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Hamid Dabashi: Bauer and Fattal convicted of spying also caught in the middle of internal Iranian power

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. In Iran, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, two Americans who wandered–say they wandered into Iran while they were hiking in Iraq, have been convicted of spying and sentenced to eight years in jail. Now joining us to talk about this is Hamid Dabashi. Hamid teaches at Columbia University. He’s also the author of the book Brown Skin, White Masks. Thanks for joining us again, Hamid.


JAY: So why have they pursued this conviction? I mean, from whatever evidence–it seems these guys seem to have just been wandering into Iran, as they claim. Why have they made this kind of case out of it?

DABASHI: The more, Paul, I learn about these two American, and also Sarah Shourd, who has been released on bail, the more I am admiring them. They’re progressive people who have been trying to alter the vision of Americans about these regions. But, unfortunately, they have been caught as pawns in a game between American and Islamic Republic respective governments. They have been sentenced to jail, as all previous cases, by way of creating attention, that they can then release it, somehow securing some sort of advantages against–in their negotiations with the Obama administrations. They are being used and abused. They don’t need anything. They–like any number of other Iranians who are being sentenced to long prison terms on non-existent charges, these two American young men are also subject to the same–.

JAY: Some of the speculation about why this is taking place has to do with infighting within the Iranian regime. Is there anything to this? And what is the state of infighting?

DABASHI: The state of infighting is very, very serious. As you know, the next parliamentary election is approaching very soon, and there is infighting within the government and within the regime itself. The tension that existed between the reformists and the conservatives now has been created within the conservative camp. They don’t know what to do. But more importantly, it is the geopolitics of the region that is frightening them. The events, for example, in Libya has catalytic effect in Islamic Republic. There was even a report in Le Monde that Islamic Republic was helping Gaddafi in order to prolong the NATO involvement in Libya, to prevent the possibility of the intervention in Syria. Syria is collapsing, which is the major ally of Islamic Republic in the region. Hezbollah is in trouble. So the geopolitics of the region is not to the advantage of Islamic Republic, and that is not a crisis that they can control, contrary to the Green Movement that they could crush and send their leaders to jail and house arrest and so forth. So there are two fronts that Islamic Republic now faces a crisis, one internally, namely, how to manufacture and stage a show of democracy of the next parliamentary election when the leading reformists are actually in jail, and at the same time how to handle this regional crisis. And these two young Americans have been caught in the crossfire.

JAY: Now, a lot of the discussion’s been about Ahmadinejad and the supreme leader, that they’ve had a falling out and that there’s–the struggle’s taking place at that level. What do you make of that?

DABASHI: Ahmadinejad was never a significant political figure. There were some readings of the situation that he represents a younger generation of the [incompr.] which could be true. But for establishment, for the clerical establishment, for Khamenei in particular, he would dispense with Ahmadinejad any second when it comes to preserving his regime, his absolutist power. Ahmadinejad was preparing and coaching a man he endorses and likes, a man named Mashaei, to succeed him as the president. And, obviously, the regime is in most serious trouble for him to designate who will succeed him. So the self-preservation machinery of the regime has come back to decide who will succeed the president, Ahmadinejad, and in what particular terms.

JAY: The–during the Green Movement, and when the people were in the streets, one of the most underreported parts of it, I thought, was the extent to which Iranian workers joined in, and particularly the Iranian union movement. What is the state of things in terms of the unions and workers movement now in Iran?

DABASHI: Very much under the control, because when they succeeded to suppress the Green Movement, they realized fully well that there are three major grassroot organizations, the first of which is the labor unions, independent labor unions. Second and third are women’s organizations and student assemblies that they cannot suppress because they are grassroots. Leaders of the unions are in jail. People like [incompr.] And they have been appealing to progressive or presumably progressive leaders in Latin America, such as Chavez, writing to Chavez directly detailing their predicament in jail to no avail. But they remain very strong for very fundamental reasons. The minimum wage is actually lower than the cost of living. And the condition of the labor–7 million laborers in a population of 72 millions–times four, that amounts to 28 million with their families–that is, the labor force in Iran, they’re under very, very severe circumstances. But their organizations, their unions, their syndicates is heavily under security control, and the slightest manifestation of protest is severely cracked down. But nevertheless you have consistent and systematic but under-the-radar demonstrations by labor unions across Iran.

JAY: How badly is Iran being affected by the current global economic situation? And if the global economy sinks into a much deeper recession, which it’s certainly looking like it’s going to, what will that mean in terms of Iran’s politics?

DABASHI: Even more severe trouble that they have. As you know, Iranian economy is about 85 percent oil-based, and oil-based economies [are] always at the mercy of what is happening in the financial world market, and especially under these circumstances that Ahmadinejad’s cabinet has initiated the elimination–they call it making it purposeful, but it’s actually elimination of governmental subsidies. And no longer this is limited to the labor class and is affecting the–whatever exist in the middle class in the aftermath of this elimination of the subsidies, and the slightest fluctuation in the oil revenues will have direct impact on the most vulnerable classes in the society, with obvious consequences in terms of social protest.

JAY: That’s what I was going to ask. I mean, is it possible when we’ll see in Iran maybe something like what we’ve been seeing in Israel, protests that are purely based on economics?

DABASHI: Oh, absolutely. And, of course, protests that are based absolutely on economics doesn’t mean they don’t have political consequences. In fact, labor organizations and labor protests in Iran, as in fact in the Arab world, they predate the Green Movement, they predate the rise of the Arab Spring. But because they are not chic and sexy, nobody pays any attention to them. They have existed and they continue to exist and they continue to demonstrate, but neither the local press nor the international press is interested in it. You have to fish for these in the websites of these labor organizations to find out what is happening.

JAY: Thanks for joining us, Hamid.

DABASHI: [incompr.] Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He received a dual Ph.D. in Sociology of Culture and Islamic Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 1984, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University. He wrote his dissertation on Max Weber's theory of charismatic authority with Philip Rieff (1922-2006), the most distinguished Freudian cultural critic of his time. Professor Dabashi has taught and delivered lectures in many North American, European, Arab, and Iranian universities.
Professor Dabashi has written twenty-five books, edited four, and contributed chapters to many more. He is also the author of over 100 essays, articles and book reviews on subjects ranging from Iranian Studies, medieval and modern Islam, and comparative literature to world cinema and the philosophy of art (trans-aesthetics). His books and articles have been translated into numerous languages, including Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Danish, Russian, Hebrew, Italian, Arabic, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Polish, Turkish, Urdu and Catalan.