Shocking silence

In Iran, a grass-roots, student-run, anti-theocracy movement has reached critical mass. So why doesn't the U.S. left care more about it?

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Something truly extraordinary has been going on in Iran these past few months and especially in the past couple of weeks. A grass-roots, student-run, anti-theocracy movement has reached some sort of critical mass. The enemy is the religious right of Iran, the group of murderous mullahs who have run their country into the ground and now have to answer for their godly tyranny to a new and populous generation of under-30s. Suddenly, we have the possibility of regime change in a critical country without war and without the intervention of the United States.

You’d think that this would be the central story on the left in this country. As blogger Don Watkins explained: “Here are a bunch of brave souls fighting a tyrannical regime through the old liberal favorite of massive protests. Here’s the chance for them to get behind the cause of freedom without having to support war.”

So take a look at Indymedia, one of the activist left’s prime Internet Web sites. Blogger Meryl Yourish did. What did she find on the armed struggle against theocracy? Nada. Zilch. The top stories on San Francisco’s Indymedia site were as follows: “Rally & March Against War in Iraq, Philippines & the INS; Anti-war Movement Audio Retrospective — The Struggle Against Empire; Thousands at punk rock heroine Patti Smith anti-war benefit; Beat Generation Bookstore’s 50th Anniversary Draws Huge Crowd.”

Meanwhile, there’s a story to be told:

“It has become almost routine for us to go out at night, chant slogans, get beaten, lose some of our friends, see our sisters beaten, and then return home. Each night we set to the streets only to be swept away the next dawn by agents of the regime. Two nights ago, on Amirabad Street, we wrote ‘Down with Khomeini’ on the ground. Before long, the mullah’s vigilantes attacked us on their motorcycles. They struck a female student before my eyes so harshly that she was no longer able to walk. As she fell to the ground, four members of Ansaar-e-Hezbollah surrounded her, kicking her. When I and two other students threw stones at them so that they would leave her alone, they threatened us. We escaped into a lane and hid in a house whose owner, an old lady, had left the door open for us. A few minutes later, we saw the young lady being carried away by riot police, her feet dragging on the ground, her shattered teeth hanging out of her still-bleeding mouth. At least three of my best friends have been detained; nobody knows anything about their fate.”



Where did this piece appear? The National Review, of course. In fact, the most comprehensive coverage of the nascent Iranian revolution has been on the right. Much of the antiwar left has sadly long since stopped caring about the actual freedom of people under oppressive regimes, except, of course, if their plight is a way to blame or excoriate the United States. The antiwar left’s blindness toward the evil of Saddam is now compounded by its refusal to grapple with the next great part of the struggle against Islamo-fascism.

Check out some of the more mainstream publications of the left: The Nation’s home page has nothing — nothing — about Iran on it. Search for Iran on its Web site and you get more results still gloating over the Iran-Contra scandal than anything that’s going on in Iran today. “What Liberal Media?” blogger Eric Alterman has said nothing as the story has unfolded. This magazine has been a little better — but not by much. The Boston Globe editorialized — but mainly against what it sees as counterproductive American support for the dissidents. The New York Times has covered the news but has yet to put its full weight behind the story. The BBC, to its credit, has provided several excellent reports.

The question is: Why? Could anyone on the left actually sympathize with the sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic theocrats in Tehran? Of course not. But it seems that many of them hate the American right more than they hate foreign tyranny. A revolution in Iran might serve to cast a better light on President Bush’s Middle East policy — and that’s so terrible a possibility that some leftists simply prefer to look the other way. Lefty blogger Matthew Yglesias let it slip that “these stories about the Iranian student movement have been so relentless hyped on rightwing sites that I think we on the left have been shying away from the story.” That’s an excuse? Mercifully for Yglesias, it isn’t.

If you want to understand better why the American left has been losing every debate it has joined recently, you could do worse than observe its indifference to the fight for freedom in Iran. The position reeks of myopia, self-regard and opportunism. Those qualities are not political winners, and they don’t deserve to be. Until the left attends to its principles as meticulously as it attends to its resentments, it will lose the battle for ideas for good. There’s still time to reverse this — and help the cause of human freedom as well. Let’s hope the left comes to its senses before the revolution is over.

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Salon columnist Andrew Sullivan's commentary appears daily on his own andrewsullivan.com Web site.

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