June 25, 2005


Iran’s Hugo Chavez?

Despite massive election spending by the upper classes of Iran, and likely covert interference by the US Government and other Western governments and their regional lackeys, the people’s candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been elected Iran’s President. The course of his rise to power, as well as his background, viewpoints, and proposed policies, are so reminiscent of those of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez that the similarity cannot be accounted for simply by charging Ahmadinejad with populism, a demonstrably false charge that has all too often been leveled against President Chavez by his class enemies.

The similarity to Chavez reaches uncanny proportions. Here is a quote from Ahmadinejad, which is something Chavez might have said: "The country's biggest capital today is the oil industry and our oil reserves … The atmosphere ruling over our deals, production and exports is not clear. We should clarify it … I will cut the hands off the mafias of powers and factions who have a grasp on our oil, I stake my life on this ... People must see their share of oil money in their daily lives." Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, as well as OPEC Governor Hossein Kazempour Ardebili openly supported Ahmadinejad's opponent in the second round of the election. It is expected that they will both be removed from their posts once Ahmadinejad assumes the Presidency in August.

He has been labeled, meaninglessly but conveniently, an ultra-conservative. If fighting for the people’s interests requires being an “ultra-conservative,” I have no problem with that. If it takes “ultra-conservatism” to battle neo-liberalism, I have no problem with that.

The way I see it, progressives need to attend to two points:

First, if Ahmadinejad’s actual policies during the first few months of his presidency confirm the image of him as a progressive, we must not neglect the task of supporting him, meanwhile not neglecting the equally important task of redoubling our efforts to support Chavez.

Second, Ahmadinejad’s election may alter the entire dynamic and significance of Iran’s domestic and international policies. Domestically, it may inject new energy into the popular character of the Iranian Revolution. Internationally, as well as regionally, it would be an example of what true home-grown democracy looks like in the Middle East, as opposed to US-imposed “democracy” at the point of a gun meant only to serve US interests.

The US Government and its accomplices will doubtless continue to do all in their power to undermine any progress in Iran and Venezuela. Their efforts in Venezuela have so far been fruitless, and the Bolivarian Revolution appears to have struck deep and unshakeable roots. Let us hope their criminal intentions will be equally futile in the case of Iran.

President Chavez met Mr Ahmadinejad, then Tehran's mayor, while visiting Iran in 2004

June 04, 2005


Salvation from Jesusland

The fact that all branches of Christianity have conservative as well as progressive wings is puzzling. In the case of Catholicism, the Vatican is poles apart from phenomena such as Liberation Theology. In the case of Protestantism, there seems to be little in common between right-wing evangelical denominations, on one hand, and religious organizations such as the United Church of Canada, on the other. An obvious question is: If the right and the left wing represent the same religion, then how can they be so far apart? Another question is: If the right wing of each main branch of the religion has more in common with the right wing of the other branch than with its own left wing, in what sense are they two different branches? To claim that religion is not about such things, but rather about otherworldly matters, is to avoid the issue. Indeed, both the right and the left wings would say that their political and social practice arise from their religious faith, and are not incidental to it.

I think the answer is fairly simple, at least as simple as such complex matters can be. Religiosity (of a sort) can be an escape and an excuse from accepting social responsibility, from having a real (analyzed) political viewpoint. Religiosity then becomes an excuse to turn inward and renounce everything except one’s own interest, disguised as interest in personal salvation. It is to live the powerless apolitical life of the mass, with nary a thought of the universal. But this is not the only possible kind of turning inward. There is another kind of turning inward that is merely a prelude to turning outward again. This kind of inwardness leads to the recognition of social responsibility as the essence of religiosity and spirituality.

Real spirituality means recognizing oneself as a part of the world, not just rhetorically, but in practice. Being a part of the world means getting involved in things that are forming its destiny. It means adding one’s voice to the chorus of voices that still see the possibility of a bright future for humanity, the voices of those who have not given up on the ideal that a truly human life is the only kind worth living, and that such a life is lived in communion with the rest of humanity. Self-centered pursuit of one’s own interests and the interests of one’s own group is about as unspiritual as one can get. It is concentrating on matter, rather than spirit. Spirit is movement, change, and flux. Renouncing progressive politics amounts to renouncing the world, and any chance the world may have of becoming a spiritual world. It amounts to abandoning it to people like George W. Bush, who see the world as a tool for making money, and who see spirituality itself as a means to enhancing their self-interest. (The distinction between "mass" and "universal" was originated by the French philosopher Gabriel Marcel.)

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