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Nader Hashemi is the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. He is the author of "Islam, Secularism and Liberal Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies" and co-editor of "The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Democracy in Iran" and most recently “The Syria Dilemma”.
Paul Jay speaks to Nader Hashemi about the most recent protests in Iran.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay, coming to you from Washington, DC. On Tuesday in Tehran and throughout Iran, protests against the Iranian government continued, with battles with the police continuing. The government crackdown on the protest has intensified. Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani spoke to reporters after the rally on Tuesday, and he asked authorities to, quote, "show no mercy." He said Parliament "wants the judiciary and intelligence bodies to arrest those who insult religion and impose the maximum punishment on them without reservation." He went on to attack the United States and the UK for gross interference in Iranian affairs for supporting and suggesting organizing the demonstrations. Here's what he said: "Washington's behavior during the past few months was nothing but an opportunist attempt to harm the national interest of Muslim Iranians. . . . That goes for its childish interference in our internal affairs and its duplicitous gestures on the nuclear issue." Joining us now to give his interpretation of the events in Iran is Nader Hashemi. He teaches Middle Eastern politics at the University of Denver. Thanks for joining us, Nader.HASHEMI: Glad to be with you.JAY: So, first of all, from a factual point of view, as well you know, you're in Toronto, but you're reading Farsi press and you're watching as much TV coverage as you can, I assume. What's been going on in the last couple of days?HASHEMI: Well, the big day was Sunday, where we saw some of the most widespread protests against the stolen election, against the regime. And what I think has characterized these protests, what's unique about them, is the intensity of the slogans, really, forgetting the figure of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and zeroing in on the supreme leader. Also, the numbers of people who have turned out on the streets are some of the largest crowds that have turned out over the last six months. And, also, the geographical location of these demonstrations has spread: they're no longer simply concentrated in Tehran, but they are taking place in other major cities and towns. And also the class composition, I think, is something to note, people from, I think, different segments of Iranian society, the more religious segments of society who are participating in these protests. So it's been a very hot few days in Iran. And the latest news coming from Tehran today is there's been a widespread crackdown, arresting senior political and civil society leaders, human rights activists. Thousands have been reported arrested from opposition websites. And, also, the other big piece of news is that the nephew of the senior opposition figure, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, was killed, and a recent report has indicated a statement from the Tehran police acknowledging that his death wasn't a random act, but he was in fact assassinated and fell as the result of a deliberate attack on him, and by extension the opposition leadership.JAY: Did the police say who did the shooting?HASHEMI: No. That's under investigation. But the general interpretation over the death of the nephew of the opposition leader is that this was a targeted assassination as a way of sending a very clear message to the leadership of the reform movement that the stakes have changed, and that if they don't cease and withdraw from condemning the state of politics in Iran, speaking out against the electoral fraud, that the cost to the senior leadership will increase.JAY: Larijani is accusing mostly of the United States, to some extent Britain, of instigating, organizing, supportingand ties this to the nuclear issue, which he says essentially is there's a position which is so hypocritical on the base from the West [sic]. What you make of this?HASHEMI: Well, I think it's a sign of frustration that the regime obviously can't look inward to its own failed policies, and so it does what other authoritarian regimes in other societies and different times have done and they blame their domestic and political problems on external forces. Anyone with an iota of familiarity with Iran knows that the demonstrations and protests are taking place as a result of long-standing, deep-rooted grievances within the country, and there's no evidence to indicate that these demonstrations are being orchestrated by outside powers. I think what's really interesting to point out is the attack on England as opposed to the United States, and I think that's primarily because of the superb job that the BBC Persian service has been doing. I mean, I wish your listeners could speak or understand Farsi, but if you follow their coverage, it is really first class. And this has gotten under the skin of the Iranian regime, and that's why England primarily has been targeted for attack by the regime.JAY: Now, much of what's said about the Iranian nuclear program and much of what the Iranian government says in defense of their program is true: they have a right under the IAEA to enrich uranium. Even though the IAEA has expressed some frustration about the level of transparency, they've yet to find anything. The most recent thing about the trigger, nuclear trigger, apparently there's some indication now that it's a fraud and is being acknowledged as being a forgery, the document. I don't think that's definitive yet, but there's certainly some credible reports. The hypocrisy about not saying anything about Israel's nuclear weapons. I mean, clearly this regime has been targeted by the West, and the West, you know, partly on the nuclear issue, and to a large extent simply doesn't want to accept Iran as a regional power. I mean, I think that's all factual. So when Iran makes these accusations about the Western interference, and we know there was a CIA program, at least in ethnic areas of Iran, to try and instigate revolt, it's not out of nothing that they say this.HASHEMI: Well, I would agree with with that. There's also a history to this. I mean, the extent of external interference in Iran's domestic affairs, you know, goes back at least 150 years. So this is something that resonates internally within Iran when the regime makes these arguments, and, you know, from an international relations perspective, Iran is being targeted because it's an independent player, it's not allied with the United States. And so its nuclear program is cause of great concern, while Pakistan's programdoesn't have a program; it actually has nuclear weaponsis completely off the radar screen in terms of discussion and concern. And if one was really concerned about a government falling and nuclear weapons falling into the hands of, you know, terrorists or fundamentalists, you would expect Pakistan to come under greater scrutiny, but because the regime in Pakistan, the government of Pakistan, is allied with the United States, their nuclear weapons are perfectly okay, while those that Iran might be developing come under an incredible amount of scrutiny.JAY: You don't hear that, what you're saying, coming very often from the opposition movement, the sort of defense of Iran's sovereignty on the nuclear issue. Is that 'cause the Western press isn't reporting it? Or are they not articulating it?HASHEMI: Well, if it's a point of friction. I think if the Western press listens to what the opposition movement says with respect to Iran's nuclear program, they probably wouldn't like what they're hearing. There's a basic national consensus in Iran on this question that Iran does have the right to pursue its own independent nuclear energy program. The difference between the position of the reform movement and the opposition and that of the regime is that the reform movement would be much more willing to work in close concert with the international community and within the framework of, you know, international law to ensure that its, you know, nuclear energy program is not violating agreements that Iran has signed. But everyone in Iran believes that the bullying of the United States and trying to say that Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon while every other country in the region can have a nuclear weapon is an affront to Iran's national integrity, its identity, and they completely reject those, you know, bullying tactics. So I think if one, you know, listens to what the reform movement is saying on the nuclear question, they probably wouldn't likeI mean, I'm talking the Western leaders and people who are, you know, strongly supportive of playing hardball with Iranwould not like what they would hear from the reform movement on this question.JAY: So, Nader, the Americans and UK are using these demonstrations as a justification for tougher sanctions on Iran vis-à-vis the nuclear issue, not because of human rights, really, because of the nuclear issue. What's the position of the opposition movement towards tougher sanctions?HASHEMI: Well, the position of the opposition is really unanimous on this question. They strongly oppose greater economic sanctions against Iran as a result of noncompliance with the demands of the West over Iran's nuclear program. But what the opposition does favor is carefully calibrated and directed sanctions that would target the senior leadership of the regime to make it much more difficult for them to travel abroad, to engage in monetary transactions. I think if the international community were to pursue those types of sanctions, they would get the support of the opposition. But the opposition's strongly opposed to, you know, broad economic sanctions on Iran, because the people at large will be the primary victims of those sanctions.JAY: But the sanctions you're suggesting are based on human rights, and the United States, if they wanted to do sanctions based on human rights, would certainly get no support at all from Russia or China, and obviously rather hypocritical given all the countries from Saudi Arabia to Egypt and so on that the Americans don't have sanctions against that violate human rights, including China. So it's a difficult one. So how can you ask them to have sanctions in this situation?HASHEMI: Right. You know, you're right: it's a much more difficult issue to pursue. But we're talking about what the Iranian opposition wants from the international community, and what they want is and what they're very frustrated about is how the only issue that seems to be of concern to the international community is Iran's nuclear program, not the internal human rights situation. So they want the emphasis to be on human rights and democracy, not nuclear weapons.JAY: In the next segment of our interview, let's talk about what's going on within the Iranian elite. What pressures, if any, is this recent protest putting on the fractures amongst the leaders of the regime? Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Nader Hashemi.
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