6.19.2009

U.S./Iran Relations - A Helpful Historical Tableau

Smithsonian Magazine, in what I'm now seeing as a welcome trend during any given geopolitical flashpoint, provides some very helpful background on the history of Iran's interactions with the outside world.  Really, it's a good read.

Without being dull, the article outlines key moments of tension and transition in Iranian history, including the many pivotal mass protests over the past century and a half.

I found this one, a rally against Western influence and a corrupt domestic dynasty, the most interesting - the 1891 Tobacco Revolt:

Under the terms of the deal, Iranian tobacco farmers had to sell their crops at prices set by British Imperial, and every smoker had to buy tobacco from a shop that was part of its retail network. This proved one outrage too many. A national boycott of tobacco, supported by everyone from intellectuals and clerics to Nasir al-Din's own harem women, swept the country. Troops fired upon protesters at a huge demonstration in Tehran. After a series of even larger demonstrations broke out, the concession was canceled. "For a long time Iranians had been watching other people take control of their destiny," says John Woods, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Chicago. "The tobacco revolt was the moment when they stood up and said they'd had enough."

People getting outraged about excessive regulation of smoking?  A lack of "control of their destiny" - ?  My, what if tobacco was tea...?  Some interesting founding-era parallels emerge.

But I project a bit of my own distaste for heavy-handed tobacco-related government interference onto the event (although once again, I'll be present for the enactment of a smoking ban - this time here, ironically, in Hong Kong, supposed enclave of freedom and laissez-faire, when smoking is officially banned in bars on July 1).

Anyway, read the article if you want to understand President Obama's reluctance to step into the thicket full of lingering shadows.

Also, read this piece that goes against the grain (ht/OOTM).  It will help you assess the Iranian actions of the present without rushing headlong into the green-draped arms of the protesters as you consider the tumult in full.