Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Around the world: Iran, U.S., France, India

By jeffaclitus

I was going to title this post "Link-o-rama," but "Around the world" seemed somehow more dignified. Anyways, off we go--

This article in The Nation gives a good historical overview of Western interference in Iranian politics since Iran's liberal, reforming Constitutional Revolution in 1906-1911 (thanks to Kaveh for the link). The authors argue, persuasively in my opinion, that western progressives should offer critical opposition to both the Bush administration's typical imbecilic sabre-rattling and the repressive theocracy ruling Iran at present (which some apparently romanticize as "anti-imperialist").

For many people on the left outside Iran, the era of Ahmadinejad has presented a quandary, forcing them to choose between anti-imperialism (at the risk of defending an Islamist theocracy) and solidarity with the opponents of a repressive theocracy (at the risk of appearing to do the bidding of the Bush Administration). Danny Postel, an editor at the online journal openDemocracy, believes that much of the left has made the wrong choice, ignoring the great promise of Iran's dissident movement. In Reading "Legitimation Crisis" in Tehran, Postel takes the US left to task for neglecting this important social movement and suggests that the new Iranian democratic discourse is an original form of "liberal Third Worldism" that is distinct from neoliberalism and deserving of our support. (One chapter is pointedly titled "We Know What We're Against, But What Are We For?") The US left, he believes, has made the error of viewing Iran through a narrow "American prism," rightly opposing US military threats against the Islamic Republic but failing to raise its voice in support of Iranian progressives battling theocratic repression--i.e., failing to demonstrate solidarity with our true allies in Iran. But anti-imperialism need not come at the expense of solidarity. (A similar error, notes Postel, was made during the Bosnian war, when "anti-imperialism" led some on the left to side with Milosevic's Serbia.)

Meanwhile, in the US, I think the abstinence-only boondoogle is perhaps the best symbol of the Bush administration. I'm not sure anything else so perfectly encapsulates their eagerness to mash together as many lies as possible, all for the sake of using federal money to enforce an almost unbelievably absurd and repellent ideology. Amanda Marcotte does an excellent job of thoroughly shredding a recent farrago of lies, half-truths and bad faith misdirection from a proponent of abstinence-only education.

There’s two columns [in a study about failure rates for contraception], one that constitutes “perfect use” and one that shows “typical use”, a distinction that Morse ignores because it blows her argument out of the water. Basically, typical use failure rates are extremely dependent, as you can imagine, on the education of the people using the method. Someone who has the kind of non-education on contraception that Morse promotes will have a higher typical use failure rate, for obvious reasons. If you’ve never had sex ed and don’t know how to put on a condom, you’re more likely to break it. If you’ve never been told that antibiotics decrease pill effectiveness or that you have to take it the same time every day, you’re more likely to use it wrong and get pregnant. Morse wants to separate kids from the information that gets them from the status of typical use rates to perfect use rates.

Agnès Poirier has an amusingly caustic comment in The Guardian about Nicolas Sarkozy. Noting that "what foreign journalists seem to forget is that France boasts as many authoritarian styles as it does cheeses," Poirier rejects the common comparison of Sarkozy to Napoleon, arguing instead that he resembles Napoleon III, a short-sighted vulgarian figurehead who luxuriated in a "culture of bling" in which mediocrities were vaulted into positions of power and influence (starting with the little Napoleon himself) by an alliance of reactionary social conservatives and money-grubbing, ostentatious nouveux riches (there may have been some overlap, believe it or not).

Napoleon III believed first in himself, then in action rather than morals. This is what his supporters, the reactionary Catholics and the nouveaux riches, believed France needed. He had one objective - to make the French believe they'd get richer, and thereby resolve the social problems shaking the country. He had forged liberal economic policies based on his years in exile in the US and England. France turned bling, and gold adorned every wrist, cleavage and home. Rich bourgeois flaunted their wealth in the face of the people. His supporters relied on him to keep the "little people" quiet while they got wealthier, and the republicans' most active representatives had to live in exile.

A young lawyer, Gambetta, a future republican leader, gave this frank assessment of Napoleon's entourage: "Nobody knew these men before [the coup of 1852], they had no talent, no rank, no honour; they are the opportunists who always emerge during coups, the kind Cicero referred to when talking of the scum surrounding Catilina."

Under Napoleon, the press was free in theory only, and publications that appeared too critical received friendly "warnings" from the government. Auto-censorship thus became second nature to journalists, and although great artists did emerge, they did so in exile or were at risk of being tried for "immorality", like Flaubert and Baudelaire.

Could things really get this bad under Sarkozy? Seems a bit much to me, but what do I know about French politics (in fact, if this column is exaggerated, that perhaps says something more important about the level of cynicism in French political life now).

Last but not least, violent clashes between the police and army and Maoists rebels in eastern India have left at least 24 soldiers and 20 rebels dead. "
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says the Maoists pose the most serious threat to national security in India," but this is the first I've heard of them. Read more about the Indian Maoists, or Naxalites, here and here.

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