Iranian feminists on solidarity between the left in U.S. and Iran
Source Dave Anderson
Date 12/02/22/11:49
Solidarity and Its Discontents
by Raha Iranian Feminist Collective

WHILE BUILDING solidarity between activists in the U.S. and Iran can
be a powerful way of supporting social justice movements in Iran,
progressives and leftists who want to express solidarity with Iranians
are challenged by a complicated geopolitical terrain. The U.S.
government shrilly decries Iran’s nuclear power program and expands a
long-standing sanctions regime on the one hand, and Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes inflammatory proclamations and harshly
suppresses Iranian protesters and dissidents on the other. Solidarity
activists are often caught between a rock and a hard place, and many
choose what they believe are the “lesser evil” politics. In the case
of Iran, this has meant aligning with a repressive state leader under
the guise of “anti-imperialism” and “populism,” or supporting
“targeted” sanctions.

As members of a feminist collective founded in part to support the
massive post-election protests in Iran in 2009, while opposing all
forms of US intervention, we take this opportunity to reflect on the
meaning and practice of transnational solidarity between US-based
activists and sections of Iranian society. In this article, we look at
the remarkable situation in which both protests against and
expressions of support for Ahmadinejad are articulated under the
banner of support for the “Iranian people.” In particular, we examine
the claims of critics of the Iranian regime who have advocated the use
of “targeted sanctions” against human rights violators in the Iranian
government as a method of solidarity. Despite their name, these
sanctions trickle down to punish broader sections of the population.
They also stand as a stunning example of American power and hypocrisy,
since no country dare sanction the US for its illegal wars, torture
practices and program of extrajudicial assassinations. We then assess
the positions of some “anti-imperialist” activists who not only oppose
war and sanctions on Iran but also defend Ahmadinejad as a populist
president expressing the will of the majority of the Iranian people.
In fact, Ahmadinejad’s aggressive neo-liberal economic policies
represent a right-wing attack on living standards and on various
social welfare provisions established after the revolution. And
finally, we offer an alternative notion of and method for building
international solidarity “from below,” one that offers a way out of
“lesser evil” politics and turns the focus away from the state and
onto those movement activists in the streets.

We hope the analysis that follows will provoke much needed discussion
among a broad range of activists, journalists and scholars about how
to rethink a practice of transnational solidarity that does not
homogenize entire populations, cast struggling people outside the US
as perpetual and helpless victims, or perpetuate unequal power
relations between peoples and nations. Acts of solidarity that cross
borders must be based on building relationships with activists in
disparate locations, on an understanding of the different issues and
conditions of struggle various movements face, and on exchanges of
support among grassroots activists rather than governments, with each
group committed to opposing oppression locally as well as globally.

The spectrum of protest

Numerous protests and actions took place over the week of
Ahmadinejad’s UN visit in September 2010, with at least eight activist
groups organizing protests on the day of his General Assembly
address--all claiming to speak in the interests of the Iranian
people. However, despite some commonalities, these voices represented
very different political approaches and agendas. Whether clearly
articulated or not, one major fault line was on the question of the
appropriate US and international role in relation to Iran, especially
on the issues of sanctions and war.

The protests gaining the most media attention were organized by a
newly-formed coalition called Iran180 and by the Mojahedin-e Khalq
(PMOI). Both take a hard line, pro-sanctions position on Iran.
Iran180, launched by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New
York, organized a press conference under the banner “human rights, not
nuclear rights.” The PMOI on the other hand, held a large rally of
reportedly 2000 participants from far and wide. The PMOI is an
organization known for its militant opposition to the Iranian regime
and its anti-democratic, cult-like structure; it has been largely
discredited among Iranians and is also listed as a “terrorist”
organization by the State Department. Speakers included former mayor
Rudy Giuliani, former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton, and British
Tory MP David Amess, all calling for a hard line on Iran and
apparently positioning the PMOI as the legitimate diasporic
alternative to the current Iranian leadership.

By contrast, Where Is My Vote-NY (WIMV), an organization formed to
express solidarity with Iranian protests after the contested election
in 2009. They mobilized around a platform that called for holding
Ahmadinejad accountable but also took an explicit no war and no
sanctions position, making them the only organization to do so. WIMV’s
strong anti-sanctions stance has been controversial among some human
rights activists in the US who have supported sanctions that are
supposed to target individual Iranian human rights violators. Human
Rights Watch and Amnesty International pulled out of a WIMV-organized
protest in September 2009 because they refused to endorse the WIMV
platform. Below we size up the efficacy of “targeted” sanctions that
claim to be in support of the human rights of Iranians.

The record of “targeted” sanctions

From 1990 until 2003, a United States-led United Nations coalition
placed what amounted to crippling financial and trade sanctions on
Iraq in an ostensible effort to weaken Saddam Hussein’s authoritarian
regime. Sanctions, we were told, amounted to a humane way of combating
intransigent authoritarianism around the world while avoiding mass
bloodshed. The results of that strategy should have shattered these
illusions for good. The complete collapse of the Iraqi economy during
thirteen years of sanctions coupled with the inability of ordinary
Iraqi people to access banned items necessary for their day-to-day
survival--such as ambulances and generators--led to over half a
million Iraqi civilian deaths. Furthermore, the sanctions were an
utter failure in their purported primary goal—thwarting the Hussein
regime while avoiding full-scale war. Not only was Hussein not
dislodged by the sanctions, but he also managed to consolidate power
throughout the ‘90s while resorting to increasingly autocratic means
of suppressing dissent. Finally, in March 2003, the United States and
a small “coalition of the willing” began a full-scale military
intervention in Iraq, which has shredded the fabric of Iraqi society
and left a network of permanent US military bases--and Western oil

Despite the benefit of this hindsight, we are being told again to
trust in the human rights agenda of a state-sponsored sanctions effort
as an alternative to war, this time against the Islamic Republic of
Iran. In fact, some form of sanctions against the Islamic Republic
have been in place with little effect for over thirty years. But since
President Barack Obama took office, the sanctions have been amped up
to new heights. In June of 2010, a US-led United Nations coalition
passed the fourth round of economic and trade sanctions against the
Islamic Republic since 2006. The stated goal: limiting Iran’s nuclear
program. Soon after, the European Union imposed its own set of
economic sanctions. A month later, President Obama signed into law the
most extensive sanctions regime Iran has ever seen with the
Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010

It should not be surprising, given the United States’ historic
attempts at controlling Iranian oil, that CISADA’s primary target is
the management of the Iranian petroleum industry. These sanctions
would penalize any foreign company that sells refined petroleum
products to Iran, which are a necessity for Iran’s primary industry as
well as for the everyday functioning of modern life. This winter,
shortages of imported refined gasoline forced the Iranian government
to convert petro-chemical plants into makeshift refineries that
produce fuel loaded with dangerous particles. As a result, the capital
city of Tehran has been plagued by unprecedented levels of pollution,
shutting down schools and businesses for days at a time and leading to
skyrocketing rates of respiratory illnesses and at least 3,641
pollution-related deaths.

Further, Iran’s ability to import and export vital goods has been
profoundly curtailed because the most powerful Western-based freight
insurance companies—many of which worked with Iran until these most
recent sanctions—can no longer do business with any company based in
the Islamic Republic. Without insurance coverage, most international
ports refuse any Iranian ships entry because they are not covered for
potential damages. The current round of U.S.-led sanctions have had
the effect of cutting off more of Iranian businesses because foreign
companies are simply unsure of whether or not their business is
sanctioned. As a stipulation of the US, EU, and UN sanctions, no
corporations or private individuals can do business with the majority
of Iranian banks or industries. Parts and supplies for a great deal of
machinery—and not only those potentially associated with nuclear
industry—are denied entry into Iran; indeed, one of the deadly
examples of the effects of these sanctions in recent years has been
the spate of commercial Iranian aircrafts that have crashed due to
faulty or out-of-date parts. These measures have already had
disastrous effects on the Iranian economy and the health ordinary
Iranian citizens, adding to historic levels of inflation, unemployment
and pollution-related illness.

Despite mounting evidence warning against the humanitarian disaster of
unilateral, state-engineered sanctions, many people outside of Iran
are still compelled to support them as a diplomatic alternative to
war. The operating principle behind such a belief is that these
sanctions—unlike those wielded against Iraq, which limited all facets
of the economic life of the nation—only target certain individuals,
groups, and aspects of economic life. In the case of the Islamic
Republic, the argument goes, these individuals and groups are directly
linked to the state, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
(IRGC--or Sepah Pasdaran) and the paramilitary Basij forces, which do
indeed command much of the economic resources of the Islamic Republic.
Unfortunately, the reality of even “targeted” sanctions is not nearly
so rosy. To see why this strategy is almost certain to be a failure,
we consider the recent example of Zimbabwe.

Since 2001, there has been a similar set of so-called “smart”
sanctions in place against Zimbabwe in an effort to weaken President
Robert Mugabe and to force him to join a coalition government with his
principal political opponents. In the decade after the imposition of
these sanctions, Zimbabwe has suffered enormously, experiencing one of
the most cataclysmic instances of hyperinflation in history,
skyrocketing unemployment rates, a startling lack of basic
necessities, a rapidly growing income disparity, and the rise of a
black market for goods that only an elite few can access. Indeed, the
story in Zimbabwe is remarkably similar to that in Iraq: in both cases
the authoritarian state only increased its power as a result of the
economic stranglehold on the country due to its monopoly over all of
the available wealth and resources in the nation. As the Iraqi and
Zimbabwe cases demonstrate, sanctions are not an effective means to
avoid war, nor do they inevitably undermine repressive and
authoritarian states. Most importantly of all, they further immiserate
the very people they claim to be helping.

Often, these failed examples are countered by one historic success
story, namely, the divestment and sanctions movement against apartheid
South Africa--a very compelling instance of international solidarity
with a mass domestic opposition movement. Is this an apt analogy for
the Iranian case? A crucial difference is that sanctions against South
Africa came only after a divestment campaign led by South African
activists, which succeeded in convincing a great deal of private
capital to flee the country before US or UN involvement. As a tactic
developed and deployed within South Africa, sanctions were not the
result of power machinations between antagonistic states or a strategy
that enhanced US global dominance.

Iran presents a very different situation. No member of any Iran-based
opposition group—from leaders of the “green” movement, to activists in
the women’s and student movement, to labor organizers—have called for
or supported the US/UN/EU sanctions against the Islamic Republic. On
the contrary, leaders from virtually all of these groups have vocally
opposed the implementation of sanctions precisely because they have
witnessed the Iranian state grow stronger, and the wellbeing of
ordinary Iranians suffer, as a result. Imposing sanctions in the name
of “human rights,” as the US did for the first time this fall, doesn’t
alter these outcomes. The US government’s long record of either
complicity with or silence regarding the treatment of dissidents in
Iran--from the 1950s when it helped train the brutal SAVAK torture
squads right through to the post-election crackdown in 2009--makes it
nothing if not hypocritical on the issue of human rights in Iran.

The spectrum of support

In stark contrast to the range of groups protesting the Iranian
president and the Islamic Republic’s policies, some 130 activists from
anti-war, labor and anti-racist organizations took an altogether
different approach in September 2010, attending a dinner with
Ahmadinejad hosted by the Iranian Mission to the UN. According to one
attendee, the goal of the dinner was to “share our hopes for peace and
justice with the Iranian people through their president and his wife.”
During two and half hours of speeches, activists embraced Ahmadinejad
as an ally and partner in the global struggle for peace and, with few
exceptions, ignored the fact that his administration is responsible
for a brutal crackdown on dissent in Iran (click here for one notable

Rather than listening to the millions of Iranians who protested unfair
elections and political repression, these activists heard only the
siren song of Ahmadinejad’s “anti-imperialist” stance, his vehement
criticism of Israel and his statements about US government complicity
with the September 11th attacks. Their credibility as consistent
supporters of social justice has been shipwrecked in the process. Many
of these groups are numerically small organizations with histories of
denying atrocities carried out by heads of state that oppose US
domination.[1] But some attendees are national figures, such as former
US Congresswoman and 2008 Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia
McKinney, who has been a beacon of principled opposition to
neo-liberalism and the “war on terror.” While it is important not to
lump all of the groups and individuals together as sharing the same
set of political ideologies or organizing strategies, we need to
investigate the reasons that these activists showed up to express
support for the current Iranian regime. Below we take up the most
common reasons attendees expressed for standing with the regime--that
it has populist economic policies benefiting workers and the poor, is
anti-imperialist and pro-Palestine.

  • Do Ahmadinejad’s policies support Iranian workers and the poor?

    One of the most bewildering misrepresentations of Ahmadinejad outside
    Iran has been around his economic policies, which are often
    represented by the US left as populist or even pro-working class. In
    reality, the extent and the speed of privatization in Iran under
    Ahmadinejad has been unprecedented, and disastrous, for the majority
    of the Iranian people. The International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s report
    on the Iranian state’s neo-liberal policies glows with approval,
    confirming once again that the Fund has no problem supporting
    undemocratic attacks on the living standards of ordinary people.
    Privatization in Iran has happened under government/military control.
    State-affiliated actors, mainly Sepah, have bought a huge share of the
    country’s economic institutions and contracts--from small companies
    all the way to the largest national corporations such as
    telecommunications, oil and gas. Recently, despite vast opposition
    even from the parliament, the government annulled gasoline and food
    subsidies that have been in place for decades. Gas prices quadruped,
    while the price of bread tripled, almost overnight. This is an attack
    on workers and the poor of historic proportions that had been in the
    works for many years but was delayed due to fear of a popular
    backlash. It was only under conditions of extreme militarization and
    suppression of dissent that Ahmadinejad’s administration could finally
    implement this plan. Arguing that subsidies should go only to those
    the regime decides are deserving, the government will now be able to
    use this massive budget to reward supporters and/or buy loyalty. The
    massive unregulated import of foreign products, especially from China,
    has made it impossible for agricultural and industrial domestic
    producers to survive. Import venues are mainly controlled by the
    government and Sepah, which profit enormously from their monopolies.
    These hasty and haphazard developments have severely destabilized
    Iran’s economy in the past few years, leading to rocketing inflation
    (25-30%) and growing poverty. Unemployment is very high; no official
    statistics are available but rough estimates are around 30%, creating
    fertile ground for recruitment into the state’s military and police
    apparatus (similar to the “poverty draft” in the United States).

  • Is the Ahmadinejad administration anti-imperialist?

    The 1978–79 revolution was one of the most inspiring popular uprisings
    against imperialism and homegrown despotism the world has seen,
    successfully wresting Iran away from US control over Iranian oilfields
    and ending its role as a watchdog for US interests in the region.
    Denunciations of American imperialism were a unifying rallying cry and
    formed a key pillar of revolutionary ideology. However, in the more
    that thirty years since, the Iranian government has, like all nations,
    ruthlessly pursued its interests on the world stage. Despite its
    anti-American/anti-imperialist rhetoric, Iran cannot survive without
    capital investment from and trade with other “imperial” nations,
    without integration into a world market that is ordered according to
    the relative military and economic strength of various states. Witness
    the large oil, gas, and development contracts granted to Russia and
    China, and the way that these countries, as well as France and
    Germany, have cashed in on the Iranian consumer goods market. The
    Islamic government has even cut deals with the US, such as during the
    infamous Iran-Contra episode, when it served its interests. US
    opposition to Iran’s nuclear program, and multiple rounds of
    sanctions, should be understood as part of the American effort to
    re-exert control over this geo-politically strategic country and
    re-enter the race for Iranian energy resources and markets from which
    it has been shut out.

    Iran’s foreign policy cannot and should not be reduced to one
    individual’s inflammatory speeches. In fact, the same Ahmadinejad who
    grabs western media headlines by criticizing the US is the first
    Iranian president to send a letter directly to a US president
    requesting a new era of diplomacy, something unthinkable under
    previous administrations. Diplomacy, to be clear, carries with it the
    goal of re-entering a direct relationship with the so-called “Great
    Satan.” Far from acting as an outpost of anti-imperialism, the
    Ahmadinejad administration is maneuvering to cut the best deal
    possible and to renegotiation its place in the global hierarchy of
    nations. Given its massive oil and gas resources and strategic
    location, Iran would likely be playing a far more significant and
    powerful role if not for decades of isolation, sanctions and hostility
    from the US. It is in the Iranian governments interests to break this
    stranglehold. Its strategy is to play all cards possible in extending
    its regional influence in smaller and weaker countries, such as
    Lebanon and the occupied territories of Palestine. As Mohammad
    Khazaee, the Iranian ambassador to the UN told the New York Times,
    Iran is a regional “heavyweight” and deserves to be treated as such.

    The Iranian government’s support for Palestinians also scores it major
    points with many leftists in the US and around the world. Again, it is
    crucial to see through the rhetoric and examine the more complex aims
    and effects of Iran’s policies. While the Iranian government does send
    material aid to Palestinians suffering under Israeli blockades and in
    refugee camps in Lebanon, they have also manipulated the situation
    quite cynically for purposes that have nothing to do with Palestinian
    liberation. Using money to buy support from Palestinians, and
    financing and arming the Hezbollah army in Lebanon, are crucial ways
    the Islamic Republic exerts its influence in the region.

    There is no mechanism for Palestinians or Lebanese people, who are
    impacted by Iran’s actions, to have any say in how Iran intervenes in
    their struggles, even when the results are harmful. For instance,
    Ahmadinejad’s holocaust denials undermine the credibility of
    Palestinian efforts to oppose Israeli apartheid by reinforcing the
    false equation between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. At the 2001 UN
    conference against racism in Durban, South Africa, an anti-Zionist
    coalition emerged and got a hearing. But at the 2009 conference in
    Geneva, Ahmadinejad’s speech on the first day overshadowed the whole
    conference and undermined any possible critique of Israel, creating a
    serious set back for the anti-Zionist movement.

    Relentless state propaganda about Palestine coming from an unpopular
    regime has tragically resulted in the Iranian people’s alienation from
    the Palestinian’s struggle for freedom. Leaving aside the hypocrisy of
    Ahmadinejad claiming to care about the rights of Palestinians while
    trampling on those of his own citizens, the policy of sending
    humanitarian aid to Palestinians while impoverishing Iranians has
    produced massive domestic resentment. In an article on The Electronic
    Intifada, Khashayar Safavi attempted to link the pro-democracy Iranian
    opposition to broader questions of justice in the region. “We are not
    traitors, nor pro-American, nor Zionist ‘agents,’” he wrote,
    responding to Ahmadinejad’s verbal attacks on the movement, “[W]e
    merely want the same freedom to live, to exist and to resist as we
    demand for the Palestinians and for the Lebanese.” Unfortunately,
    sections of the US left support the self-determination of Palestinians
    while undermining that of Iranians by supporting Ahmadinejad’s
    government. We now look at some of the key problems of Ahmadinejad’s
    government, exposing the high cost of aligning with repressive state

    Harsh realities for labor and other social justice organizing in Iran

    Currently no form of independent organizing, political or economic, is
    tolerated in Iran. Attempts at organizing workers and labor unions
    have been particularly subject to violent repression. The crushing of
    the bus drivers’ union, one of the rare attempts at independent
    unionizing in the last few decades, is one of the better-known
    examples. The story of Mansour Osanloo, one of the main organizers of
    the syndicate, illustrates the incredible pressure and cruelty labor
    organizers and their families experience at the hands of the regime.
    In June 2010, his pregnant daughter-in-law was attacked and beaten up
    by pro-regime thugs while getting on subway. They took her with them
    by force and after hours of torture, left her under a bridge in
    Tehran. She was in dire health and had a miscarriage. These unofficial
    security forcescontinued to harass her at home in order to put
    psychological pressure on Osanloo, who is still in prison and is not
    yielding to the government’s demands to stop organizing. Currently,
    even conservative judiciary officials are complaining about violations
    of their authority by parallel security and military forces who arrest
    people, conduct interrogations and carry out torture, pressure judges
    to issue harsh sentences, and are implicated in the suspicious murders
    of dissidents. (In the past few months, not only political dissidents,
    but even physicians who have witnessed some of the tortures or
    consequences of them, have been murdered.)

    No opposition parties are allowed to function. No independent
    media--no newspapers magazines, radio or television stations--can
    survive, other than websites that must constantly battle government
    censorship. The prisons are full of journalists and activists from
    across Iranian society. Conditions in Iran’s prisons are gruesome.
    Prisoners are deprived of any rights or a fair trial, a violation of
    Iranian law. After the election protests, killing, murder and rape of
    protesters and prisoners caused a scandal, which resulted in the
    closing of the notorious Kahrizak prison. Executions continue,
    however, as the government has meted out hundreds of death sentences
    in the last year. Iran has the second highest number of executions
    among all countries and the highest number per capita. In January
    2011, executions soared to a rate of one every eight hours.

    The women’s movement has been another major target of repression in
    the past few years. Dozens of activists have been arrested and
    imprisoned for conducting peaceful campaigns for legal equality; many
    have been forced to flee the country and many more are continually
    harassed and threatened. Women collecting signatures on a petition
    demanding the right to divorce and to child custody are often unfairly
    accused of “disturbing public order,” “threatening national security,”
    and “insulting religious values.” Ahmadinejad’s government employs a
    wide range of patriarchal discourses and policies designed to roll
    back even small gains achieved by women.

    Ahmadinejad’s anti-immigrant positions and policies are the harshest
    of any administration in the past few decades. The largest forced
    return of Afghan immigrants happened under his government, ripping
    families apart and forcing thousands across the border (with many
    deaths reported in winter due to severe cold). Marriage between
    Iranians and Afghan immigrants is not allowed and Afghan children do
    not have any rights, not even to attend school. Moreover,
    Ahmadinejad’s government has been repressive toward different ethnic
    groups in Iran, particularly Kurds. It is promoting a militarist
    Shia-Islamist-nationalist agenda and escalating Shia-Sunni divisions.

    Given these realities, how is it that large parts of the US left can
    support Ahmadinejad? We now look at the confusions that make such a
    position possible. US left support for Ahmadinejad

    Despite the many differences between the individuals and groups
    represented at that dinner with Ahmadinejad a few months ago, what the
    overwhelming majority of them have in common is a mistaken idea of
    what it means to be anti-imperialist or anti-war. The sycophantic
    speeches at the dinner can be understood as an enactment of the old
    adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” There are two problems
    with this approach. The first is that it equates governments with
    entire populations, the very mistake the activists at that dinner are
    always saying we shouldn’t make when it comes to US society. The
    second problem is that support for Ahmadinejad means siding with the
    regime that crushed a democratic people’s movement in Iran. This
    position pits US-based activists who want to stop a war with Iran
    against the democratic aspirations and struggles of millions of

    Part of the confusion may stem from a distorted notion of what it
    means to speak from inside “the belly of the beast.” In other words,
    the argument goes, those of us in the United States have a foremost
    responsibility to oppose the actual and threatened atrocities of our
    own government, not to sit in hypocritical judgment over other, lesser
    state powers. But in the case of the vicious crackdown on all forms of
    dissent inside Iran, not judging is, in practice, silent complicity.
    If anti-imperialism means the right to only criticize the US
    government, we end up with a politics that is, ironically, so
    US-centric as to undermine the possibility of international solidarity
    with people who have to simultaneously stand up to their own
    dictatorial governments and to the behemoth of US power. The fact that
    the US is the global superpower, and therefore the most dangerous
    nation-state, does not somehow nullify the oppressive actions of other
    governments. China, for example, is increasingly participating in
    economic imperialism across Asia and Africa, exploiting natural
    resources and labor forces well beyond its borders. There is more than
    one source of oppression, and even imperialism, in the world. The
    necessity to hold “our” government accountable in the US must not
    preclude a crucial imperative of solidarity--the ability to understand
    the context of other people’s struggles, to stand in their shoes.

    If any of the activists defending Ahmadinejad would honestly attempt
    to do this, they might have some disturbing realizations. For example,
    if those same individuals or groups tried to speak out and organize in
    Iran for their current political agendas--against government targeting
    of activists, against ballooning military budgets, against media
    censorship, against the death penalty, against a rigged electoral
    system, for labors rights, women’s rights, the rights of sexual
    minorities and to free political prisoners--they would themselves be
    in jail or worse.

    Given that these are the issues that guide the work of these leftists
    in the US, we must ask: don’t the Iranian people also deserve the
    right to fight for a progressive agenda of their choosing without
    execution, imprisonment and torture? As we demand rights for activists
    here, don’t we have to support those same rights for activists in

    Solidarity: concrete and from below

    In the tangle of conflicting messages about who speaks for the “people
    of Iran”--a diverse population with a range of views and
    interests--what has been sorely lacking in the US is a broad-based
    progressive/left position on Iran that supports democratization,
    judicial transparency, political rights, economic justice, social
    freedoms and self-determination.

    There is no contradiction between opposing every instance of US
    meddling in Iran--and every other country--and supporting the popular,
    democratic struggles of ordinary Iranians against dictatorship.
    Effective international solidarity requires that the two go hand in
    hand, for example, by linking the struggles of political prisoners in
    Iran and with those of political prisoners in the US, not by
    counterposing them. Iranian dissidents, like dissidents in the US, see
    their own government as their main enemy. The fact that Iranian
    activists also have to deal with sanctions and threats of military
    action from the US only makes their work and their lives more
    difficult. The US and Iranian governments are, of course, not equal in
    their global reach, but both stand in the way of popular democracy and
    human liberation. US-based activists must not undermine the brave and
    endangered work of Iranian opposition groups by supporting the regime
    that is ruthlessly trying to crush them.

    We are calling for a rethinking of what internationalism and
    international solidarity means from the vantage point of activists
    working in the US. Internationalism has to start from below, from the
    differently articulated aspirations of mass movements against state
    militarism, dictatorship, economic crisis, gender, sexual, religious,
    class and ethnic oppression, in Iran, in the US and all over the
    world. For activists in the US, this means being against sanctions on
    Iran, whether they are in the name of “human rights” or the nuclear
    issue. It means refusing to cast the US as the land of progress and
    freedom while Iran is demonized as backward and oppressive. Solidarity
    is not charity or pity; it flows from an understanding of
    mutual--though far from identical--struggle. It means consistent
    opposition to human rights violations in the US, to the rampant sexism
    and homophobia that lead to violence and destroy people’s lives right
    here. But we don’t have to hide another state’s brutality behind our
    complaints about conditions in America. We have to be just as clear in
    condemning state crimes against activists, journalists and others in
    Iran, just as critical of the Iranian versions of neo-liberalism and
    oligarchy, of attacks on trade unions, women and students, as we are
    of the US versions.

    For solidarity to be effective, it must be concrete. US-based
    activists need to educate ourselves about Iran’s historic and
    contemporary social movements and, as much as possible, build
    relationships with those involved in various opposition groups and
    activities in Iran so that our support is thoughtful, appropriate to
    the context and, ideally, in response to specific requests initiated
    from within Iran. It is our hope that these struggles may be
    increasingly linked as social justice activists in the US and Iran
    find productive ways of working together, as well as in our different
    contexts and locations, towards the similar goals of greater democracy
    and human liberation.

    [1] For example, Workers World, ANSWER and several other groups who
    share the same political tradition have historically supported Soviet
    crackdowns against popular uprisings in Hungary in 1956 and
    Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Chinese state’s massacre of unarmed
    protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989 and the ethnic cleansings
    carried out by ultra-nationalist Milosevic throughout the 1990s.

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