When Nasrin Jewell heard a CNN commentator respond to footage of Iranian protesters by saying, “Now we know what Iranians want,” she had had enough. She spoke about Iran and the recent election and protests to a crowd of about 60 who gathered June 24 at the Mayday Bookstore, hosted by Women Against Military Madness.
Jewell, a professor of economics at St. Catherine University, is currently conducting research on redefining and reevaluating work for women in Iran. She feels the coverage of the Iranian election is not only excessive (“It’s almost 24 hours!”), but also inaccurate. Jewell’s talk raised questions about the United States investment in the election, and who benefits or suffers from the coverage.
Part of what is not accurately reported, Jewell says, are the differences between the two candidates’ policies and supporters. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the incumbent president whose June 12 re-election and disputes about the results sparked massive protests by Iranian citizens. Mir Hossein Mousavi, the leading opposition candidate, is a former prime minister of Iran who was active in the 1979 revolution.
While the two may differ widely in their domestic policies, their foreign policy is very similar.
“I think a misconception in the West is that there is going to be a big difference for the West depending on who wins,” Jewell says. In fact, the two “pretty much agree with the basic foreign policy Iran has.”
Ahmadinejad is, according to Jewell, an economic socialist. He thinks the government should help the poor, and that product prices should be kept low. His supporters, unsurprisingly, are poor to middle class, and they “approve of his domestic policy of having government be in charge of the welfare of the people.”
Mousavi believes in the economic free market and in privatization, Jewell said. He welcomes foreign investment, and believes that the government shouldn’t necessarily support the poor. His supporters are, in general, middle class to rich. They are for “what they consider individual freedoms,” Jewell says.
While much has been made in the media of Ahmadinejad’s statements about Israel, the Holocaust, and nuclear weapons, Jewell said his statements have been mistranslated and exaggerated.
“When he talks about the Holocaust his main point is that this is something the Palestinians didn’t have anything to do with,” Jewell said. “The government there should be a government that’s democratically elected by the people who live in that region. If it’s voted in, he’s fine with it, but as it is, it’s an illegal state.”
Jewell also said that because nuclear weapons kill innocent people, their use is not permitted by the Muslim religion, and that Ahmadinejad and Mousavi similarly support the right to use nuclear power, not nuclear weapons.
Jewell said over Ahmadinejad’s last four years, Iran has experienced economic growth of 6.7 percent. “It’s not amazing, but it’s okay. There are things that they could have done better but there are things they’ve done very well.”
For example, Jewell said, “For the past 80 years, Iran has imported their most important resource, wheat. Now it is exporting it.”
The crowd of mostly aging baby-boomers and a few younger socialist organizers that packed the small basement bookstore had a mixed reaction to Jewell’s talk. Surrounded by posters of Karl Marx and Che Guevara, some in the audience fired questions at Jewell, challenging her characterizations of the candidates and their supporters. The more agitated audience members were kept in check by the facilitators from WAMM.
Resistant to the notion that the outcome of the election would have little impact on U.S. relations with Iran, one man asked if a Mousavi victory would allow for a more aggressive stance on the nuclear development program in Iran, and Iran’s role in the Middle East.
“I think that’s a perception that a lot of people share. I’m not sure that’s accurate.” Jewell responded. “My final say on foreign policy is that it is the domain of the Supreme Leader. He decides foreign policy, and the president is the executive of domestic policy. That’s not gonna change.”
Why then, Jewell wonders, has there been so much coverage of this internal dispute? She noted that similar internal conflicts in the past week in Somalia and violence in Iraq did not attract anywhere near the media attention given to the Iranian protesters.
Jewell feels that the constant coverage of the election betrays the U.S. interest in controlling Iran, evidenced by the money the government already spends to do just that.
She says that while it is not possible to know if or exactly how the election was rigged, the U.S. should not intervene now, nor use the election as an excuse for future intervention in a sovereign nation.
“What should be done about this?” she asked, “Nothing. We shouldn’t do anything. Whatever needs to happen should be done in Iran, by the people of Iran.”
Jane Biliter is a student at Macalester College and an intern at the TC Daily Planet.
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