Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Police Blotter, Tehran Edition
A lot of people, myself included, were impressed by the Iranian student protests last month that publicly humiliated President Ahmadinejad. The Iranian regime, it seems, was less impressed and has been gradually arresting the student leaders.
Also, an Iranian appeals court upheld a sentence of three years in prison against Delaram Ali, a young woman who took part in a demonstration for women's rights last year. (The ten lashes that had been included in her sentence were dropped.) The demonstration was violently broken up by Iranian police and Ali suffered a broken arm at the time. Five other women involved in the protest have also been sentenced to prison terms. The women had been organizing a petition drive, called One Million Signatures, designed to pressure the Iranian government to change laws that discriminate against women.
The two stories highlight a recurring thought I've been having, that all the crises we're now facing in the Middle East are really just longterm repercussions of the region's (incomplete) post-colonial transition to modernism. Of course, secular education and equal civil rights for women are two cornerstones of any such transition. So the condition of students and women is a barometer of a country's modernism, as much if not more so than their technical expertise or military hardware.
On the other hand, relations between (post-)modern and semi-modern states have greatly changed since the post-colonial era, due mainly to the widespread diffusion of technical expertise and military hardware to semi-modern states. Modernism can no longer be imposed from without at the hands of an occupying power, nor from within at the hands of a crusading national liberator. And with the exception of Turkey, wherever it still manages to resist the reactionary backlash of fundamentalism (Syria and Egypt come to mind), it is through the brutal methods of authoritarian dictators.
Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to offer much hope for Iran's students and women. Or for finding longterm solutions, consistent with the ideals of democracy and equal rights, to the region's conflicts. Pessimistic, I know. But twenty-four year old women getting tossed in jail for demanding a fair shake does that to me.