Democracy really only belongs to the west. The right to free speech, protest and demand for social change seems only to be the preserve of white people. Everyone else must accept the bitter reality of the status quo, whatever its hardship, because things could easily get worse.
Protesters must pack up and retreat because the police state, a theocratic fascist dictatorship, is prepared to be violent, to make the people protesting “face the price.” They are protesting for a myriad of reasons and there are elements of rejection of Islamism swirling with the working class salt of the earth revolt against the elite increasingly monopolising power, wealth and resources, in the hiked prices.
This should ordinarily win the support of the left. It ticks a checklist of required ingredients for a left-wing revolutionary movement and yet the strongest supporters of the Iranian dissidents are the right. The left meanwhile have been deafeningly silent. And it speaks volumes about where they stand. And as Desmond Tutu famously said, silence only favours the oppressors.
There are genuinely understandable reasons to fear another political upheaval given what happened in Syria. There are no guarantees as to how the protests in Iran will play out. But there are many on the left who simply regard these protests as the political constructs or desires of America and completely rid the Iranian people of their agency. Certainly, the west will interfere and seek to create a trade-friendly Iran who do not threaten their geopolitical interests. And it’s worth pointing out that years of sanctions on Iran have hurt their economy and played some part in building economic resentment. On the other hand some could legitimately point out that Iran’s elite like all regimes hoard their wealth and the poor barely see it, therefore any sanctions is more likely to disproportionately disaffect the elite than the poor.
But warnings about dystopian futures, whilst definitely a risk, are not reason enough or alone to silence the protests. The left repeatedly point out that there are things far worse than the status quo as if the status quo itself is bearable for many people within Iran.
In 2015 Iran had executed 977, and 743 the year before that. The hijab is mandatory for women and they face stoning for adultery. Dissidents, purged after the Islamic Revolution, are silenced and for most parts the liberal secularist movement within the country is a young, quietly rippling underground one.
We must support the people in any struggle; that is a basic leftist principle
The barbarism of Iran is as bad, if not worse, than Saudi Arabia. And yet our attitudes towards both states are markedly different. If the people of Saudi Arabia rose up there would be support for them to overthrow the religious fascism policing their lives yet it’s not found in the situation with Iran. The argument that refusing to support regime change to avoid loss of lives shifts the responsibility away from the regime onto the people and thereby subliminally encourages them to simply accent the situation.
Imagine if the Metropolitan Police had mistreated an anti-war campaigner? Would we tell the protesters to stop or hold the police to account? The left-wing writer James Bloodworth summed it up that the conservatives are radicals when it comes to foreign policy whilst the leftists tend to be pragmatic maintainers of the status quo.
There’s though a hint of sneering racism to all of this, that somehow the Iranians just like the Arabs are passive slaves to dictatorship and cannot comprehend democracy. They will resort to mindless and senseless violence because they will squabble like children. It casts the people as passive and ignores that the capacity for violence belongs with state powers. The state powers use the instruments of oppression to maintain their status, but cleverly, manage to win themselves the support of the anti-imperialist left by parading themselves as the little guys sticking it to the west. It often means parts of the left will ignore whatever atrocities they participate or orchestrate because the end goal is to end western hegemony itself.
One doesn’t have to support an intervention in every struggle and to be honest most of them didn’t need ours. The exception is Syria where the price of inaction is measured in the blood of thousands. But we should distinguish between people and state and understand that our internationalism cannot be inconsistent. We must support the people in any struggle; that is a basic leftist principle.