I think Yglesias makes a point in this post that could also be directed at the Euston Manifesto folks. The latter tend to treat left-wing rhetoric as though it were issued into a vacuum, free of any particular political context. I’ve complained about this before.
Update: Many thanks to Norm for his comments.
Let me try to clarify, since this was an awfully brief post. I’m not trying to say that we ought to refrain from all criticism of Iran simply because the Bush administration would love the chance to attack it. And I’m also (obviously?) not trying to say that we should limit our criticisms to our own governments. As a Canadian living the States, I’ve been both very critical of the U.S. government, and also of a lot of other countries (including Iran) in the course of my blogging. And rightly so.
Rather, I meant to make the modest point that context really does matter sometimes. It does matter that the U.S. would love a war with Iran now, that if war gets closer there will be a mounting propaganda campaign to highlight abuses in Iran, that the abuses will be cited as reasons in favour of war. In such a political context, statements about the badness of the regime in Iran will tend to play a role in political discourse that they would not otherwise play.
Now, Norm points out that they needn’t play that role. He’s right. Part of my point was simply that a responsible critic will want to be careful about this.
So if you want to slag Iran, by all means, go ahead. In case anyone is wondering what a secular, atheist, hedonist, feminist like myself thinks of Iran, well, I think it sounds like a horrifying place to live. From the start the regime has been bent on imposing a lifestyle which is, I think, objectively inferior to the one I prefer. It is as a feminist that I find the set of values imposed especially revolting. And anyway, even if the values imposed were reasonable, the manner in which they’re imposed on Iranian citizens seems to me to treat adults as if they were children.
Fair enough. So slag away, with no more than a gentle reminder from me about the political context in which you’re doing it. Let me just insist a bit more firmly on a distinct point, and one which I was really aiming at the Euston Manifesto folks. Remember that lots of people (especially on the left) will be nervous about the possibility of a war with Iran, and they will be especially sensitive to the kinds of considerations I mentioned above about political context. They have good reason to be sensitive, especially after the cynical use the Bush administration made of humanitarian concerns about Iraq. If war with Iran becomes more likely, they may reasonably consider that their hands are already full trying to prevent the war – too full to go on and on about the wretchedness of the regime. If you actually want to understand, engage with, and learn from these people, you’ll do well to consider that their silence or relative silence on the barbarities of the Iranian regime stems from these sorts of reasonable anxieties, rather than from indifference, parochialism, anti-American hysteria, self-hatred, or moral relativism.
I aimed this point at the EM folks not because I wanted them to stop talking about evil regimes that the U.S. also considers evil so much as that I think that as a group they tend to systematically misinterpret a lot of left wing discourse. They’ve done this repeatedly in the case of the debate over Iraq, so I thought it would be nice to avoid it if we’re going to have a debate over Iran. That’s really the point I was trying to make: I’ve nothing against slagging Iran. It’s all the inevitable pissing and moaning about how evil [edited: large parts of] the rest of the left is for not joining in that gets my back up.
Hope that’s clearer that what I originally wrote.
Howls of outrage (6)