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Five Things We Lost in the Hype

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2009", please click here and scroll to the bottom.)

Yesterday, I pointed out the disconnect between what happened in Iran last June, and the three week long media riot that followed it. It's not that the event wasn’t important, there were just too many people talking about too little.

The obvious counter argument is that people have a right to support regime change in Iran. We agree. Anti-semitism aside, the Iranian neoconservative Ahmadinejad is leading his country down a dangerous foreign policy path, and turning his country into a police state with rigged elections. Iran’s half-democratic and half-religious political system flies in the face of the Western understanding of democracy, so I understand why so many people--liberal and conservative--would support a democratic “revolution” in Iran.

But in all of the hype, blog posts and news coverage, we lost sight of a few things:

1. This isn’t a “revolution.” A fifty-fifty divide in a country does not a revolution make, more like a civil war. Remember, a lot of people still love Ahmadinejad. Not in the urban centers, but definitely in the rural areas.

2. If you are hoping for an Invictus-style clean transition of government like South Africa, forget it. This conflict will get uglier before it gets better. The history of revolutions, from America to the present, is one of bloody, chaotic messes.

3. An Iranian revolution will not be a Western revolution. The "Green" politicians in Iran look an awful lot like the current regime. Mousavi was Prime Minister of Iran from 1981-1989. Karroubi was a chairman of the Parliament and a past presidential candidate. Khattami was a former president.

4. The twitter revolution occurred more in the Western world than in Iran. We can safely say this is the first revolution watched by the world with new media, like twitter and facebook. (There was another "Twitter Revolution" in Moldova, but who noticed?) Looking back, Twitter didn’t make much of a difference.

5. Iran's policies will not change, at least not radically. We can expect new, non-Ahmadinejad leaders to open a dialogue with America, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they continue to strive for nuclear weapons. (To be fair, some in the media mentioned this at the time)

Why do people support revolutions? I think it is because people find them sexy, the idea of millions of people joining together to throw out the corrupt ruling powers. I saw it in college when fellow activists yearned for the revolutions and protests of the sixties; I see it now in the tea-partyers who hope to overthrow the liberal agenda in the name of John Galt.

But as we wrote earlier, revolutions are usually violent, ugly things. We can hope for changes in Iran, but we can't forget the cost of that revolution.

three comments

Is it really a revolution if only half the people are for it and no change occurs or is just a rebellion or civil war?

I really think number 2 is going out on a limb and making a prediction. I´m not saying whether or not another drop of blood will be spilled, but you never know whether it will turn into a massacre , insurgency, or civil war or not. People I talked to who organized the Monday demonstrations in Leipzig during the DDR were certain they were going to be massacred, and it did escalate into riots, but in the end they were a key part of the momentum that helped collapse the DDR.

For number 4, I think that is hilarious, western media outlets talking about twitter made more of an impact then the limited amount of information that could be gleaned from twitter itself.

There is a large conservative part of society in Iran and the Iranian media is all to happy to cover the counterprotests:


Its a media war, and the people you would look to to give you facts and impartial information nowadays would rather spoonfeed you propaganda and viewpoints.

I think with point number 2, people just assumed the protests would work, and I just wanted to point out stuff like this is never easy.

We probably shouldn’t have phrased it as a prediction, because we try not to make predictions."