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Finding undue resonance in oil field “worker komitehs” and the peddling of Marxist literature in Tehran, future Pulitzer Prize winner Kai Bird wrote in the The Nation that “there is every reason to believe that the still unpublished [Iranian] Constitution will include all the elements of a liberal democratic system.” Mother Jones envisioned that the Islamic Revolution would result in “democratic reforms, freedom for political prisoners, an end to the astronomical waste of huge arms purchases, and a constitutional government.” French philosopher Michel Foucault similarly claimed that in Khomeini’s Iran “minorities will be protected and free to live as they please,” “there will not be inequality with respect to rights” between the sexes, and clerics would have no “role of supervision or control.”
The Left couldn’t have been more deluded in their romantic real-time portrayal of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. Nearly everything said in The Nation and Mother Jones turned out to be horribly wrong. Therein lies a lesson for everyone on how not to interpret events unfolding in Egypt.
There is something narcissistic in seeing ourselves in the protesters, control-freakish in imposing a coherent narrative on chaotic protests, parochial in projecting our political ideals on their uprising, hubristic in believing half-a-world-away words by U.S. leaders will direct Egyptians who don’t care for us to resolve this dispute to our liking.
When we don’t know anything about someone we assume they are like us. But Egyptians are not Americans, so transposing our ideas on them will serve only to further confuse. So, too, will the binary thinking that automatically awards deposers the label of “liberator.” The deposers of repressive regimes do so out of a desire to escape repression. They often depose repressive regimes to become the repressors themselves. Hosni Mubarak is a bad guy. His replacement could be a very very bad guy.
“We should smile and embrace instability,” Anne Applebaum writes in the Washington Post. “And we should rejoice—because change, in repressive societies, is good.” That’s what people thought in Paris in 1789, St. Petersburg in 1917, and Tehran in 1979. One might presume that the repeated experience of bad going to worse would discourage such dangerous optimism for Cairo in 2011. Alas, that presumption wouldn’t have learned anything from history, either.
Daniel J. Flynn is the author of A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). He has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, Sky News, PBS, CSPAN, and other broadcast networks. He writes a Monday column for Human Events and blogs at www.flynnfiles.com.
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