Saturday, June 20, 2009

Confused Iranian Protests

Current events in Iran have invigorated Iranians internationally. Pro-Iranians-in-Iran-protesters protests in Palo Alto, California, are an example of this international invigoration.

To the untrained eye, these protests come across as pro-Western-values (thus pro-modernization of Iran) demonstrations. Be weary of what you see.

At one level, the English chants and placards were in support of democracy and free speech in Iran; this much is great. It plays well for the American media, most of whom do not speak Farsi and are not familiar with the more subtle signals.

Yet, the symbols and slogans - those only understood by Iranians - are anything but supportive of these English messages. In the Palo Alto event, one of the Farsi chants translates to "death upon those who cause the death of my brother." Umm, OK; radical and sort of Marxist sounding, but we can chalk this up to emotion letting. Then there were the Iranian flags, not the current-day ones with the "God" center and square and "God is Great" Arabic script in the decorations, but the one with the lion brandishing a sword over a rising sun.

This flag is that it represents Iran under the Pahlavi "dynasty," when Reza Shah (Shah's father) and Shah where in power. Given who this flag represents, it is a strange way of demonstrating support for democracy and free speech.

The real trouble is the combination of the symbol and the slogan. To me, it sounds like bloody revolutionary inclinations to take Iran back some 30 years at a time when things were not so great for the average Iranian. Of course, if you were pro-Shah and toted the party line, things were great for you. If you had a different opinion or political views, imprisonment without a trail (not even a sham trial) and torture were not out of the mainstream practice. The nostalgia for pre-revolution times is misplaced. The mullahs are the new Shahs; different beasts are in wolf clothing, but the wolves are still out.

If internationalized Iranians really want to change Iran, the best method is to migrate back, take their skills and values with them, and create change from within. Displays of emotion may feel good but creating good feelings does not create the type of change that Iran so desperately needs.

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