Some Westerners have been driving themselves into a narcissistic frenzy over events in Iran, blind to the contradictions in their own behavior. John McCain's outrage over the tragic death of "Neda," a young woman who might have died under American bombs in his alternate reality, is merely one case in point. Suddenly the "clash of civilizations" crowd is finding new enthusiasm for an Islamist political party.
The President's remarks today went as far as they could wisely go, but the opportunists and fantasists will both say it wasn't enough.
Why are the people who've been insisting there's a monolithic evil called "Islamofascism" suddenly backing one Iranian faction over another? As Prime Minister in the early days of the Islamic Republic , Mir-Hossein Mousavi helped orchestrate anti-American acts in Lebanon. Yet the crowd that's been demonizing the entire Muslim world is suddenly wearing green, which was adopted by Mousavi's party because it is the color of Islam. What's behind this seeming change of heart?
The behavior of pols like Lindsay Graham comes off as political expediency of the most cynical kind. They exploit American support for the brave demonstrators of Teheran by insisting the President isn't doing enough, knowing full well that to express more support than he has done would be counterproductive. It's the unattractive face of politics as usual.
For others, like McCain, it seems more genuine but no less misguided. He perceives no inconsistency as he careens from "bomb Iran" 'jokes' to eulogies for those he might have bombed. He, like many Americans, is caught up in the emotions of the moment. And who can fail to be moved by the courage of the Iranian resistance? But let's not pretend that this moment is about us.
For some of us, people only become human and real when they give us an opportunity to play out our own ambitions or fantasies. That covers public figures like McCain. But it also includes bloggers who think they're commando superheroes because they're coloring their websites green and cut-and-pasting Tweets from Teheran.
To the virtual barricades, comrades!
That's exactly the kind of fantasy projection that allowed people to enthusiastically support an invasion of Iraq, against all reason. At last! A war of our own! A cause we can support, a flag we can wave, a battle that will make us the "greatest generation"!
But we're dealing with human beings, not figurines to be moved here and there on the maps of our own egos. Overzealous talk from narcissistic foreigners can get people killed. And Americans aren't the only offenders. Bernard-Henri Lévy's unsubstantiated assertion that this uprising is the "end of the Islamic republic" is equally irresponsible, playing directly into Ahmadinejad's hands by equating dissent with subversion. He may or may not be right about the outcome. Neither he nor anyone else can know right now. But either way, the Iranian people aren't helped by these sorts of grandiose pronouncements from the West.
There are several possible outcomes. Ahmadinejad and Khamenei could prevail. Or Moussavi and Rafsanjani could win out, thereby saving the Islamic Republic. Or this could be the beginning of a newly democratized Iran, with Mossavi as its Gorbachev figure.
Want to help the people of Iran reach that third outcome? Then why not start by seeing them as they are? They're people who adopted a very centrist candidate as the symbol, rather than the reality, of change. (Did I just hear some progressives mutter "that sounds familiar"? Now, now ...) In supporting a more moderate candidate they've been given a chance, but just a chance, to transform their country. Let's hope that history is with them.
Whatever the outcome, however, this is their battle. We can support the Iranian people and the principles of democracy without becoming partisans in an internal political struggle. That's a less melodramatic stance, and perhaps a less emotionally satisfying one. But it's wiser.
As much as we might like to wear green and dream that we and not they are on the front lines of history, that doesn't help anybody. Their movement is brave and important and real. But it's their movement, not ours. This is not our feel-good moment. Our play-acting is, in the end, a selfish act.
We all need to look in the mirror and remind ourselves: This isn't about you.