For the Skeptics :: Election Results, Media Coverage & You
Skepticism about last Friday’s Presidential election, and questioning how big of a fraud actually took place, is all well-warranted. While many are convinced Mousavi was victorious, many people say that Ahmadinejad may have won by a much smaller margin, or at least come out on top on the way to a run-off. Equally, though, I haven’t seen anything or heard anything (including the oft-cited Terror Free Tomorrow poll, which has been widely debated and deserves to be looked at critically that could possibly prove this margin of victory to me - it is worth noting that according to Farideh Farhi, the numbers defy any consistency with voting patterns in Iran. It is true that we have yet to see any hard evidence of fraud, although Mohsen Rezai, one of the candidates, claimed today he has proof of at least 900 000 votes cast for him, as oppose to the 681 851 that was totaled by the interior ministry. On Saturday, Karrubi’s campaign manager, Gholamhossein Karbaschi, twittered asking for those who voted for Karrubi to identify themselves, presumably to offer similar proof. And part of the reason there was widespread reported disbelief immedietely the numbers is the way they were announced - in regional waves, as percentages, without provincial breakdowns, within hours of polls closing. All of which went contrary to past elections. In an election that was so critical to so many people, it is understandable that this provoked disbelief and anger. But maybe, as one blogger suggested today, this was actually all Mousavi’s fault.
Whatever the results of the election, over the course of the past five days, I have been overwhelmed by the courage of Iranians as they peacefully demonstrate across Iran in protest. It is therefore frustrating to see Iranians in the diaspora projecting their own politics onto the situation, using this moment to smear Mousavi, retreating into the battle lines of 1979, or speaking condescendingly of voiceless rural masses whose votes can be bought with a potato. It is also frustrating to see many from whom I might have expected solidarity using the election only as a jumping point to criticize America’s support for sham elections across the Middle East, or to remind us of the 1953 coup. This is not about America, and we don’t know what kind of President Mousavi would have been. What we do know is that, whether as a vehicle, or as a symbol, or simply as an excuse, the allegations of fraud and the perception that Mousavi was cheated in last week’s elections have prompted hundreds of thousands of Iranians to get out on the streets, demanding their basic dignity.
During his victory speech on Sunday, Ahmadinejad referred with contempt to the opposition as weeds (literally, ‘brushwood and thorns’) who would be forced to surrender. The day before, I was on Skype with a friend in Tehran, listening to the horror in her voice as site after site - first Mousavi’s website, then other reformist websites, then several well-known Iranian news sites, then Facebook, then Youtube - were blocked, some of them minutes after she had browsed them. SMS had been down for a day by that point, mobile phones were barely working, and by that evening for a couple hours you couldn’t call via landline out of Tehran. My friend was terrified. They are shutting me off from the world, she said. They have already nullified my vote, and now they are silencing me.
I am all for debate on what occurred on June 12. But I only wish we could do so in a way that doesn’t disrespect or dismiss those who are bravely protesting across Iran. When I read these analyses of the election aftermath as a small group of Tehran’s upper class elites, or of protests solely as a boon to Rafsanjani, or of the futility of organizing behind Mousavi, I fear that under the banner of thinking critically, we are in fact becoming complacent in the silencing of Iranians.
We can debate about votes that may have never been tallied, but what has already been proven to us is people are out in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. They are out in cities across Iran, and they cannot be reduced to one class, age group, or gender. They are risking a lot to be out there: according to the Iran Human Rights Group, thirty two have been killed. Many more have been beaten, and reports on twitter claim that psychological intimidation, in the form of threatening phone calls, is well underway. We have significant evidence of grassroots organizing. Why denigrate that by pointing to one regime insider as puppet master? It is important to consider what Mir-Hossein Mousavi himself has said, that these people have not gathered here for him, but to demand respect for themselves. And for those who authoritatively quote the TFT poll as proof of Ahmadinejad’s legitimacy, it is worth noting that the major conclusion was actually that Iranians, regardless of their candidate for last week’s elections, want a free press and fair elections. If we are blind to that, if we are deaf to it, if we would rather use this fleeting moment to protest the hypocrisy of the West or advance our own agendas - then we, too, are treating them as weeds, as brushwood and thorns. So much of what I’ve read this week (from Iranians and non-Iranians alike) sounds like, forget what you’ve seen, because I know what this is all about.
The politics of solidarity are complicated. How do those of us outside of Iran stand with Iranians without caricaturing their movement? How do we do so without exploiting them for our own ends? How can we contextualize it without being determinative? I believe that it begins by resisting the reflex to recast events in terms of our own aspirations, and instead listening closely to Iranians. Remembering that if people are willing to lose their lives, if they are willing to risk their safety, all to stand up for something, then perhaps this is a moment for quiet humility. For us to stop the cynicism and sarcasm that comes easy from a distance. To refrain from dismissing demonstrations as misguided. I wonder, would these commentators have the same authoritative air if they were speaking in front of one of the protesters? Tell them, you might think you made the terrifying choice to march for freedom, but I know that it is the CIA that is behind it all. Could they say to them, while you stood up, I mocked those who tried to take up your cause, instead of taking the opportunity to educate them. While you stood up, I derided you for it.
I believe our solidarity is a critical lifeline to a population that increasingly feels shut out from the world, and that is currently the target of brutal and unpredictable violence, and yet continues to courageously stream out onto the streets and yell Allah-Akbar into the night. It is our responsibility to put our own egos aside and recognize that this movement is unfolding by the minute and that no one knows yet how it will end, including the regime insiders. No matter what we know, or think we know, of black operations and behind the scenes negotiating, the decision to step outside and protest right now in Iran is one that is made by individuals, and it is certainly not one that any of them take lightly. At this critical juncture, we owe it to the thirty-two who have already died, and to the millions more in Iran, to stand behind them, instead of fancying ourselves somehow authoritative and above the fray.
Farnam Bidgoli is a recent graduate of the University of Toronto, specializing in International Relations and Peace and Conflict Studies.