After publishing my article “An American in Tehran” in In These Times, one commentator named Danny Postel wrote a critical response from Chicago and brought in a bunch of his friends to support his positions. One of his friends even dismisses my article as “propaganda” and a “sham.”
In a strange move for most publications, the popular Tehran Bureau website, which calls itself “an independent source of news on Iran and the Iranian diaspora” and has a partnership with the American Public Broadcasting Service, republished Postel’s already published response to an article on a completely different site. Postel’s response, which Tehran Bureau editors cleverly titled “Pretzel Logic on the American Left,” is a few hundred words longer than my original piece. One would think it only fair that Tehran Bureau then give me the space to respond, however, after an initial email exchange weeks ago where I asked to be given the chance to defend myself I’m still waiting to hear back. Unfortunately, it seems that few outside Iran are willing to take part in a discussion around the diverse “Green Movement” if it means portraying individual activists as anything other than “Gandhiesque.”
I’m pasting the text of my response which you can also find published below Postel’s response in In These Times here.
Contrary to Danny Postel’s claims, I did not intend to portray the Basij or Ahmadinejad government in a sympathetic light. Rather, my aim was to lend nuance to a complex reality in Iran that has been oversimplified by nearly all media outlets in the United States, from Fox News to commentators like Postel.
Unlike Postel, I do not attempt to make sweeping generalizations about the ideology of a diverse opposition movement that includes Iranians from all walks of life. Nor would I ever attempt to make such generalizations from the other side of the globe. I traveled to Iran to gain a better understanding of what was happening there.
Perhaps from my hometown Chicago, where Postel writes from and which I left years ago — knowing that I couldn’t accurately cover the Middle East without actually being here — I might share his naive assessment of the situation. But the fact is, on the ground in Tehran, I found a reality that doesn’t coincide with Postel’s illusions.
The majority of the opposition activists with whom I spoke seemed to not be as concerned with this idea of “nonviolence” as Postel and his friend from Columbia University. To impose this label upon them is absurd and offensive to those activists who don’t necessarily agree that the only justifiable form of resistance is one of “nonviolence.” Most activists I met were angry and ready to fight. One woman even expressed how she wishes Hezbollah (which she wholeheartedly supports) didn’t have such a close relationship with her government so that she could return to Lebanon with me and be trained in guerrilla warfare to use against the state.
Another activist, who expressed sympathies for the former Shah, told me a story about how her and her friends had to dive on top of a friend from South America during the June 2009 protests to protect him from dozens of raging opposition protesters who attacked him chanting “Basiji” just because of — as she explained it — his darker skin and beard. Such events prove the tremendous diversity in political and tactical strategy among the protesters.
To pretend that there is one ideology that unites the opposition couldn’t be further from the truth. This, along with the massive pro-government rallies since the elections that I pointed out and which Postel conveniently omits in his critique, are exactly why I conclude that what’s happening in Iran is not necessarily the makings of a new revolution.
Last year’s controversial elections have, however, sparked a new wave of political activity in Iran, and because of the sensitivity of the situation my sources all asked to remain anonymous. My article in no way apologizes for the Iranian government’s brutal repression of opposition activists. Postel, on the other hand, apologizing for Mousavi’s role as prime minister in the 1980s, shows the utter hypocrisy of many on the “left” who are no less guilty than the right for trying to prevent a more realistic portrayal of what’s happening in Iran from reaching people in the United States.