The ongoing protests in Iran have recently dominated the American news cycle. The issues that brought the protest to the United States’ attention are complex and nuanced. It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment on them from this distance and without the necessary intimate context to truly explain what is happening there. However, one can note the responses to peaceful protest from American politicians and analyze whether American politicians who claim to wave the flag of democracy and freedom abroad can and should be trusted.
Historically the United States has sought to be the moral arbiter of human rights across the world despite their treatment of black Americans. In the 1960’s Malcolm X was one of the loudest voices of that era who condemned American empire. He (standing on the shoulders of W.E. B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Claudia Jones and others) was distrustful of American intervention in the affairs of other nations, particularly nations with black and brown people. For Brother Malcolm the U.S’s involvement in deposing and assassinating Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba was the best example of his time of American hypocrisy regarding democracy. Thus, when President Trump tweeted that Iranians will “see great support from the United States at the appropriate time” supporters of justice, freedom and self-determination of a nation should be concerned.
Further, President Trump seems to be offering an inconsistent message regarding non-violent protesters. There was an episode while on the campaign trail in Alabama in 2015 where a Black Lives Matter activist was verbally and physically assaulted protesting the then reality star candidate. In response Trump suggested he should have been attacked. President Trump continued assailing black peaceful protesters by calling NFL players protesting police violence by kneeling during the national anthem SOBs. His current attitude of respect for protests and Iranians rings a bit hollow given this backdrop. Piling on to all of President Trump’s other inconsistencies is his addition of Iran to his Muslim Ban 3.0. If he cared so deeply for Iranian citizens and their welfare under what Mike Pence described as a “brutal regime” banning them from the country is an odd way to show it.
The hypocrisy of American politicians in regard to protesters are not limited to Donald Trump. In 2014 following the death of Michael Brown law enforcement agencies responded to non-violent protests in Ferguson, Missouri by appearing in military gear and inciting violence. As tensions rose the peaceful protests turned violent and law enforcement were regarded as the aggressors by St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson and even President Barack Obama. Very rarely did we hear full throated, whole-sale condemnation of law enforcement or the political leadership that directs them. American politicians were nuanced and equivocated that both sides should remain peaceful. And that was from those who were willing to assign any blame to officers acting on behalf of the state.
As a nation we should be concerned if the United States were to intervene on the Iranian matter because American intervention has not bode well recently. An Associated Press report claimed 9,000 civilians have died on the battlefield in Mosul. The problem there is battlefields and civilians don’t go together. Though not all of the deaths can be attributed to the United States, creditable monitors attribute at least a third to our country with another third unaccounted for. If we remember, one of the original pretexts for war in Iraq was the idea to free Iraqi citizens. The United States even named the conflict“Operation Iraqi Freedom”. United States intervention, resulting in at least 3,000 civilian deaths should not be anything any Americans concerned with justice should want. As recently as 2011 the United States intervened in Libyan internal conflict ultimately leading to the removal and death of Muammar Gaddafi. President Obama commented that failing to prepare for Col. Gaddafi’s ouster was the worst mistake of his presidency. As many have now seen, Libya has descended into chaos with reports of human trafficking, particularly of darker hued Africans triggering images and feelings of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
This analysis is necessary to not only expose the hypocrisy of American political leaders, which is important to remember, but also to prevent more civilian harm and casualties at the hands,whether tacit or overt, of the United States. The national troubles of Iran are serious and questions of unemployment, corruption, and inequality are issues that Iranians will have to resolve. Not to be lost on Americans is that these are issues we too have to resolve, particularly the question of growing inequality. Iranians have a rightful cause to be leery of American intervention. They have not forgotten the CIA coup in 1953 and the perils of American intervention elsewhere. The important lesson is, neither should we.
Ray Baker is the host of the Public Agenda, a podcast covering race, politics, culture and social justice. He is also a political commentator on radio and television and a keynote speaker who lectures on the intersection of race and politics. You can follow him on twitter @RayBakerMedia