Most of Western media, leftist politicians, and feminist organizations have been largely silent on the recent protests in Iran. Sadly, this was to be expected.
Iran has seen the biggest protests since 2009. What started out as demonstrations by provincial and working-class Iranians focused on economic issues have broadened into something much larger, more focused on the culture, and which have taken in students and more affluent members of Iranian society.
Protestors have been heard shouting “We don’t want an Islamic Republic,” “Death to the Revolutionary Guard,” and “No to reformers and conservatives alike.”
One would expect the GOP to be supportive of these protests, which they have been, with President Trump tweeting in support of the demonstrators. What is noticeable is the silence from large parts of the media, and most of the Western political establishment, particularly from the Left. One could explain away the reticence of those on the Right of the political spectrum where the protestors are concerned. After all, why give the theocrats more ammunition for their claims that the whole thing is an American/Zionist conspiracy designed to overthrow them, thus providing further justification in their eyes for the continuation of their fatal repressive measures?
The silence from the Left appears to be baffling, however. After all, isn’t the Left in favor of internationalism, of solidarity with the world’s workers and other oppressed people struggling against the stomping boot of tyranny? Aren’t they meant to take a stand on these things, grounded as they are in their principles of freedom and egalitarianism? One would think and hope that this would be the case.
The coverage of the protests during their early stages from the liberal media was noticeable by its absence. CNN ignored it, as did The New York Times. Later, they ran stories which seemed to suggest that most of the protests were pro-government against small numbers of pro-liberty protestors. This was untrue; there were and are pro-government protests, but to pretend that the pro-liberty side were and are small in number suggests a willful blindness. Indeed, HuffPost spewed forth pieces that could have been written by the Ayatollah’s own press team, designed to smear and shame the pro-liberty protestors. While the coverage has since changed its tone, the amount has been absolutely pitiful.
This is arguably one of the great political events in this region for years, one that could fall out in all sorts of way now and in the future, in ways that we can’t even pretend to see. And yet, you wouldn’t know this from our media. The protests have already dropped from view in the UK, to be replaced in the liberal media by Leftist screeching over the appointment of conservative Toby Young to the head of the Office for Students.
There has been no visible support for the workers of Iran forthcoming from Western trade unions or other worker solidarity movements, much less from political entities like the British Labour Party. While they supposed comrades are dying on the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities in the pursuit of goals those in the West fought for 100 years ago, their erstwhile Western allies are happy to sit in their well-appointed offices and accrue to themselves power and influence, feeling morally self-righteous all the while.
I never expected any support from Jeremy Corbyn. This is the man, after all, who was paid £20,000 to appear on an Iranian state TV station that was complicit in the torture of a journalist, which it filmed. He appeared on the Iranian Press TV five times from 2009 to 2012, and his final appearance was five months after the channel’s broadcasting license was revoked in the UK for the aforementioned filmed torture.
Likewise, when footage and pictures emerged of female pro-liberty protestors removing their hijab headscarves as acts of pro-freedom defiance in the teeth of a regime that was killing people around them for daring to resist the forces of theocracy, not one notable feminist organization in the West raised their voice in support. Organizations like NOW and other organizations in the U.S. and the UK were conspicuous by their silence. I don’t know why we expected any different, though. Why should we, when Linda Sarsour led the women’s march after President Trump’s inauguration, when the feminist movement has embraced her?
Why should we expect any different, when for decades Western feminists suddenly came over all parochial and refused to condemn female genital mutilation in the third world on principal, and have utterly failed to make any discernible difference to the lives of millions of women in majority-Muslim countries? Why should we be surprised when women like Ayaan Hirsi-Ali, Maryam Namazie and Asra Nomani are all abandoned and even pilloried by their Western sisters?
What is the cause of this? Given that Iran hanged 1,314 people from ‘09-12, and killed three gay men for being gay, and executes Sunni and Kurdish prisoners for their “corruption,” why are those like Corbyn so silent? The answer is guilt, self-contempt and resentment at the West itself. As the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner argues in The Tears of the White Man: Compassion as Contempt and The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism, Western political and intellectual Leftists for decades took a ‘Third Worldist’ view of the world, which evolved into the anti-globalization ideology we see today.
Third Worldism’s adherents looked for a new and superior revolutionary society to emerge from anti-colonial movements in the poorest regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America: the “Third World.” Bruckner shows how Western Leftists held – and still hold – a distorted, sentimentalized and exoticized view of the inhabitants of what is now the “Global South.” These are not human beings; they are avatars for the redemption of Western society, the last great hope for overthrowing the oppressive forces that Western Leftists have always campaigned against.
Corbyn and his peers occupy this space. They see oppressive regimes like that of Iran as anti-imperialist bulwarks against the more oppressive Western hegemony and globalization over the rest of the world, the brown skinned masses, for that is what they are reduced to by this worldview. People in exotic parts of the world were (and are) deemed to be spiritually nobler than people near them, displaying what Roger Scruton calls Oikophobia: immune to greed, selfless, intuitive rather than analytic. In short, the oppressed people of the world are materially poor but morally wealthy, to paraphrase Paul Berman.
The Noble Savage has been resurrected, through a prism of Marxism and racial struggle.
It is ironic that Western Leftists seem not to notice their replication of the worst prejudices of the old European imperialists, except in a version that pretends to admire instead of disdain. Many Corbynite Leftists picture themselves as the enemies of racism, but somehow they have ended up as racists. Their compassion masks contempt: for the oppressed, for the oppressors, and themselves.
The repentance of Third Worldism, an ideology that ended with the Cold War but whose tendrils have infiltrated modern Leftist thought, has hardened and combined with Marxism into the ostentatious dogmatism that we see today. This dogma in turn gives its adherents pleasure: the pleasure of self-hatred. This self-hatred manifests in expounding a utopian theory about the superior and transcendent virtues of the populations who inhabit the Global South. Corbyn and others like him, who hate themselves because of the crimes of the European past, can wallow in the satisfaction of imagining superior societies reborn from the ashes of European domination and now resist modern Western imperialism.
This is why Corbyn supports the Iranian government; it is anti-West, as he is, and therefore an ally in the great struggle whose form has simply metamorphosed since 1989.
This hardened dogma, which its adherents depend on for spiritual sustenance and meaning, brooks no dissent. Women like Ayaan Hirsi-Ali, Maryam Namazie and Asra Nomani have committed the ultimate sin of thinking for themselves, and breaking the narrative that modern leftism has built for them. This is arguably why they’re subject to such withering attacks from those who claim to support people like them. This twisted logic also explains why Sarsour is a feminist heroine; after all, she is an “authentic” Muslim who argues for Islamic feminism and resists the white male Western neo-liberal patriarchy.
Similarly, those brave enough to stand against the iron fist of the Iranian theocratic state are breaking ranks with the narrative. They are meant to support the Iranian government in its glorious resistance against Western hegemony. Instead, they are traitors to the cause, who argue for freedom that stems from a debased intellectual currency. They should not expect help from people like Jeremy Corbyn, or the modern British Labour Party, or from much of the modern Left. They have been abandoned to face the guns alone.
The modern Left should hang its head in shame. But it won’t. As ever, it is too committed to the good old cause to care.
Henry George is a writer based in the United Kingdom.