No matter what happens next, Iranians will have known relief and a great burst of enthusiasm after the results of Friday’s presidential elections were announced, an overwhelming and unexpected majority for 64-year old cleric Hassan Rouhani. Not wanting to risk bloody demonstrations such as the ones following its rigged elections of 2009, the regime played it safe this time, sharing the returns as they came in and waiting for the total countdown before announcing Rouhani as the new president. It’s safe to assume that the Supreme Leader was not dancing in the streets with the exuberant crowds—his preferred candidates came in a very distant second and third. Read more…
The eight years of the Bush Administration caused no end of anguish and contempt in my heart. Nothing, but nothing, is as important to me as freedom. That the most powerful country in the world, mine, would lie its way into taking up arms and deciding of the fate of the Iraqis, that it drew us in the shadowland of the ugliest precedents in history, of deceit, spying, arresting, torturing, hidden agendas, prison camps, made me deeply ashamed and furious.
I hated that I, as one of the people, became an excuse for the inexcusable: all the security programs, the human rights violations, the covert operations, the harassing of journalists were done in my name, for my protection. Rebellion against this situation reminiscent of the worst moments of contemporary history—the Stasis and KGBs of the world and dark memories of the American past—McCarthyism, the Japanese internment camps, the Tuskegee experiment and more—filled me with bitter thoughts.
Yes, terrorism exists and entire societies are at risk. And yes, September 11, 2001, is a date of horror seared on our collective minds, but nothing justified the creeping, day after day, of this lava of suspicion and moral gray areas. We could only watch, appalled, and wait for better days. As a democracy, we knew there was a countdown to the end of the reign of pathetic Bush, evil Cheney and their incredibly nasty flunkies—the Rumsfelds, Roves et al.
So, fast forward to the present administration, to a president we loved and admired and voted for twice. Like those cartoon characters repeatedly banged on the head, we now wake up each morning to new revelations of how the programs of the Bush era have expanded—with improved tools such as drones—the spying is infinitely worse, whistleblowers are threatened, journalists are not allowed to keep their sources or their correspondence private, civil liberties are fast becoming an obsolete concept –our freedoms are trampled in every way. The all-powerful intelligence agencies are intimidating us into accepting that without the massive invasion of our privacy, terrorists running amok will blow up our country tomorrow. (While NRA card-carrying thugs and mass murderers continue killing Americans with total impunity.)
So where do we go from here? We send Bradley Manning to jail for the rest of his life for having leaked to Assange documents showing human rights abuses committed abroad by our military? The CIA, NSA or other alphabet-soup agencies start planning the disappearance of Edward Snowden, the Booz Allen Hamilton contractor who pulled the plug on the NSA spying program on millions of Americans?
Thank you folks, thank you for caring about my safety but I’ll have to say no. The price to pay is far too heavy. If you don’t mind, I’ll keep my privacy. And hope against hope that this too shall pass, that our country remains the land of the free, that we once again become respectful of individuals, of society as a whole, and of other countries.
It may take a while but pushing back is what people do when they’re sick of repression, of governments telling them not only what to do–which is bad enough when unjust rules and laws are in place–but even what to be. Still, it’s nothing short of amazing that brutal leaders, or more subtle ones taking slower steps toward dictatorship, never but never see the writing on the wall. Each and every one follows the same path to self-destruction, drawing absolutely no lesson from a history repeating itself for the millionth time.
Case in point, Turkey and its days of rioting and government reprisal. Tayyip Erdogan, the Islamist Turkish Prime Minister, he with the headscarfed wife, has not yet completely forced the independent, highly educated and self-reliant Turkish women to follow suit but is well on his way there, along with other increasing incursions into people’s lives. But despite the ugly restrictions Islamists impose wherever they make headway, Ataturk’s legacy and the principles of Kemalism are still very much alive seventy-five years after the death of the father of modern, secular Turkey. The creeping authoritarianism of Erdogan and his breed cannot change that. Last week, the legislation curbing the sale and advertising of alcohol infuriated the population. Now, for the last few days, an urban project that involved removing trees in one of the few green spaces in Istanbul gave the population an excuse to vent its accumulated rage by bringing it out by the thousands in Taksim Square, braving violent police retaliation.
When will awful governments learn that it doesn’t work that way, that if you stifle people long enough, they explode into rebellion? At first, Erdogan, chastised by the more moderate President Gul, had to accept that he was facing a potentially dangerous situation and ordered police to stop harassing demonstrators before sending them out in even more violent crackdown. In Istanbul and the other major cities to which protests have spread, some of the people marching in the streets and city squares drank beer, openly and derisively to Erdogan’s health.
Hurray for them, but this battle is far from over. The real victory will be when we can drink alcohol to the health of Islamist leaders in all these countries where they have turned a respectable religion into a retrograde and obscurantist ideology breeding extremism, hatred and violence the world over. Imagine the joy in Tehran when populations, repressed for thirty-four years, can drink alcohol to the health of the Supreme Leader as they send him and his puppets, robes and turbans and all, flying into outer space!