the mishandling of the aftermath of deposing Saddam's regime. So what is there to gain in causing even further unrest? The simple answer is none.
But there is a lot to gain for Mr. Khamenei and his regime in spreading such lies and distorting the truth. In opposing the US, however irrationally, they buy legitimacy for their illegitimate hold on power in Iran and the region. By wrongly putting the blame of the crime on the US presence in Iraq they muddy the waters. But whether or not they can catch the big fish they are after depends just as much on our, the ordinary citizens' sense of justice, reality and truth.
Human Rights First reports that since the time between January 26, 2006 and March 18, 2006
Seven young activists have been detained for more than one year by the Syrian authorities for being part of an independent pro-democracy discussion group and publishing articles on the Internet criticizing the lack of democracy and freedom in Syria. Some of them were also involved in the creation of an online youth forum. [...] They could face up to 15 years in prison.
You can send a letter to Syrian officials protesting their conditions. I am not sure how effective this is, but it's something.
This sounds very much like the situation in Iran. Given the similarities, I wonder if they also have their apologists, (pseudo-)intellectuals and apeasers in the West who would procliam all this inhumanity is either necessary for a greater good or plain non-existent?
The theory of knowledge (or epistemology) is arguably a foundational theory for our understanding of the world. Intuitively, however, it would seem quite detached from our everyday lives. What could the philosophical question of whether an objective framework of knowledge could be established, or whether I am just dreaming the world have to do with, say, what economic system I would prefer to live in? But the reason for this common-sense intuition is that, for the most part, it presupposes a particular, objectivist theory of knowledge à la Popper. It would seem that we could argue about the best economic system independent of how knowledge is attained, whereas in reality the former arguments rest on a particular way of attaining the knowledge contained in them.
In this objectivist theory we can never be certain, in its logical sense, of the truth of our theories (knowledge). The best that we can do is to criticise them and discard the ones we find to be false. This asymmetric situation between truth and falsehood is the basis of the method of trial and elimination of error and of scientific discoveries (growth of knowledge). Once we accept this, it follows more or less directly that the best economic system is the one that allows such trials-and-errors to be performed at the minimum cost to allow the maximum growth of knowledge. This is possible, so far as we know, only in a free-market system, that is, capitalism.