Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Rights of Man...and Woman

Andrew Sullivan links to an interesting column in the Times Online by Danny Finkelstein. Why Finkelstein associates his values with Neoconservatism I don't know; I associate it with indiscriminate aerial bombardment. Nevertheless, I agree with much of what he says here:

For years we have been told, we neocons, that other cultures don't want our liberty, our American freedom. Yankee go home! But it isn't true. Because millions of Iranians do want it. Yes, they want their sovereignty, and demand respect for their nation and its great history. No, they don't want foreign interference and manipulation. But they still insist upon their rights and their freedom. They know that liberty isn't American or British. It is Iranian, it is human.

This idea that the critics of neocons advanced so vociferously, that liberal democracy can't be “transplanted” on alien soil - what does it mean to the people of Iran who have thronged the streets to express their will?

Does it mean that we think the morality police is just part of Iranian culture? Just their way of doing things? For the thousands of protesters it is not. It turns out that they don't think it's right for young girls to be arrested, snatched from the streets for wearing the wrong coat. And they don't think there is a cultural defence to beating these girls until their parents arrive with a “decent” garment.

They don't think that public hangings are Iranian, either. Nor arbitrary detentions of doctors who dared to organise conferences on Aids, nor keeping human rights activists in solitary confinement, nor sentencing trade union leaders to five years in jail for trying to organise fellow workers. They don't think there is anything culturally valuable in sentencing political activists to death after secret trials lasting less than five minutes, or returning lawyers to jail again and again for opposing the death penalty or “publishing insulting material with unacceptable interpretation of Islamic rules”.

It is not part of their precious heritage that someone be charged with a capital offence for circulating a petition on women's rights. Nor that nine-year-old girls should be eligible for the death penalty, and children hanged for their crimes. There is no special Iranian will, even given their religious conservatism, that students should be flogged in public for being flirtatious, and homosexuals hanged in the streets.

The protests for Mr Mousavi do not just expose the lie of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's landslide victory. They expose the lie that there is something Western in wanting democracy and human rights. [The best line!--SM]

And what of the other leg of the neocon argument? What of the idea that peace comes through the spread of liberalism and democracy? Can anyone really doubt that should the reformists succeed, even a little bit, the world would be a safer place? A democratic Iran would stop financing world terrorist movements, it would stop obsessing about external enemies and foreign conspiracies, it would stop threatening its neighbours. It would still oppose Israeli policy, it would still want to acquire nuclear material, but the threat of violence would recede.

The mistake the neocons made is that we were not conservative enough, not patient enough. Such impatience with dictatorships is understandable, indeed laudable. But the frustrating truth is that there are limits to what can be achieved by outsiders. Instead we have to wait as national movements, one by one, stand up for their rights. And sometimes, tragically, we even have to stand aside as those movements are crushed by their oppressors.

Comments welcome.


  1. I find this absolutely hilarious. When trying to a think of a title for a piece on the history of Neocon ideology, the one that came immediately to mind was "They Hate Our Freedom: What Makes Neocons Tick". The Neoconservative movement has, throughout its history, conducted the most systematically aggressive assault on the ideas of freedom and democracy since the Communist movement. So much so, that it is logical to consider the one to be the direct successor of the latter. Nobody was more determined to use specious and absurd arguments to support dictatorships than the Neocons. The idea that it was "liberalism" that enabled brutal regimes in Saudi Arabia(the Neocons' best chum)and Iran to survive is so an insult to our intelligence. The arguments that the author claims to despise are the very ones that Neocons invoked time after time.

  2. I thought that the hallmarks of the neocon movement were a predeliction for ad hominem attacks and an unswerving belief in their own propaganda, to the exclusion of reality.

  3. Anonymous12:59 am

    Hilarious indeed. A brazen attempt to redefine neoconservatism, and assign to it ownership of the ideals of liberty and democracy. Nice try.

    It also makes me wonder if he similarly lauded the thousands of American protesters who took to the streets in 2003 to protest the Iraq invasion, or those in 2004 who tried to "expose the lie" of W&Dick's victory. Somehow I doubt it...

  4. Indeed, among those who loudly congratulated Amhadinedjad's "victory" as soon as it was announced, were the US Neocons who oppose Barack Obama...