Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Janet Albrechtsen, Democracy, Iran, and the joys of imperialistic thinking

(Above: greetings from Frankenberg, Germany).

Good luck to the people of Iran in their current struggle. It won't escape the notice of the average secularist that their problems involve conservative fundamentalist religionists, and that the opposition to these baleful control freaks comes from all kinds of people determined to set their society on a different course.

It goes almost without saying that theocratic societies are the last refuge of the wicked, but fortunately what was once the norm (usually with a monarch at the head of state and church) has been reduced to a few outposts, such as Iran and Vatican City (though the ambivalent status of Israel also can't be overlooked).

It also goes without saying that conservative fundamentalists are usually the first to shed crocodile tears about democracy in other countries, while doing their damnedest to repress dissenting voices or alternative world views in their own.

Not of course that we should simplify Iran's current struggles, which involve many issues, and in which the question of theocracy is certainly not as salient as poverty, the economy and empowering the disempowered.

You can always tell you're in the company of an ideologue when they seek to find in current events something to justify historical revisionism, a re-working of history to suit their cause.

Which is why sadly I have to put my own rampant secularism on hold, but I wonder if others are so restrained? Especially if they see an angle, however far fetched, to burrow away and restore George W. Bush to Valhalla.

Cue Janet Albrechtsen, in Thirst for freedom takes root in dust, as she celebrates the Iranian quest for democracy while working in a few doozies to delight the neo cons:

These are the voices I want school students in the West to hear if only to remind them that democracy is a universal aspiration. Could it be that history will now record George W. Bush more kindly than his critics would prefer? What is happening in Iran cannot be separated from what has happened in Iraq. This year, during provincial elections in Iraq, Iraqis came to polling booths in their millions to vote, by an overwhelming margin, for national, secularist parties. Iraqi security forces - not coalition troops - ensured Iraqis could vote safely and securely. There were no suicide bombers endangering polling stations. People turned up with their children to cast their vote.

Well surely, those who are alive or haven't been displaced and fled the country. But yes, since you ask, actually what is happening in Iran at the moment can be separated from what happened in Iraq, which happened to involve a military invasion by a foreign power on false grounds, which - like most long winded and ill-executed wars - resulted in endless chaos and any number of personal tragedies. Try voting in a democracy when you're dead.

It always amazes me how columnists far from the scene of battle can celebrate death, carnage and destruction for the greater good. But once she's finished using the current troubles in Iran to justify George W. and and his Iraq misadventure, she moves on to even more high and righteous grounds.

As Winston Churchill said, “at the bottom of all the high-sounding tributes paid to democracy is the little man, walking into the little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper. No amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly palliate the overwhelming importance of that point.” Lambasted for speaking about exporting “Western values” to the Muslim world, it turns out the former US president was right to remind us that people, whatever their religion, class or creed, will ultimately seek out and embrace democracy. That yearning, now unfolding in Iran, will one day be written up as one of the finer lessons of history.

Ah Winston Churchill, that fine imperialist, who refused to stand by and watch the dismemberment of the British Empire. Democracy for the whites, but not for those required to tug the forelock to mother England (keep England white being a great ancillary slogan for Churchill). 

As for those pesky Indians and their incessant irritating demands for freedom and independence, Churchill stoutly defied the notion of democracy for these beastly people with their beastly religion (not to mention that beastly Gandhi). But then that's hardly surprising for a military lad accustomed to romping through India, Malakand, the Sudan, Oldham and South Africa as a way of advancing his career. Between ballot boxes and bullets, Churchill often displayed much fondness for the latter.

But enough of Britain and the mess they made of India and Pakistan, what about Iran?

Well these days it's forgotten - though perhaps not so much in Iran - that the British spent much time in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries meddling in Iranian politics, culminating in 1953 when British intelligence joined with its American counterpart in a coup that overthrew Mohammad Mossadeq, the country's popularly elected prime minister, and re-installed the unpopular Shah. 

The rest as they say is history, and might even some day be written up as one of the finer lessons of history, involving gross profiteering and a total disinterest in the general well being of the Iranian people (have we got an oil company deal for you - offer a theoretical minor share of the profits, and then forget to pay).

But enough of all that. However history decides to treat the lesser Bush, let's not coat tail him into a better position by pretending that somehow the events in Iran are to his greater glory. Or else we might have to start to wonder why during his presidency the United States stayed such good chums with Saudi Arabia, one of the most illiberal and illogical mixes of oil, power, money, monarchy, corruption and religious madness running around in the world today. Okay, trim the rhetoric. Let's just settle for calling it one of the least democratic states going around.

Dear lord, pass me the smelling salts, I feel faint. Even when writing on the subject of Iranian democracy - which should be as close to motherhood as sainthood - Albrechtsen manages to sound dim witted, perverse and illogical.

Worse, she's been off in a classroom of German teenagers in the small, picturesque town of Frankenberg, an hour north west of Frankfurt, peddling her views and posing as an average Australian democrat (and I'll bet she told them all about the fierce dangers of activist judges and their stupid pro peoples' rights ways).

Thereby ensuring that at least one classroom of German teenagers will remain misinformed about Australia for years to come ...

(Below: greetings from Frankenberg, Germany, as it was in 1950).

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