Compared to citizens of other developed countries, Americans are not especially well-informed about the world. Like other peoples only more so, Americans view the world through a glass darkly – a glass darkened by ignorance and prejudice. Much of the fault lies not with the people, but with their corporate-monopoly media.
Consider the case of Iran, a geo-strategical lynchpin nation more than three times the size of Iraq. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran has gotten uniformly bad press in the USA. From derogatory caricatures of the Ayatollah Khomeini – a stunningly brilliant, mystical scholar falsely portrayed as a crude, thuggish dictator – to hysterical exaggerations about Iran's nuclear program, the US media has consistently used Iran as a punching bag. The many positive aspects of Iran and its Islamic Revolution have been ignored, suppressed, or distorted, while negative aspects have been exaggerated or invented out of whole cloth.
Though its political system has been painted as a dictatorial theocracy, the truth is that Iran comes closer to American political ideals of democracy, diversity, and pluralism than any other Middle Eastern nation, with the arguable exception of Turkey. (1) Like the USA, Iran is not a perfect democracy – though its democracy has not suffered the kinds of extreme setbacks represented by the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers, the coup d'état of September 11th, 2001, or the stolen presidential elections of 2000 and 2004. (2)
In Iran, despite the fact that presidential candidates are vetted by a Council of Experts, voters choose from among candidates whose range of views is considerably wider than those of candidates in American elections. Those candidates represent many different, competing power centers: Groups within the clergy that are often at odds with each other; a populist bloc calling for more redistribution of the national wealth; reformists who want to soften the hard edges of the Islamic Revolution's legacy; justice-seeking hardliners associated with the Revolutionary Guards and the basiji volunteer corps; free-market advocates; and many others. Even Jews have considerable political representation in Iran – though their disproportionate power in relation to their numbers is not as extreme as it is in the USA and Western Europe. (Iran's Jews have repeatedly turned down massive bribes from Zionists who want them to emigrate to Israel – not just because they are patriotic Iranians, but because they are doing well, both economically and politically, in Iran.)
One sign of the vibrancy of Iran's democracy is voter turnout, which reached 85% in 2009 and is likely to be strong again this year. (Compare that to US presidential elections, which peaked at 57% in 2012.)
In short: The American founding fathers' ideal of a balance of power between competing factions is more fully realized in Iran than in today's USA, where the two major parties have a monopoly on the political process while offering voters a choice almost as meaningful as “Coke or Pepsi?”
Iran's revolutionary democratic experiment has undoubtedly fallen short of utopian expectations. That is the way of all revolutions. But it does have some significant achievements under its belt.
Its first and foremost achievement is that it has survived the ceaseless attempts of the world's most powerful empire to destroy it. Like Fidel Castro, who survived hundreds of CIA assassination attempts, Iran's Islamic Revolution has spent most of its life dodging American bullets. But unlike Castro's Cuba, the Islamic Republic of Iran has managed to remain reasonably democratic and deeply pluralistic in the face of continuous threats and attacks.
The US tried to “strangle the Islamic Revolution in its cradle” by arming Saddam Hussein and sending him to invade Iran in 1980. Rumsfeld and other US leaders helped Saddam acquire chemical weapons, which he used in terror attacks against Iranian cities as well as against troops on the battlefield. (The joke goes that in 2003, when asked how he knew that Saddam had WMD, Rumsfeld answered, “Because we kept the receipts!”)
The Iran-Iraq war ended in a stalemate in 1988 – Iran would have easily won had it not been for the heavy US-orchestrated Western support for Saddam, including WMD – but Iranians have not forgotten the experience, and their votes have repeatedly elected war heroes and veterans to public office. One of the results of the war, and the subsequent US-led anti-Iran “cold war,” has been the determination of the Iranian people to maintain and assert their independence. That is why Iran's nuclear program has the support of the vast majority of its citizens, including reformists, who want their government to assert its legitimate rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to have a full-fledged, independent nuclear energy program including uranium enrichment, as explicitly permitted by the NPT.
While defending itself against serious outside threats, Iran's revolutionary Islamic Republic has managed a number of impressive social, economic, and technical achievements. Though the Western media has portrayed the Islamic Republic as a medieval theocracy, in alleged contrast to the “modernizing” Shah, the facts are otherwise. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran has:
*Ended child labor.
*Raised life expectancy from 55 to 73 years.
*Provided universal free public education through the end of high school.
*Vastly increased women's education, which lagged far behind men's under the Shah, to the point that today women dominate Iran's universities and publish more than 4,000 books per year.
*Become the second biggest refugee recipient nation in the world, according to the UNHRC.
*Become the largest automobile manufacturer in the Middle East.
*Developed an impressive space program, launching satellites with pulsed plasma thrusters and solar panels.
*Maintained relative harmony between ethnic and religious groups, despite the tremendous diversity, and despite heavily-funded foreign efforts to incite ethnic and sectarian strife.
*Provided more significant aid to the Palestinians, in their struggle to resist occupation, than any other country – which is probably the main reason that the US media and political class, both largely owned and operated by supporters of Israel, are awash in anti-Iran extremism.
It is safe to say that the vast majority of Iran's voters are proud of the progress their nation has made since the revolution of 1979, and determined to maintain Iran's independence (including nuclear rights under the NPT and support for the Palestinians) in the face of foreign bullying. But opinions differ regarding how to best achieve those objectives. In the next article in this series, I will examine some of the issues and candidates in the upcoming June 14th elections.
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(1) Turkey's democracy has not yet fully emerged out of the shadow of its military junta, which is controlled by the US, NATO, and Israel; it is still a partially colonized nation and as such is by definition non-democratic. As for Israel, it is not a Middle Eastern democracy because (1) it is not Middle Eastern, but a European settler colony, and (2) it is not a democracy, since the majority of its rightful voters are not only ineligible to vote, but have actually been ethnically cleansed and confined to de facto concentration camps.
(2) Western media allegations of Iranian election fraud in 2009 were almost hallucinatory in their complete lack of basis in any kind of evidence, as Flynt and Hillary Leverett explain in great detail in their book Going to Tehran.