Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Uprising Changes Everything, Part II: Hands Off The People's Mujahadeen Of Iran.

In today's National Post, I make the case that Canada should lift the "terrorist entity" designation applied to the Mujahadeen-e-Khalk, also known as the People's Mujahadeen of Iran (PMOI).

Listing the Mujahadeen under Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act unfairly encumbers the National Council of the Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which has the same leadership as the Mujahadeen and commands the allegiance of tens of thousands of Iranian exiles, including several thousand Canadians.

It's up to the Iranian people to decide whether the military-clerical dictatorship in Tehran is capable of reform, or whether sterner stuff is required. By hanging the albatross of a "terrorist" classification around the NCRI's neck, Ottawa interferes with the mobilization underway in the Iranian diaspora and plays into the hands of the ayatollahs. It's high time we stopped doing things like that. The uprising changes everything. I'm not making a case for the Mujahadeen's politics, but the NCRI/Mujahadeen isn't a terrorist entity and we should stop pretending that it is.

Yesterday in my Tyee column, I noted that if Canadians are going to to play any useful role in supporting Iranian workers, students, and pro-democracy activists, we're going to have to heed their calls to isolate the regime. This will have to start with the isolation of the regime's propagandists, apologists and excuse-makers in Canada. It will require a rude awakening from the pseudo-leftish "second campism" that has so crippled our capacity to build effective solidarity with our friends in Iran, Palestine, Afghanistan, and beyond.

Maybe it's wishful thinking to imagine that this is possible. But what's clearly wishful thinking is the assumption that the Iranian uprising is demanding only a little bit of change, and that it will be happy to settle for some Islamist president other than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. We need to give our heads a shake, says the Iranian feminist Azar Majedi: "The people do not want this regime. They do not want to live under a religious tyranny. They do not want gender apartheid. People want to be free." This isn't just about stuffed ballot boxes. "This is the beginning of the end of one of the most brutal, heinous and notorious political regimes of the 20th century."

Then there's the assumption, ubiquitous outside Iran, that regime's hand-picked opposition candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, is somehow a changed man. Have the years really changed him that much? Has the uprising really changed him?

During his term as prime minister in the 1980s, Mousavi oversaw the torture and execution of thousands of political prisoners, purged the universities, ordered the brutal persecution of religious minorities, presided over the mass arrests of activists and the deployment of children as human minesweepers during the Iran-Iraq war. Mousavi was a founder of Hezbollah. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to call him a "terrorist," but that isn't what we call him, is it?

So why do we continue to call the Mujahadeen terrorists? Mostly it's because that's what the White House says, for its own conveniences. But "terrorist" is a serious word, and we shouldn't use it unless we mean business. Evidence matters. Just ask Abousfian Abdelrazik.

The Mujahadeen arose as an Islamic Marxist liberation front during the 1960s. It carried out a cunning guerilla campaign against the American-backed regime of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, and against American corporate targets, during the 1970s. Mujahadeen fighters played a key role in the 1979 revolution, but their secular and feminist ideas immediately put them at odds with the ayatollahs who went through the Mujahadeen ranks like wolves through a flock of sheep. The Mujahadeen nevertheless recovered sufficiently to engage in a spectacular series of bombings and assassinations against the theocracy throughtout the 1980s and 1990s. Its big mistake was siding with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war.

In contrast to the uncertainty surrounding Mousavi, the Mujahadeen and the NCRI have obviously and unambiguously changed. They renounced violence in 1991, they're now both in favour of a democratic, secular and "nuclear free" Iran. The NCRI has been changed by the uprising, too. Only weeks ago, the NCRI had set itself at odds with the rest of the Iranian pro-democracy movement by calling for a boycott of the farcical June 12 elections. Now, the NCRI is on board with the movement's consensus: Nullify the election and bring in the UN to oversee a proper one, conducted according to democratic norms.

Soona Samsami, executive director of the Women’s Freedom Forum in Washington, D.C. and the NCRI’s unofficial North American interlocutor, says that just as the Iranian pro-democracy movement has evolved, so has the NCRI.

"The Iranian political landscape has completely changed,” she told me last week. “It is completely different, and it will never be the same again.”

Meanwhile, some useful reading:

Billy Wharton exposes Ahmadenijad as an enemy of Iranian workers in Selling Iran: Ahmadinejad, Privatization And A Bus Driver Who Said No. In Pincipia Dialectica, proper leftists confront Iranian propagandist George Galloway, and a broadside adequately explained by its headline: Trad-Marxist Goons Give Ahmadinejad Full-Spectrum Support. More evidence of a Left that hasn't lost its damn mind comes from Dave Osler in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and from Max Dunbar at Shiraz Socialist: How The Light Gets In.

Tracking events in Iran with reports and analysis: The Rise of the Iranian People, also Iranian Freedom.

For the miraculous spectacle of a risen people in the language it demands, a letter to the world from Saeed Valadbeygi in Tehran, at Revolutionary Road:

I am writing this letter on behalf of a starred (prohibited from studying) PhD student.
I am writing this letter on behalf of a flogged worker on first of May.
I am writing this letter on behalf of a sentenced to death teenager.
I am writing this letter on behalf of a sentenced to death by stone woman.
I am writing this letter on behalf of Saeed Valadbeygi. . .

Monday, June 29, 2009

One world is busy being born. Another’s busy dying. The uprising changes everything.

My Tyee column today takes a look at the prospects for solidarity with the Iranian uprising in the context of deeply reactionary currents in Left politics, and the implications for a profoundly hopeful politics of internationalism and unity. I'll have more tomorrow, and I'll link to it from here (UPDATE: It's in the National Post today with the headline Tehran's Worst Nightmare. More background here).

(NB More on the stupefaction on the Left, noticed from a decidely left-wing point of view: "The voices that we hear today from part of the Left are tragically reactionary. Siding with religious fundamentalists with the wrong assumptions that they are anti-imperialists and anti-capitalists, is aligning with the most reactionary forces of history. This is a reactionary left, different from the progressive left which has always been on the side of the forces of progress." Here.)

What's dying is a cynical "anti-imperialist" politics that divides the world into two camps, with American-Israeli imperialists on one side and a "resistance" of plucky Islamists on the other. It a politics that divides the world's workers against themselves, and absurdly situates the brutal, antisemitic despot Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the same camp where the western "Left" pitches its tent.

What's busy being born is a new kind of politics, informed by the best and bravest traditions of the Left, but enlivened by its own "post-ideological" underpinnings. The students, workers, feminists and liberals of Iran are leading the way, learning as they go. The pro-democracy movement is practically leaderless. It's now taken on a life of its own.

The uprising changes everything. Not just in Iran. But in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine, Europe, North America, everywhere.

Here are some friends:

As always, Justice for Iranian Workers. Also Arash Abadpour, now at the University of Toronto, is a keen observer of the Iranian pro-democracy movement, and his Persian mirror is one of the most popular blogs in Iran. His English language blog is here. For updates on events in Iran and solidarity events in Canada, make a friend of Pouya Alagheband on Facebook. One of the best bloggers for links to analyses and context is our comrade Jeff Weintraub, who blogs here. Also highly recommended for commentary and insight are Mehrtash and Azarmehr.

Here is a little thing you can do to help.

Meanwhile, Anti-Utopia (From Tehran with Love), asks: "Where is my vote? Where are my friends?" And in Boston, Martin provides a translation from Maariv, where Ben Caspit and Ben-Dror Yemeni ask similarly unsettling questions: "Where did all the people who demonstrated against Israel's brutality in Operation Cast Lead, in the Second Lebanon War, in Operation Defensive Shield, or even in The Hague, when we were dragged there unwillingly after daring to build a separation barrier between us and the suicide bombers, disappear to? We see demonstrations here and there, but these are mainly Iranian exiles. Europe, in principle, is peaceful and calm. So is the United States. Here and there a few dozens, here and there a few hundreds. Have they evaporated because it is Tehran and not here?"

In Tehran, Morad Farhadpour and Omid Mehrgan provide something of an answer: "Global public opinion and, especially, the body of (leftist) intellectuals, Inspired by recent events in the middle Asia and east Europe, mostly regard this Iranian mass protest as another version of the well-known, newly invented, neo-liberal, U.S.-sponsored, colour-coded revolutions, as in Georgia and Ukraine. . . .the question, which has confused the western (left) intelligentsia and has caused the most varied misunderstandings regarding Iran, is whether Ahmadinejad is a leftist, anti-imperialist, anti-privatization, anti-globalization figure. The common answer is a positive one. . . the fact that millions transcending their identity and immediate interests joined a typically universal militant politics by risking their lives in defence of Mousavi and their dignity, should be enough to cast out all doubts or misguided pseudo-leftist dogmas."

But Ahmadinejad need not feel too lonely. At least the Nazis still like him.

Stand with the people of Iran. The people will win, and here's Andy Madadian and friends. Stand by me:

Saturday, June 13, 2009

". . . a nostalgic rant about the good old days that really weren't all that great."

In the Globe and Mail today, Our chum Brian Fawcett, on the obtuse style of Bryan Palmer's ambitious (i.e. 605 pages) Canada's 1960s: The Ironies of Identity in a Rebellious Era: "It's a style of exposition that excludes almost as much as it discloses, and it admits nothing of the true irony that history is infused with – the absurdity that makes you laugh both at it and at yourself. Not surprisingly, this is a book short on laughter. And as anyone who was around during the 1960s can tell you, for all the high drama, laughs weren't hard to come by. They were our way of reminding ourselves why we weren't hard-line Soviet-style Commies."

I should confess to being a great admirer of Fawcett, whose work is now and again the result of an intellectual and affectionate collaboration with my comrade Stan Persky, whose own work is also sometimes a product of that same collaboration: “We've got the same mind,”� Fawcett told me a while back. “I'm Anglican, unreasonable, and hetero. Stan's Jewish, reasonable, and gay. Between us, we make up a whole human being.” I should also confess that I'm posting this mainly to introduce the unitiated to Fawcett's work.

Brian (and Persky, and Brian's son Max, and so on) can often be found writing at Dooney's Cafe, here.

Here's a few of Fawcett's books:

Local Matters: A Defence of Dooney's Cafe and Other Non-Globalized Places, People and Ideas.

Cambodia: A Book For People Who Find Television Too Slow.

Public Eye: An Investigation Into the Disappearance of the World.

Virtual Clearcut (Or, The Way Things Are in My Hometown).

You're welcome.