Years ago there was a professor at Tehran Law School who taught basic rights. It so happened that many times he needed to refer to the violations of people’s basic rights by the Islamic Republic, to clarify what he was talking about; but to escape the inevitable unpleasant consequences, he attributed the right violations to Malaysia.
One day, when he was again accusing Malaysia of violating these rights, a student stood up and objected. “Professor,” he said, “since the beginning of the semester, as you have repeatedly blamed Malaysia, I have been researching the country. None of the things that you refer to are happening in Malaysia!”
Today and in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, in the United States, Iran’s hardline media outlet of the Islamic Republic such as Fars and Tasnim (which are generally close to the Revolutionary Guards) are attributing every recent horror inflicted by Iran’s security and military forces on Iranian protesters to American authorities. It is unclear whether the hardline media want pour salt on the injured souls of the Iranian people and the families of the victims, or if they want to say that the Americans are just like us – violent, repressive and violators of human rights. But it is enough to look at the way the hardline media is reporting some of the news from the United States.
“Shoot at at the leg instead of the heart”
After Iran's nationwide protests in November 2019, Mahmoud Sadeghi, a member of parliament from Tehran, revealed that when he asked Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli why they had shot protesters in the head, Fazli had answered that “we shot them in the leg, too!”
Now Tasnim news agency quotes the democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as saying that “The police must shoot at the leg, not at the heart.” Tasnim provides no source for the quotation, but quotes Biden saying that “When an unarmed person comes towards the police with a knife or something else, you must shoot at their legs, not at their hearts.”
If we go to the original English quote, we find that Tasnim is distorting Biden’s statement by taking it out of context. In a meeting with political and religious leaders in Delaware on Monday, June 1, Biden pledged that one of his first actions as president would be to establish a police oversight board. He said there should be a change in the way police are trained; he suggested, for instance, that when law enforcement officers are confronted with a person without a firearm but "coming at them with a knife or something," cops "could shoot them in the leg instead of the heart. There are a lot of different things that can change.”
Biden is not telling the police where to shoot suspects but is advising them to refrain from a “shoot to kill” policy as a standard procedure for self defense. It is advice that should be followed by any police force anywhere in the world.
“At least 11 were killed during demonstrations in the US”
On May 31, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli acknowledged that around 200 people were killed during the November 2019 protests in Iran. Independent news agencies and human rights watchers put the number at up to 1,500 but, no matter what, the Revolutionary Guards and Iranian police would love to convince people that they are not alone in their brutality. That is why Tasnim published a news item titled “At least 11 killed in US demonstrations” to tell its readers that anywhere in the world, even in the US, bullets are the answer to protests. But the reality is not as simple as Tasnim likes to portray.
In the past nine days, the United States has been the scene of demonstrations and rallies in protest against the killing of an unarmed African-American man by the police. Some demonstrations led to violence but many have been peaceful. There have numerous reports by news agencies and media outlets about the demonstrations and those which turned violent June 2. But as one report by the Associated Press makes it clear, state governors generally tried to calm the situation, not to use deadly force. They pushed back against President Donald Trump’s threat to deploy the U.S. military to “dominate the streets,” in response to the riots that did erupt, if governors declined to deploy National Guard units in reaction to the violence.
“I say thank you but no thank you,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said about Trump’s call to send military troops to the states.
The independence shown by these governors is one of the pillars of American democracy. But it would be unimaginable if an Iranian provincial governor dared to act against the commands of the Supreme Leader or even the president.
The “Horrifying Class Divide”
Under the title “The ship of the American materialistic system runs aground,” Fars News Agency pointed to inequality in American society and wrote [Persian link] that “right now the income of American black households is, on average, one-third to one-half of white households. In the city of Minneapolis, where George Floyd, an American black citizen, was murdered, black families’ incomes are half the incomes of white families. This has deprived blacks from having access to medical insurance and has caused twice as many deaths from coronavirus among blacks. Even when Barack Obama wanted to cover families without insurance under a national medical insurance, he faced systematic opposition from capitalist institutions, especially in the Congress. This clearly shows that the US is suffering from a horrifying class divide and this class divide is quite understandable in the context of the dominant ideology of capitalism”.
Such claims need to be checked before we accept or reject them. But let us have a look at class divisions across the world to find out whether Iran or the United States is in a worse situation when it comes to class divisions and inequality.
The Gini coefficient (or index) is the most commonly-used measure of inequality intended to represent the distribution of income or wealth. World Atlas lists both the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran in terms of inequality based on 2018 data. The higher the number, the greater the inequality in a specific country. The Gini coefficient for Iran came to 38.8 and for the US to 37.8, slightly better than the Islamic Republic but not very different.
As it happens, this class divide and inequality in Iran, similar to that in the United Stated, is what inspired Mohammad Ghalibaf, the speaker of the newly elected Iranian parliament, to bring up the populist catch phrase of “4% vs. 96%” during his campaign. Considering that Ghalibaf is now the head of a legislature with a majority of conservative or hardline members, it is interesting that Fars News Agency triumphantly writes about class divide and inequality in the US.
“The Flight of Fighter Jets over Washington D.C.”
Not to be outdone by news agencies affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) has been trying to portray the American government as repressive through numerous interviews with so-called experts in American affairs. One of these interviews was with “Marzieh Hashemi”, born Melanie Franklin in Louisiana who moved to Iran and changed her name after marrying an Iranian man and converting to Islam. Quoting her niece, Hashemi claimed that residents of Washington D.C. had not been able to sleep at nights because of the thunderous sound of fighter jets flying over the city.
The fact is, no such thing happened. What happened was that in the evening of Monday, June 1, after hours of peaceful demonstrations in Washington D.C., military helicopters hovered low over the crowd, kicking up debris around them. Apparently, the US president, frustrated by the refusal of state governors to go along with his threat of using the military to quell the demonstrations, was desperate for a show of force. But even the Washington D.C. National Guard has opened an investigation into the use of one of its helicopters in an attempt to intimidate and disperse the demonstrators.
The US government is not a one-man rule and the words of the president are not considered a divine order. The American government and American police do not inhabit two different worlds. Like any other place in the world, violations of human rights, even egregious ones, do happen in the United States. And racism has been a constant presence in American society; now one could argue that it may even be inside the White House. The important thing, however, is that the ideals of democracy, liberty and civil rights have become so deep-rooted in this country that they cannot be easily uprooted. Civil protests are part of the democracy in the US and other democratic societies. They ensure that democracy is maintained and occasional temptations for autocracy by this or that institution are dismissed. Democracy is an unending endeavor.