To hell with the Iranian protesters!

Iranian liberals are always whining that there isn’t enough “democracy” in their country.  Then, when they lose an election–by a wide margin–they throw temper tantrums and take to the streets for protest and vandalism.  “The vote must have been rigged,” they say.  “Nobody I know voted for Ahmadinejad.”  I remember when Khatami won in 97, and we all heard that “the people had spoken”, that they had definitively rejected the “theocracy”, embraced “freedom”, blaw blaw blaw.  And when the people voted in Ahmadinejad in 2005 and 2009, did the people definitively embrace “theocracy”?  I never heard this claim made.  It seems that the voice of the people is only the voice of the people when it says what the liberals want it to.

As it turns out, the electoral situation is not hard to understand.  In a nationwide opinion survey carried out by foreigners and reported here, Ahmadinejad beat Mousavi by a 2-to-1 margin, greater than his actual election lead claimed by the regime.  Further, Ahmadinejad carried every demographic except–mark this–university students and the very wealthy.  All of the data point to a split in the population much different from the one imagined by Western media.  On the one side, there is the rural population and the urban poor, the unprivileged majority of pious Shi’ites and patriotic Iranians.  This side is championed by the clerical “conservatives”.  One the other side, there is the privileged class:  intellectuals, journalists, university students, and wealthy capitalists.  Through education and global commerce, this class has largely lost touch with its cultural roots and embraced Western ideals.  This is the party of the “moderates”.  It bears a more than passing resemblance to the Anglophilic philosophes of eighteenth-century France.  Mousavi’s most prominent supporter, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is reputedly the richest man in Iran, and may well be as corrupt as Ahmadinejad claims he is.

But if the conservatives really are more popular than the moderates, how did we Westerners get the idea into our heads that the moderates are overwhelmingly popular, and that the Iranians want to be just like us?  Partly, it’s the usual radical practice, identified by Tocqueville, of imputing one’s own beliefs to the populace at large whenever its beliefs are not precisely known.  Then, there’s another factor, identified by George Friedman here, is that few Western journalists speak Farsi, and “moderates” are much more likely than their opponents to speak English.  Thus, we’ve been hearing only one side of the story for years.  In fact, Friedman makes the case that we’ve been misunderstanding Iran since before the 1979 revolution.

So, what should the United States do to help the dissidents?

Nothing.  It’s none of our God-damned business!

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