Misunderstanding reasons for Iranian unrest?

It is hugely inspiring to see the hundreds of thousands of Iranians taking their destiny into their own hands and heading peacefully to the street to show that they will no longer accept the status quo. It’s not just Tehran. Check out clip of Isfahan protests if you haven’t seen them already:

Yet do we in the United States really understand what Iranians are agitating for? I haven’t seen a whole lot of reportage outlining the differences between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad’s platforms. I get concerned that Americans or others outside Iran will confuse what they want to change in Iran with what Mousavi’s supporters actually want changed. Right wing pressure on Obama to openly support the opposition (which would be staggeringly stupid politically, by the way, though the smart path is far from clear) hints to me that McCain and others are misunderstanding Mousavi’s platform.

While the reasons for Iranians’ disgust with Ahmadinejad’s presidency (and what looks very much like his stealing of the election) are diverse, the issues closest to the heart of the gentleman who sang “Bomb Iran” at a whistlestop two years ago are NOT the ones moving people to the street. Namely, it’s not as if Mousavi’s supporters want friendship with Israel, capitulation to the United States, a forfeiting of Iran’s rights to nuclear power or an abandonment of Islam as the guiding set of principles for government. For instance:

Maybe that’s why some Israeli right-wingers apparently support an Ahmadinejad win — he’s a more attackable front man for a set of issues that would not fundamentally change under a Mousavi government. And maybe that’s more evidence why left-leaning people in every country should be happy about the groundswell of support for Mousavi, while understanding that this is an Iranian issue that the Iranian people — with the help of the Internet and techie friends all over the world — are quite capable of handling themselves.

I’d love comments on this post from people closer to the action than myself. Stay tuned for an interview later today on The Long Gone Daddy that should get into some of the questions I’m raising a little more specifically.

[Addendum: This article from Iran researcher Eric Hooglund on Tehran Bureau explains a little how complicated the underlying issues are:

“Although the crowds shouted slogans such as “Death to Dictatorship,” most protestors shouted “Allah-o-akbar,” the popular chant of the 1978-79 Revolution. Indeed, in Shiraz, thousands climbed unto the roofs of their homes Sunday to shout ‘Allah-o-akbar’ for several hours.

Most villagers are supporters of the Islamic Republic, but they are ready for the reforms that they say are essential so that their children will have a secure economic future. They saw hope in Mousavi’s promise to implement reforms, even though he is a part of the governing elite.

But that political elite is divided over how Iran should be governed: a transparent democracy where elected representatives enact laws to benefit the people or a ‘guided democracy’ in which a select few make all decisions because they do not trust the masses to make the right ones. This astute political insight is one that is prevalent in Iran but seems to have escaped the notice of the Western reporters who are trying to explain Iran’s political crisis with resort to simplistic stereotypes.”]

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