moral support

So, there’s a bit of self-congratulatory backpatting going on around with respect to the so-called “Twitter Revolution” and the unfolding events in Iran. There are a lot of ideas being bandied about over here in the states about how we can help – some helpful, some well-meaning but pointless, and some just bizarre. Among them: changing your twitter icon to green, changing your twitter timezone to Tehran’s, retweeting open public web proxies (probably the only real helpful idea), and so on. There’s a good article here on the effects and reality of these well-meaning actions:

The story which I’m reading in the media is that of the “Twitter Revolution.” And the story is that Twitter is one of the key things used to organize these protests, and the State Department is contacting Twitter to make sure it doesn’t go down, and so on and so forth. That’s the wrong story — it’s the wrong story in Iran, it was the wrong story in Moldova. There is no “Twitter Revolution.” We haven’t seen a “Twitter Revolution,” and I don’t think we’ll ever see a “Twitter Revolution.”

The revolution in Iran is not about Twitter. It’s about Iranian people protesting against perceived irregularities in the election. It’s a grassroots movement, and we’re abusing it in many ways by calling it a Twitter Revolution. It’s a big country with one of the biggest elections around the world, and clearly Mousavi supporters and Ahmadinejad supporters — all of them — have huge offline networks who are getting people to mobilize, getting support and getting people to come out and protest. We are underestimating the value of that network in a country like Iran or a country like India or China — that is a network which culturally matters. Even in the U.S., that is a network that matters. So we’re really underestimating the value of that network by saying this is a “Twitter Revolution.”

He also addresses the whole timezone changing thing:

I think it’s overkill, but comes from a good place. Of course it harms the information flow. The only way you can make sense of the Iran feed right now, the #iranelection feed, is filtering by location. This misguided movement precludes the possibility of making any sense of what is happening now. It also precludes the possibility for academics to go back and make sense of it after it has happened. In the Moldova “Twitter Revolution,” a lot of people went back and saw all the tweets related to Moldova. They found that of the 700 people who were tweeting about Moldova, only 200 people were actually from Moldova. So it becomes very difficult for people to do that kind of analysis when the location information itself is misguiding. It’s harmful to do this in a way, because it breaks the validity of information and introduces more noise. But I think it comes from a good place, so I’m not criticizing the people who are trying to do this. Different people have different perspectives on what is important.

I pretty much agree with him 100%. It’s hard to harshly criticize or mock these actions, because they come from a good place. But, you can’t help but do a little eye-rolling while observing the slight bit of exaggerated self-importance that comes with changing your twitter icon to green and standing in solidarity with the Iranian people. It reminds me of a piece that Stan Goff wrote years ago in the beginnings of the Iraqi war. In it, he addresses the idea that dissent back home would have any real impact on the events proceeding in his particular across-the-world experience:

In all this mayhem and confusion, while we (the Army’s most elite, whitest forces) were being spanked by skinny Black folk from Grenada and equally dark Cuban construction workers, I can honestly say that I didn’t give a flying fuck about what anyone in the United States might be thinking, or how much supportive spirit they might be psychically channeling my way to cuddle up against.

The parallel doesn’t exactly work 100% – international visibility and awareness of the protests in Iran is very important. But, it does seem a stretch to imagine that your twitter icon is gonna be that particular beacon. Iran is a big country. It’s a big world. Twitter is a tiny, tiny little sliver. As he said in the above article, this isn’t about Twitter, it’s about Iran. Which sortof segues nicely into where I think the real annoyance comes from.

I think what a lot of people are finding irritating is the lack of historical context that Americans seem to have about the situation there as a whole. There’s a self-congratulating sense of familiarity with the struggle that lots of Americans here seem to be emoting – that we’re standing in solidarity along with the Iranians in their struggle. “We know how it is,” we chuckle to ourselves, “after all, we’re the beacon of freedom for the world, ever since our revolution!” And yet, of course, Iran’s current situation, disarray and lack of progress can be laid almost entirely at the feet of Britain, Russia and, yep, the United States. Iran is only now finally picking up where they left off when we meddled out of anti-Communist hysteria over 50 years ago. We shouldn’t be feeling solidarity. We should be feeling guilty.