Saturday, May 9, 2009

Politics: The Presidential Election

I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to vote in the past presidential election in the United States (yes we can!), and amost unbelievably lucky to have stood on the National Mall on a frigid January morning to see Barack H. Obama sworn into office. I respect him tremendously, and believe he is doing an excellent job particularly with reference to Middle Eastern relations.
Part of the reason why I'm so excited about this upcoming trip is that I will be in Iran for its equally momentous presidential elections. While I'm not sure whether or not I'll be able to vote (my parents seem to think I will be able to register when I get there. As my father put it, "Why not? They haven't even started campaigning yet."), I feel like I will again at least be able to witness another unique moment in history on June 12.


To get ready for this opportunity, a friend of mine recommended a rather lengthly article in April 13th New Yorker magazine, called "Letter from Tehran: Can Iran Change?" by Jon Lee Anderson. I have posted the link below, and invite you to read the article and follow along with my (heavily abridged) additions and reactions to it below. The page and paragraph numbers listed below correspond with those in the online version.

What conclusion have I come to about the elections? Most Iranians, when asked, do not take direct issue with the American people, but with the governance (check out poll results from about a year ago here:
http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/articles/brmiddleeastnafricara/index.php?nid=&id=&lb=brme). With an American president who is open to direct talks, who has made commitments to decrease the United States nuclear arsenal and attempt to work toward general and complete disarmament, and who is attempting to decrease United States military involvement in the region, Iranians should have fewer reasons to elect a leader who takes a hard stance against America. Will voter apathy among more educated classes, who would be a boon for reformists, decrease? Possibly. Forced Islam is taking its toll on society, which from what I've heard from friends and relatives is taking a turn away from morals of chastity, faithfulness, and modesty among youth. All in all, therefore, the election results will probably have a larger impact on social and domestic issues in Iran than on Iranian-American relations considering the current American move toward a d├ętente.

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/04/13/090413fa_fact_anderson


Page 1, Paragraph one: Ahmadinejad is a blogger, too! Here's a link to his blog: http://www.ahmadinejad.ir/. It's interesting to browse, especially the responses from people in different countries.

Page 1, Paragraph six: Interesting that the other major candidate is named Mir-Hossein Mousavi. That's my mother's maiden name. When I brought this up with my mom she couldn't say either way.

Page 1, Paragraph twelve: Lots of my parents' friends and my friends, too, were buzzing about this video. Here it is from youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYkH9J2VBdM. His Farsi at the end wasn't very good, but what a wonderful gesture to reach out to the Iranian community, both as a diaspora in the United States and in Iran. I can't tell you how comforting a message this is compared to the rhetoric of the past eight years.

Page 2, Paragraph two: Especially since researching for USIP, I've found that diplomacy has an incredible number of shifting parts. When I went to an American's for Informed Democracy conference on Iran last summer, the presenters explained how a renewed bout of sanctions would prove Ahmadinejad right in his stand against America, thereby strengthening him politically. It seems like moving too far in either direction presents a great risk.

Page 3, Paragraph one: The fatwa against nuclear weapons is an interesting political ruling that isn't brought up very often. I'm not sure why that is; it seems that diplomats and analysts think religion will be circumnavigated for reasons of national security or aggrandizement. Another point of interest that is not often brought up is that, according to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), non-nuclear weapons states are allowed to build nuclear capacity for peaceful purposes given that these are subject to the same inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency as are the facilities of nuclear weapons states. Although I personally don't think Iran will develop weapons, it wouldn't be the first nation in the Middle East to have them, as Israel is generally assumed to without being party to the NPT. You can see the full text and list of signatories here, by clicking on NPT on the left-hand bar: http://disarmament.un.org/TreatyStatus.nsf.

Page 5, Paragraph eight: I was given an interesting article by Mike at USIP about previous professions of politicians, and although I couldn't find the entire article online, here is a bit of it from The Economist online: http://www.economist.com/daily/chartgallery/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13517524. Normally I wouldn't expect that the mysticism of religion would be so solidly defined in an engineer's mind, but Ahmadijnejad has clearly reconciled the two.

Page 7, Paragraph two: You can see Sara Dowlatabadi's work at her website, here: http://sara-dolatabadi.com/gallery/ordinary-fruits/01.html. I quite like the title, a reference I'm sure to the song "Strange Fruit." Unlike the song, however, I personally find the work to be inadequately emotive considering the horrifying nature of the subject.

Page 7, Paragraph seven: I remember giving speeches on my hearth at age nine about the equality of men and women, and how unfair it was that men should be able to show their hair in public. A funny line from Persepolis echoes this sentiment: "If hair is as stimulating as you say, you should shave your moustache!" (said by Satrapi's father to her teacher after she had gotten in trouble for discrediting a statement about political prisoners). Because I'm small for my age, I didn't wear the veil when I visited at age ten, and I was terrified each time I saw a police officer. The age of nine was chosen because this was the age of Muhammad's youngest wife; in his book No God But God Reza Aslan explains that this was a marriage of convenience to cement her clan's tie to Islam, and the marriage was not consummated until she reached puberty.

If you have comments about something I didn't have room to mention, or reactions to the things I did mention, I'd love for you to post them!

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