As hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Tehran yesterday in defiance of a government ban on demonstrations, I stumbled across this bizarre public service announcement that Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence produced and broadcast last year to warn of an American conspiracy to nonviolently overthrow the government. In the video, as the New York Times explains:
…animated versions of John McCain and George Soros are shown meeting inside the White House to plot against Iran. The evil genius they confer with is an animated version of Gene Sharp, the political scientist whose theoretical work on nonviolent protest inspired the color revolutions of Eastern Europe.
While I have admittedly not delved deeply into the subject, I have yet to see any evidence that Mir Hussein Mousavi, the opposition candidate for president in Iran, is an American stooge. (There was, however, an interesting article in the Washington Post that questions the argument that the elections were in fact stolen.)
If I was to guess, the video was made and released for several reasons. First, there is no doubt genuine fear over recent U.S. efforts to influence Iran’s domestic affairs – which have been well documented. But, at the same time, it served to discredit homegrown activists who have been working to change the political landscape in Iran.
In his defense of Gene Sharp and others who promote nonviolent strategies and tactics around the world, Stephen Zunes wrote last summer:
Whenever governments are challenged by their own people, they tend to claim that those struggling for freedom and justice are traitors to the nation and agents of foreign enemies. In previous decades, opposition activists challenging U.S.-backed dictatorships in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere were routinely labeled as “communist agents” and “Soviet sympathizers.” … Similarly, opposition activists in Iran, Belarus, Burma, and Zimbabwe have been labeled as “supporters of Western imperialism” and “American agents.”
In reality, the limited amount of financial support provided to opposition groups by the United States and other Western governments in recent years cannot cause a nonviolent liberal democratic revolution to take place any more than the limited Soviet financial and material support for leftist movements in previous decades could cause an armed socialist revolution to take place. As Marxists and others familiar with popular movements have long recognized, revolutions are the result of certain objective conditions. Indeed, no amount of money could force hundreds of thousands of people to leave their jobs, homes, schools, and families to face down heavily armed police and tanks and put their bodies on the line unless they had a sincere motivation to do so.
In “Reckonings,” producer Stephanie Lepp explores how people change, asking listeners to examine their own assumptions about how far they can stretch their empathy.
Recent criticisms calling the founder of nonviolent theory a Cold Warrior are way off the mark. To rightly evaluate him, we need to understand the role he chose for himself.
A six-week strike by teachers has bolstered a movement against proposed austerity measures targeting Lebanon’s dangerously underfunded education system.