Commentary  The news about Iran

Western media narratives obscure human rights abuses

In the midst of social and political change occurring in Iran, the mainstream American media and state news agencies across the world seem to share the peculiar tendency to report on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear energy production.

When the Iranian dictatorship and the American global mafia are presented as threats to each other, public opinion in both countries favours their respective rulers. As a result of the way the current international situation is structured, the internal horrors of post-election Iran have been marginalized in North American media.

Widespread suppression of people opposed to the government continued through February. This opposition is heterogeneous: many different groups and individuals are involved, with differing motivations and tactics.

Yet the enemy is the same as it was in 1979: dictatorship. What does dictatorship mean in a country like Iran? If arrest, imprisonment, torture, and rape of protesters and organizers do not imply dictatorship, then perhaps it is the act of breaking up peaceful demonstrations by running people over with pickup trucks, stabbing protesters while disguised as fellow demonstrators, and shooting at civilians with machine guns. The Iranian state has skilfully executed these inhuman acts.

It is not just Iranians inside Iran who have become politicized, however. The Iranian diaspora, one of the largest in the world, is active in supporting the opposition within the Islamic Republic. Here in Montreal, many in the Iranian community are organizing for change in their home country. There have been regular protests here against the Iranian regime. Two weeks ago, postcards addressed to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon were distributed on campus in an effort to get the UN more involved in releasing Marxist political dissidents imprisoned inside Iran.

Iranians in Montreal see their involvement with their compatriots in Iran as important for a good reason. A widespread, deeply rooted social movement has been forming in Iran for the last decade in response to numerous concerns ignored by – often even created by – the state. The oppression of women, workers, students, and ethnic minorities has always existed, but high unemployment, high inflation, and economic mismanagement as well as corruption have resulted in a downward-spiralling economy, fuelling the politicization of these groups. One could say that the only opportunity left for change was the vote, and with that taken away in last June’s fraudulent elections, it is clear that these protests are not just about an election result.

While the Western media promotes certain American interests by propagating the belief that the real threat to the West is Iran’s electrical energy production, the Iranian state continues to murder its citizens. An isolated Iran would not be able to suppress them this freely. However, Iran is by no means isolated.

The dominance of the Iranian regime is built on its monopoly over the nation’s crude oil exports. Iranian oil fuels industrial production in China and Japan. The result of that production lands in American markets. It is thus unnecessary for Iranian oil to be directly exported to the U.S. for that oil to play a role in American markets. It is clear then that the American economic sanctions on Iran do not mean much. American consumerism’s dependence on Iranian oil is more than enough to allow the suppression of Iran’s social movement by the state. Not only is suppression being allowed, but it is economically encouraged by the Western world because of Iran’s oil.

Meanwhile, the mainstream press is busy reporting the newest updates in the international quest to distract the public. Russia’s president Dmitri Medvedev stated this week that his country considers sanctions against Iran as a last resort.

China is also pursuing diplomatic talks with Iran at the same time as the U.S. says that the People’s Republic – a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council – should vote for sanctions on Iran. If the U.S.’s environmental initiatives to reduce its dependence on Iranian oil are successful, China sanctioning of Iranian oil exports may actually be strategically useful to Washington. For the time being, however, Americans are as dependent on Chinese slavery as Chinese slavery is dependent on Iranian oil, so the strategy of pressuring Beijing lacks substance.

Even less substantial are Iran’s regular announcements about nuclear or military accomplishments, conveniently broadcasted by the Western media before every human rights violation in Iran. For example, the Iranian state announced a milestone in uranium enrichment a week before February 11, 2010, the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. On this important political date, opposition rallies could have escalated to another Tiananmen if they hadn’t been effectively suppressed.

W hile media coverage of the Iranian social movement has been quiet, the Iranian people have not. Nevertheless, the opposition is divided – as one might expect of a diverse group. The reformists are the political leadership of the Green Movement, which considers the current government, formed after the fraudulent elections, illegitimate.

For the past eight months, the reformists have attempted to consolidate the larger social movement under the Green banner in order to strengthen the reform agenda that aims to get the state to respect the Iranian constitution. This constitution includes the freedom of assembly. If this freedom is recognized, the social movement will have the opportunity to push for reforms through organized collective action.

Many, however, have become disillusioned with the reformist camp of the opposition. Radicals are proposing alternatives for wider reforms, such as the dismantling of the current state and the establishment of a completely new Iran. They believe either that the reformists will not carry out true reform, or that even if they are successful in carrying out reform, the pace of political change will not keep up with the country’s economic decline.

History will see how this crisis unfolds, but even the 1979 Iranian Revolution did not happen overnight. It was the work of at least a decade, a decade in which the radicals were either murdered by the dictatorship or allied with the mainstream Islamic revolutionaries.

Today, the strategies have changed. The official opposition is trying to reform Iran without causing civil war, and radicals are vocally attacking the reformist strategy. Even if the radicals are successful, it’s unclear how long they can govern before the weight of international capitalism squeezes them out of power.

These divisions also exist within the Montreal community, more so than other expatriate Iranian communities in Canada and the U.S. In the most recent protest in Montreal, demonstrators displayed only red colours – symbolizing an alternative to the mainstream “Green” opposition.

“The old community [in Montreal] is overwhelmingly left-leaning, with many individuals belonging to pre-[1979] Revolution groups that fought both the Pahlavi and Islamic regimes,” says Farzan Sabet, a political organizer in Montreal. The main division stems from the fact that “the new community tends to be made [up] of newly arrived graduate students with ties to Iran,” he said. This younger generation – who started to come to Montreal in 2000 and whose immigration continues today – tends to be pro-reformist.

The protests have strengthened ties between these two groups, though political divisions remain. And while the future is unclear, what’s certain is the Iranian diaspora’s role: to counter the mainstream media by being vocal and honest about the events taking place in Iran today.

Kasra Safavi is a U0 Arts & Science student. Write Kasra at