Thursday, June 23, 2005

About not voting (again)

Just a few short days ago, as I was roaming some of my favorite streets and gazing for one last time at the bookstores, the shops and parks I've frequented so often -- angry at myself, and my fellow denizens and our murderous regime and everyone that moved, polluted, or spoke, I kept wondering if this was truly what anyone deserved.

And whether any change (for the better) could ever come about so long as we continue being the self absorbed, petty-spirited habitual delinquents and control freaks we appear to be these days. And this election has made me even angrier and more unsettled.

And it has also exposed our social fault lines for everyone to see and all the false piety as well.

Notice for instance that all the talk about poverty and prostitution has vanished over night. The fear generated among the trendy elite by Mr. Ahmadi Nejad's strong showing has made most of our official "reformists," and many reform minded youth—the ever self pitying "burnt generation," forget their rhetoric.

And what has become painfully apparent is that unabashed, fundamental contempt for the absolute majority of our population. Contempt for who they are. The sort of identical contempt Mr. Hanson points out in the American context so effectively. And our "neo conservatives" have capitalized on it.

The "fascist" social base they are called and close-minded and backward looking and it goes on and on.

The very same people who never tire of haggling over dowries and the latest appliances and gadgets and fashionable clothing and the prices of nose jobs are most quick to poke fun at others who might have been lured into voting for Mr. Karubi for that promise of an extra $60 dollar stipend. The equivalent--in any other society—of a tax cut.

And that amusing spectacle of millions of entitled Mammon worshipers poking fun at other gods.

And all the talk about tolerance, no? So who has been the loudest about Mr. Qalibaf's change of outfit or Ahmadi Nejad's looks and all those posters with young women with makeup and hair visible? Haven't most been clamoring for anything "western" Well, that's what they finally got. And all they managed was that habitual, superficial belittling of everyone and everything in sight.

And yes, we all wanted the senile members of the Guardian Council out of a way for more of a "democratic" reckoning. But there was no end in the domestic media to the humoring of the 1003 disqualified candidates and that especially in the reformist press.

"Nobodies," they kept on calling them. And "zeros" and "midgets," among so many other unsavory insults,

So yes, I fully want to see our youth mingle free of fear in coffee shops and theatres and in all other social settings. And I want the trendy Iranian women to feel fully secure and guaranteed to spend as much of the GDP as they please on those fake nails and the blond highlights and the tattooed lips, eyebrows and their tulip colored toenails.

But must they feel so superior and condescending when faced with that same desire for security and safety among the absolute majority of our population?

That is the meaning of the rhetoric about the existence of 4-7 million drug addicts under the Islamic Regime, don't you think? Suppose each one comes into contact with 5 other people? Do the math and factor in the subsequent violence and criminality and now try to understand why there is such a clamor for "law and order" among the working poor.

So, sure we've wanted transparency! But, when was the last time we encountered the "democracy loving" merchants or businesspeople conducting their affairs transparently? Even those on the outside. Have any of the expat TV stations ever divulged the sources of their income? Or have any of the many political organizations based in Europe or the States?

Or did Zeitoon ever finally share her "dark" secret with the man she wants to share the rest of her life with? Does my physician ever try to explain anything? Or the local pharmacist? Will any of the rest of us ever? And Zeitoon at least had the integrity to grapple with the ethics of her choices publicly.

So you see, the relationship between culture and politics has become terribly murky for me.

But one thing is for certain. Our society is a highly fragmented one and divided along class lines, and ideological visions.

You can see it in the results of the first round. There are no reliable statistics about Iran's income and wealth distribution. But we have all seen the 20% number thrown around. For a society of 70 millions, that’s the numbers who control most of the wealth and income and do most of the consumption. Correlate the numbers with those who've voted for Rafsanjani and the two other reformist candidates (excluding Mr. Karrubi) and the boycotting contingent.

There you have the background, the rich and the rich wannabe. It won't make their choices wrong, of course. Just puts things in perspective. Are their interests necessarily identical with those of our other citizens?

And to finally answer your question Ali M, were there voting irregularities? Of course! And there'll be some more in this round. We don't need solid proof, ever. Is there any aspect of life in Iran today that isn't irregular? Any rules we don't habitually break? Any conduct that doesn't involve cheating, and twisting or tweaking procedures? Big and small?

But we would be fooling ourselves if we continued thinking there is not a solid constituency in Iran today for a particular vision of a more distinctly nativist alternative to life as it actually exists today. A desire for an alternative which is manifesting-- albeit in a twisted form, in the support for the program put forth by Mr. Ahmadi Nejad.

Security, justice, piety and fairness. And a measure of respect and visibility for the invisible millions.

And frankly, I have yet to see a single loser in Iran, be it a game of backgammon, football or any other contest in life admit even once that they've lost without crying fowl. No one assumes responsibly for much of anything these days. It is always someone else's fault. And it's only when things don't go our way that we clamor about the unfairness of it all.

And there is such a twisted relationship with the real these days as well that I don't even trust my own perceptions anymore let alone those of others. That said, the fact remains that the reform movement, while successful in bringing a measure of comfort to many millions, has also made the lives of many more millions a living hell and now this latter group appears in the embryonic stages of an uproar. All indications point, for me anyways, to a large turnout.

And to answer your question TE, I am not voting because I won't be happy with myself if I did. That too is a cultural revolt for me.

My decision has nothing immediately to do with any political campaign to boycott. We Iranians, I have concluded, are a bunch of hypercritical perfectionists who somehow always end up settling for the grotesque.

In politics as in our personal lives. And as we've come to make one bad decision after another, we have forgotten about the need for actually thinking—genuinely I mean—thinking, and evaluating and grappling with our personal decisions and choices.

Look, we have really become mostly a people with little passion for much of anything unless it also involves telling others what to do in order to avoid thinking about what we have done. And we constantly flutter about from one fashionable in thing on to another and perpetually ride any and all available waves-- in no particular direction and quite unhappily.

And we do all this--even the most insignificant ones—while quite loud in telling everyone that ours is the only way to be, and there'll be dire consequences of world historic proportions in acting otherwise—and that with a quintessentially condescending Iranian tone, of course.

Doing the right thing, for me, has become doing what I should in the spheres over which I can exercise full control. In essence, I do not have much control now over this Islamic regime, international relations and the entire insider planning, and the wheeling and dealings that are part and parcel of global political life. Not immediately anyways.

But my own two hands and feet I can control fully most of the time.

So no, I won't be voting just because I'd be terribly unhappy with myself if I did. Really TE, there is no escaping the Iranian within ever, I've concluded. We are, finally, what we are. The only thing I can do now is to avoid becoming any more of a brooder than I already am.

Simple as that.

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