Monday, June 15, 2009

Getting Iran Wrong

George Friedman argues that Western misunderstanding of Iran was more or less of a train wreck waiting to happen:
Limited to information on Iran from English-speaking opponents of the regime, both groups of Iran experts got a very misleading vision of where the revolution was heading — because the Iranian revolution was not brought about by the people who spoke English. It was made by merchants in city bazaars, by rural peasants, by the clergy — people Americans didn’t speak to because they couldn’t. This demographic was unsure of the virtues of modernization and not at all clear on the virtues of liberalism. From the time they were born, its members knew the virtue of Islam, and that the Iranian state must be an Islamic state.

Americans and Europeans have been misreading Iran for 30 years. Even after the shah fell, the myth has survived that a mass movement of people exists demanding liberalization — a movement that if encouraged by the West eventually would form a majority and rule the country. We call this outlook “iPod liberalism,” the idea that anyone who listens to rock ‘n’ roll on an iPod, writes blogs and knows what it means to Twitter must be an enthusiastic supporter of Western liberalism. Even more significantly, this outlook fails to recognize that iPod owners represent a small minority in Iran — a country that is poor, pious and content on the whole with the revolution forged 30 years ago.
I can believe it. Not that I know anything about Iran--I know zilch--but because it fits a pattern that seems to be well-night universal when the chattering classes try to understand mass politics. Friedman's description of Iran sounds like a hundred other such misunderstandings--not least the way urban "liberal" "modernist" "outreach" politicians in the (big cities of the) American south used to understand the (predominantly rural) masses. Heck, it probably has something to do with the way Kerensky misunderstood the Bolsheviks, or the Parisian liberals of 1848 misunderstood Napoleon III.

One corollary: if it's bubba that got us into this mess, it will have to be bubba (if anybody) who gets us out of it. John Kerry, Bill Bradley, Adlai Stevenson,where never able to provide effective leadership for American "progressives;" Happy Chandler and Earl Long (and Bill Clinton?) sometimes did so. Like I say, my knowledge of Iran is zero, perhaps negative. But taking off our secularist urban blinders--putting away our chardonnay-tinted blinders--is almost certainly a necessary first step.

1 comment:

Toni said...

Thanks Jack. I've been waiting for your post on Iran. Starfor is my Tony's source for international intelligence, but he thinks George Friedman has it wrong for once here. There were too many voting irregularities, not the least of which was the winner being announced so soon. Tony says to think of it as the equivalent of McCain having won by a landslide in November. Would anyone have believed the election results were valid?