By Ali Jawad
16 June, 2009
One of the dominant themes that has consistently defined the workings of the modern world - even after the undoing of the (visible) chains of colonialism - has been the axial role of Western 'omniscience'. Through the Renaissance, the West not only attained enlightenment for itself, but rather established its firm standing as the paramount and par excellence enlightened polar in an otherwise dark and ignorant world. Indeed as a result, the relationship between the West (with all its internal heterogeneity) and a loosely defined "Other" has been one of domination and varying degrees of hegemony.
After all, acclaimed Western minds were quick to declare that history itself had grinded to a halt and arrived at its terminus with the departure of the Soviet Union from the world stage – the direct, albeit verbally tacit, premise that the destiny of humanity lay at the doorstep of the West, with the rest of the world reduced to animated spectators (at best), did not even deserve raising.
Come the Iranian elections and the unexpected landslide victory in favour of Ahmedinejad, and once again rushing to enlighten the world are the normatively 'All-Knowing' Western capitals and media pundits. Swarming the airwaves, one and all cried out 'fraud', 'stolen elections' and a 'nation's will silenced'.
Before a few words on the apparent sincere Western concern for the national will of the Iranian people, it would be instructive to expose this chronic omniscience at work in an episode in very recent history: the British sailors' crisis.
As soon as news of the capture of the British sailors reached media stations, we were barraged with informed analyses of "incontrovertible facts" that supported the British government, which then conveniently segued (as is usual) into the inherent bellicosity of Iran 'under the mullahs'. Just to convey this mindset, here's a brief taste of media headlines at the time of the incident: "UK has proof in Iran dispute", "Britain presents evidence Iranians seized sailors in Iraqi waters", "Sarkozy condemns Iran over British sailors", "Bush Administration accuses Iran of Hostage Diplomacy", "Iran advances global terrorism" et al.
After the release of the sailors, what was pitched as unquestionable 'evidence' against Iran unsurprisingly turned out to be an altogether well orchestrated series of half-truths and outright deceptions. In a report by British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, it was stated (with some honesty, after dishonesty had duly had its share) that the British government was "fortunate that it was not in Iran's interests to contest the accuracy of the map". Even more revealingly, the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) stated that the government had embarked on a "world-wide diplomatic lobbying campaign" in order to further their case against Iran.
It is perhaps even more instructive to place these later self-verified conclusions made by the British government against the early statements made by Iranian officials during the height of the crisis. In a live television interview made on British television Channel Four, former National Security Council chief, Dr. Ali Larijani, (correctly) evaluated the situation as follows:
"[But] you are aware of the fact that as soon as this incident happened, a harsh diplomatic atmosphere was created and indeed political tools came into being and effect. The meaning was [that] our sovereignty was violated, our territorial waters was violated and we turned to be indebted to these violations as well.
"[And] unfortunately some EU members also started taking positions […] prior to knowledge of whether they were in our territorial waters or not; apparently they were amongst the people who could see the unseen."
Moving on to present, this timeless Western monopoly over, and recurring resort to, its matchless omniscience once again typifies the tone of media reporting of post-elections tensions. Writing for the New York Times, op-ed columnist Roger Cohen - after enlightening the readers on the real distribution of voters in his unquestionably infinite wisdom – relies on a deep-rooted mode of political narration. He opts to speak for the "other", albeit with a sprinkling of quotes, as if an entire nation was imbibed in his person. Indeed, seldom has presumptuous omniscience hidden its brazen trails.
"I've argued for engagement with Iran and I still believe in it, although, in the name of the millions defrauded, President Obama's outreach must now await a decent interval.
"I've also argued that, although repressive, the Islamic Republic offers significant margins of freedom by regional standards. I erred in underestimating the brutality and cynicism of a regime that understands the uses of ruthlessness."
To put his words differently: 'we thought we knew it (Iran), but now we have come to know it better, and we should thus adopt an alternate course'. One can trace this overpowering mindset in centuries of Western exploitation and dominance.
It is altogether natural to see media reporting awash with an all-too-obvious 'power-knowledge' rhetoric in covering the post-elections atmosphere in the Islamic Republic. It is likewise perfectly instinctive for Western capitals to underline their erstwhile concern for the 'national will' of the Iranian people, and urge on the 'mullahs' to respect the choice of the people, as if this were an unchanging and enduring pattern of enlightened Western ideals vis-à-vis the Iranian nation.
One can bet their bottom dollar (even in such troubled times) that Western concern for the national will of the Iranian people will conveniently vaporise when the nation's demands – which enjoy a consensus amongst both pro-Ahmedinejad and pro-Mousavi camps – for their natural right to nuclear enrichment for peaceful ends are aired.
"Radical democratic populism" - to borrow from the terminology of former National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski - is a useful tool only when a beneficiary vantage point is its corollary. The selective coverage, and hence definition, of the voice of the 'Iranian nation' best evinces this traditional attitude. At the time of writing this article, hundreds of thousands demonstrators have converged on Tehran in a show of support to President Ahmedinejad. Western media sources apparently seem to have missed the ocean of people, who are I would assume too civil to merit coverage.
The highly sensationalized and at times outright deceptive media coverage in the wake of the Iranian elections thus typifies an age-old attitude that enjoys a most distinguished and, it has to be said, hereunto untouchable rank.
Lost in between the endless supply of bold-faced lies such as repeated reports citing the house arrest of president candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, was the Supreme Leader's recourse to the legislative process after having received the aggrieved candidate's letter citing inconsistencies in the electoral process. Lest I spoil the frenzied party, a very democratic outcome – it should be noted – that is strikingly absent in nearby US and Western harboured vassals; including the one from which US president Obama chose to address the 'Muslim' world.
History bears testimony that in the case of Iran, Western powers have suffered from an endemic "failure to properly gauge" and acknowledge the nature of its revolution, its "very organic religious" social structures, and its political system. The events over the last few days further demonstrate that little has in fact changed in spite of much touted declarations of "new beginnings".
I am reminded here of the deep eloquence in the words of that trouble-plagued, nineteenth-century essayist:
"Allow me to offer my congratulations on the truly admirable skill you have shown in keeping clear of the mark. Not to have hit once in so many trials, argues the most splendid talents for missing."
And thus should the West be congratulated.
1. See: Foreign Policy Aspects of the Detention of Naval Personnel by the Islamic Republic of Iran, pg. 3 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/
2. See: Foreign Policy Aspects of the Detention of Naval Personnel by the Islamic Republic of Iran, pg. 23 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/
3. See: Channel Four Interview of Ali Larijani,
4. See: Iran's Day of Anguish, The New York Times,
5. See: Wishful thinking from Iran, Guardian Comment,
Ali Jawad is a political activist and a member of the AhlulBayt Islamic Mission (AIM); http://www.aimislam.com/ .
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