”In the case of Iran, what has been visible in the west has been two competing versions of the country, coloured by political imagination and appropriated by the two rival – and confrontational – camps that have dominated our debate on foreign affairs since 11 September and the invasion of Iraq. Parties to a new cold war of ideas, their narrow and mutually antagonistic positions have reinterpreted each emerging international crisis to suit their own agenda and in defiance of the other’s.
On one side are the remnants of the old left, bolstered by a new generation radicalised by anti-poverty, anti-globalisation and climate change activism. Informed by writers like the veteran activist Noam Chomsky and journalists such as John Pilger, their world view is characterised by an ‘anti-imperialist’ narrative that is hostile to western interventions.
Opposing them is a more diffuse group with a far greater influence on policy-making, whose members range from broadly liberal to neoconservative. The unifying conviction that has glued this group together has been an almost religious belief in the transformative power that western democratic habits possess when transplanted into societies and cultures that have experienced largely restricted freedoms. It’s a belief, it should be said, that remains strangely unshaken by the multiple failures in recent years.
The two tendencies, however, do mirror each other in one crucial aspect: the way in which they tend to describe a more homogenous Iran than exists – either more universally desperate for change or more supportive of Ahmadinejad.”
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