Taken for granted

12 07 2009

I am deeply disappointed with my countrymen. It seems that interest in liberty can be extinguished by the passing of time and an abundance of cheap entertainment. The American people have turned their collective backs on the sacrifices of their ancestors. The men who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor would weep with shame at the self-indulgent parasites their descendants have become.

Liberty in this country is taken for granted. With a few noteworthy exceptions, none of the people living in the US today have had to exert the slightest effort to enjoy the blessings of liberty. They take their basic freedoms for granted, and ignorantly assume that the same happy state of affairs is the natural state of humanity. When they are inevitably exposed to the harsh realities of life in much of the world, Americans may write a few letters to Congress or send a few dollars to some charity or another and consider that they’ve done their part … until something more interesting is on TV.

Those to whom liberty is anathema have come to count on America’s miniscule attention span. Despite the extravagant way the last administration expended American goodwill, much of the world looks to the United States for leadership. The fact that the American people will reliably lose interest in anything in a matter of hours means that the enemies of liberty need only wait until the next television extravaganza to continue committing atrocities. The tyrants of the world will be very careful to keep their excesses out of view of the American imbeciles as much as possible. They will also take great pains to avoid directly threatening or attacking the US. We may be jaded, overweight dullards, but our patience and willful ignorance has limits.

Sadly, the villains ruling Iran have not yet grown so stupid as to push Americans beyond those limits. The government there has expended enormous resources trying to shut down the flow of information out of the country- to the point of making journalists, politicians, and anyone else who might become a threat just disappear. Possession of a cell phone or computer is not illegal in Iran, but those who own such devices risk arrest, beating, and death at the hands of the Basij.

Despite the vicious crackdown on all forms of dissent or protest, the streets of Tehran were filled with protesters again yesterday. In a sign that the protesters are growing increasingly annoyed with the Basij, more and more protesters are openly confronting them in the streets. Protesters make a point of taking pictures of Basij, then posting them online for others to help identify them. There is a growing dossier of Basij available online, with home addresses and photos. Whenever the government shuts the websites down, new ones pop up- often hosted on foreign servers and protected by Americans and Europeans who object to the Iranian government’s tyranny. Government websites doing the same thing for protesters are identified almost as quickly as they appear, and just as quickly shut down by foreign hackers.

A worrying sign for the government is the fact that businesses and the large merchant class in Iran is beginning to side with the protesters. Passive strikes- where the shops are open but not selling anything, and shoppers are present but not buying- are one way of getting around government prohibitions against public gatherings. Shopkeepers close their shops during protests, but allow injured or hunted protesters to take shelter within. The extensive middle class in Iran is sending more and more of their money to overseas banks, further robbing the government of desperately needed funds.

In their increasingly frantic attempts to shore up their position, Khameni and Ahmadinejad are destroying their own legitimacy, and the legitimacy of the Islamic Revolution. The protesters originally did not want to throw out the Islamic Republic. They wanted the government to follow the rules. When Khameni started taking the position that any dissent was equivalent to apostasy, he undermined the very heart of the Revolution. One of the core principles of Shi’a Islam is the requirement to protest apparent injustice. By declaring dissent a mortal sin, Khameni is violating one of the most cherished tenets of the religion he professes to protect. This declaration puts Khameni in company with the Sunni rulers of Saudi Arabia, and definitely against the principle of the Revolution.

Despite the chaos and violence in the streets, the future of Iran will probably be decided in the Holy City of Qom. Many powerful men- all survivors of the Revolution- are watching the antics of the Supreme Leader and feeling the winds of change blow about them. If they support Khameni, they are becoming the same as the Sunni rulers of the old Caliphate. This would almost certainly mean another Revolution, sooner or later, where the clerics would lose all of their power and privileges.  If they support the protesters, they risk losing some of their power and privileges, but will retain enough.

The big question is how many of the supposedly Holy men have grown accustomed to the economic benefits of being on top. Rafsanjani may be a Grand Ayatollah, but he is first and foremost concerned with his business empire. So long as he retains that, he probably wouldn’t mind much if his political power were diminished. Many of the senior clerics are in similar situations. Many of these men are possible supporters of the current unrest.

Some of the clerics- including the universally revered Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Iraq- are philosophically opposed to clerics having political power. Many of these clerics are also likely to support the protesters.

For the sake of an entire generation in Iran, let us hope the changes which will inevitably result from the unrest (sooner or later) are in the form of a step forward, and not a backslide into barbarism. That would lead to problems far outside Iran.

Not that the bulk of the US population would even notice.

Current status: Alert

Current music: Hazy Shade of Winter by the Bangles

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I Apologize to the Gnats

5 07 2009

I recently commented that Americans have a gnat-like attention span. I am forced to admit that this was an unwarranted slur against gnats and an undeserved accolade to the American public.

All it takes to get the People’s teensy little minds off something important is flashing a shiny bauble in front of their collective eyes. “Pay no attention to the important events going on over there! We have round-the-clock coverage of the life and miracles of aging pop stars! Ooooh! Shiny!

Bah! It is a deliberate insult to those who risked so much and fought so hard for Americans to have the blessings of liberty that their descendants are so easily distracted from the plight of others who are seeking those same blessings. Despite the fact that past US policy makes direct involvement in Iran a practical impossibility, the very least we can do for those who are risking their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors in pursuit of freedom is to pay attention.

The very least I can do is to try- however unlikely success may be- to break people in the US out of their self-imposed craniorectal inversions. Like it or not, here comes the news you choose to ignore.

The government of Iran has been growing increasingly repressive in its attempts to shift from an Islamic Republic to an Islamic dictatorship. Thousands of people have been arrested, and at least 20 killed (according to government figures). Outside estimates of the dead range from 35 to well over 100. The death toll cannot be independently verified due to the near-total lockdown within Iran and the widely-reported tendency of government thugs to abscond with the bodies of slain protesters- often taking the bodies out of the hospitals before notification to the families. The fact that government militias have been searching the hospitals for wounded protesters to arrest has forced protesters to set up improvised hospitals in homes.

The government in Iran is still losing the information war, despite their increasingly-frantic efforts to shut down communications into and out of Iran. There have been reports of active measures (DDoS attacks, for example) against websites outside Iran sympathetic to the protesters, prompting Anonymous to issue a Declaration of War. The desperate measures taken by the government to shut down communications within and out of Iran are having significant economic effects, as well. Business needs communications to survive, and the government needs business to be able to pay their bills. Not least of these bills are the hundreds of Basij who are being paid to assault and murder the protesters.

As I reported earlier, many individuals outside Iran have taken it upon themselves to provide electronic support for the protesters. Many people have provided proxies. Still others have signed up for Twitter accounts and set their time zone and location to Tehran. A small minority– including Anonymous- have engaged in active cyber warfare against the Iranian government. Then there are people who provide ongoing updates from within Iran.

Despite the crackdowns on dissent within Iran, the protesters continue to resist. People go to their rooftops at night and shout, “Allahu Ackbar!” (God is great!) as a sign of protest. In response, the supposedly Islamic government sends its Basij thugs to break down doors and beat people. Each instance of violence creates more martyrs. Each martyr becomes the focus for more protests. Forty days after each killing, more protests will flare up for each new martyr. Every crackdown on the mourning cycle only solidifies the resistance to the government.

All of this repression has a political price- even within the Iranian government. More and more Islamic clerics are calling on the Supreme Burrito to step down, with some accusing him of emulating the Shah. That wily and villainous grey eminence in the Holy City of Qom, Rafsanjani, has become ever more vocal in his condemnation of the Supreme Leader. Some of these clerics may in fact be deeply religious men who believe that the government is acting contrary to Islamic Law. Most of them, however, are growing very much aware of the fact that Khameni is destroying the very roots of the Islamic Republic by wiping out public reverence for clerics with political power. In his desperate attempts to maintain his own political power, Khameni is destroying the foundation of that power. He runs the very real risk of undermining the Islamic nature of Iran.

I have no particular problem with that, but it isn’t my country. The people of Iran are proud to be Islamic. The protesters were originally not interested in overthrowing the Islamic Republic, they just wanted the Supreme Leader to follow the rules. Every act of violence against the people of Iran brings the end of the Islamic Republic that much closer, as more and more people grow angry with the repression. The people of Iran are being trained to despise their political and religious leaders, and every single attempt by those leaders to prevent the loss of power makes that loss all the more certain. The price Iran might be forced to pay for the lesson will probably involve the blood of thousands- most of whom will be innocents.

The least we can do is pay attention.

Current status: disgusted

Current music: Black Dog by Led Zeppelin