The world is shocked and captivated. Curious and anxious. Engaged, informed.
And perhaps worried. Perhaps very.
It has been nearly two weeks since the dubiously legitimate electoral results in Iran indicated a decisive victory for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over the primary opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Mousavi, catalyzing protests and demonstrations throughout the Islamic Republic and flooding media outlets with minute-by-minute images and accounts thereof. The situation is complicated, to say the least, by many different factors, making its outcome as difficult to foresee as some of its bloodier depictions might be to behold.
Naturally, neither is commenting on the events a facile task, especially for certain Western leaders. For them, quite obviously, official statements must be devised and delivered with particular delicacy.
Yet among those leaders and their critics, verbal caution is not all that has ensued.
There has also been comparison aplenty.
Though often somewhat exaggerated, critiques of the alleged ‘softness’ of Barack Obama’s response to the situation in Iran have been abundant enough to beg explanation in American media, but European reactions to his careful tone have been largely positive — or at least understanding. In “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad compte ses soutiens à l’étranger,” for example, from Le Monde, the logic of Obama’s guarded reaction seems quite clear: “The American president chose carefully his statements, critiquing the repressive turn in Iran but avoiding overtly contesting the legitimacy of an Iranian leader with whom his administration will have to engage in delicate discussions, in secret or out in the open, in the coming months.” The British prime minister, Gordon Brown, endorsed the American response as well: “President Obama chose his words with great prudence… In Iran, this is not a competition between pro-West and anti-West, rather a competition to reflect the will of the Iranian people.”
Harsher statements, meanwhile, have hailed from France. According to the same article, “In Europe, the most biting commentary against the Iranian president has come from Nicolas Sarkozy… The French president seemed to have definitively cut bridges with Ahmadinejad… ‘The extent of fraud is proportional to the violence of the reaction’ of the Iranian authorities, declared Sarkozy. ‘These elections are detestable news,’ he went on, ‘and the Iranian people deserve otherwise.’” At the same time, Le Monde reports that Ahmedinejad’s ‘victory’ has been warmly received by other national leaders, including Russia's Medvedev and China’s Hu Jintao. Purportedly, Venezuela’s Chavez has also openly applauded it. Adding Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to that roster of endorsements, then, makes for a rather petrifying Dream Team.
Petrol-ifying, even? Indeed.
But wait, all that applause has nothing to do with oil, right? And isn’t the Dream Team backed by stars and stripes?
Moreover, isn’t this not about America? As Obama has explained, echoing Brown’s comment above, it shouldn’t be: “The last thing I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States… We shouldn’t be playing into that.”
Nonetheless, with so much talk of the ‘Obama factor,’ the American press has done that for him.
Back once more to the French press where, in a different article in Le Monde — this one an interview with the president of the Research Institute for Contemporary Iran, a Washington-based think tank of sorts — one finds a most chilling sentiment: “Khamenei has reached a point of no return… If he manages to repress the Iranian people, he will become a military dictator along the lines of Saddam Hussein. He will be the king of a cemetery.”
The Italians, the Germans
Although Italy’s Berlusconi has consistently failed to properly cover up the various forms of ass he has coined for himself of late, he did succeed in speaking out against the violent suppression of Iranian demonstrations. On that note at least, as reported in La Stampa, his sentiments concur with those of Germany’s Angela Merkel: “Merkel defended the Iranian people’s right to free speech, asking the government of Tehran to ‘renounce the use of violence, release the opposers and initiate a recount of the ballots.’” The same article features also Khamenei’s widely reported attacks on British authorities for supposedly allowing mujahideen terrorists to enter Iran from Britain, as well as his accusations that London was engaged in a plot to subvert the Iranian election.
Discourse in Deutschland, while in no way suggesting a level of insincerity or undue restraint in Merkel’s response, has simultaneously remarked on the importance of trade-related concerns in the rapport between Iran and Germany, who “is still – after China — Iran’s second largest trading partner, maintained by long-standing connections,” according to Der Tagesspiegel. As such, while in the past Germany has bent to “US and Israeli pressures to cut back economic ties,” the consideration now, should greater sanctions be called for, is whether “other firms in other countries,” such as Russia, India and Japan, would take advantage of the situation and “fill in the holes” left behind by Germany’s truncation of trade. Moreover, according to Handelsblatt, Iran will be able to play such trade-related chips, regarding the energy sector in particular, with many of Europe’s largest economies.
One more curious twist in all this, and one more sobering note: According to the New York Times, it is software developed by Chinese computer engineers working in the US that has enabled Iranians to obviate state control and transmit images and news to the outside world.
Meanwhile, it is technology developed by Nokia Siemens, of German and Finnish ownership, that has enabled the Iranian government to intercept such transmissions and crack more firmly down.
Yet to be sure, once again, this is not about the West. It is not, intrinsically, about us.
But it’s hard not to sense an exceptional, albeit detached fixation to this moment as we too flock to ephemera online — even YouTube and Facebook — to observe this history. Or to learn, to mourn. Until a dove of peace perhaps calmly Twitters tweets.