Everyone who knows me knows that I have a conflicted relationship with Foreign Policy Magazine. On the one hand, I think they are pro-US empire, racist, and ill-informed about the world at large. On the other hand, I really enjoy insulting them, so that’s a plus I suppose.
On the 29th, Foreign Policy published a sleazy article about the sex lives of Iranians (it was the first story on their site and advertised on the sidebar no matter what story on the site you were reading). This is a privilege which goes one way: Westerners are able to comment on the sex lives of whole foreign populations and call it serious commentary in legitimate news sources. The reverse is never allowed. Never could these populations write about the sex lives of Americans as a group and expect it to be treated as serious news (even in their own countries). Forgetting the oppressive Iranian regime (the theoretical excuse for this sleazy non-analysis at the boys’ club that is Foreign Policy), one merely need imagine how American women would feel if, say, a Japanese magazine ostensibly dedicated to discussing state-to-state relations used their front page to discuss the sex lives of American women. It would feel voyeuristic from a sexual perspective and call into question the intellectual credibility of the Japanese magazine in question.
The sensationalist and absurd description below the title “Erotic Republic” (which feels more like something I’d say as a joke than something that gets published in a political magazine of repute) reads “Iran is in the throes of an unprecedented sexual revolution. Could it eventually topple the regime?”
Let me answer that for you: The answer is no. The rather boring reason for this is that the changing sexual habits the article wants to sell as being the potential reason for full scale regime change are not breaking news (see this Time magazine journalist being interviewed in 2009). Although they surely lack official support from the reactionary Iranian regime, they are normalized to the extent that the very generation which is undergoing these “changes” have enough faith in their corrupt government to take part in elections. More to the point, as that video mentions, the issue of sexual freedoms is far enough from being the cause of a hypothetical regime change that people are willing to abandon it as their primary cause to combat rather pedestrian economic corruption. And at any rate, has the long-standing association of LGBTQ people with the left in the US meant the end of US militarism? Glenn Greenwald opines:
Social issues don’t threaten entrenched ruling interests: allowing same-sex couples to marry doesn’t undermine oligarchs, the National Security State, or the wildly unequal distribution of financial and political power. Indeed, many of those ruling interests, led by Wall Street and other assorted plutocrats (including Obama’s donor base), became the most devoted advocates for LGBT equality. If anything, one could say that the shift on this issue has been more institution-affirming than institution-subverting: the campaign to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” continually glorified and even fetishized military service
So the very premise of the article is deeply flawed, but the execution is also troubling. “When someone mentions Iran, what images leap into your mind? Ayatollahs, religious fanaticism, veiled women? How about sexual revolution? That’s right. Over the last 30 years, as the mainstream Western media has been preoccupied with the radical policies of the Islamic Republic, the country has undergone a fundamental social and cultural transformation.” Does the one cancel out the other? During the 60s, were the official institutions of state power in the United States not violent internally as well as externally, oppressive towards LGBTQ youth as well as to political dissidents? This fact did not mean that social and cultural transformations did not occur, nor did the existence of those transformations cancel out the reactionary nature of the state. When the religious fanatic and warmonger George W. Bush was in power, did we deny that there were secular and progressive Americans who were sexually liberated simply because George W. Bush dominated the news?
Only because we are dealing with Iran are we expected to react AT ALL (with shock or relief) at the fact that the regime and the population might not be one homogenous entity. “When someone mentions America, what images leap into your mind?” I could ask. America is many things for its diverse population. The fair question is “When someone mentions the American government…”, and by the same token, if someone mentioned the Iranian regime, one would be correct in referring to it as having a religious character (along with other elements: anti-unionism, nationalist elements, corrupt bureaucracy, etc.) Should the victims of our drone policies (and I cannot stress enough how Americans are NOT the victims of Iranian policies that our government beats the drum of war over, but foreigners who wish to fight back against our murderous foreign policy are labeled “terrorists”) take heart in the fact that many segments within US civil society do not share their government’s views?
The first page mentions divorce rates, but the whole article omits mention of the Shi`a practice of “pleasure marriage” (come on Foreign Policy, even Wikipedia knows about it). The divorce rate in the US does not include the sort of practices which might be culturally comparable to “pleasure marriage” (which depending on the power relations between the parties, might be dating, having a long-term “sugar daddy,” or prostitution). On the other hand, the divorce rate in the United States is calculated against monogamous marriages, whereas a small portion of legally recognized Iranian marriages are polygynous, as polygyny is legal under Iranian law. It appears that the reader of the article is expected to know all this information already, or for whatever reason, the author wishes it to remain unknown so that he can paint whatever picture he likes with the data he has chosen.
Having spent the first page on sexual statistics, and half the second page repeating over and over again how silly the Iranian regime must look to young Iranians (surely it does), he jumps to the conclusion (with no analogy or evidence) that this means that the regime’s legitimacy is in question and young sex-loving Iranians will surely tear it down with their bare genitals. One cannot help but wonder why the sex lives of young Iranians are of concern to political scientists in the West, to the point where although this article does not even come close to proving the “foreign policy” importance of the fact that Iranians enjoy sex (in much the same manner as non-Iranians, except that most of the time, they talk dirty in Persian), they still insist on pretending that it has some. Unable to find any evidence for the regime change the author wants us to believe is just a pelvic thrust away, he flatly concludes with a line that I’m sure he thought sounded really deep and cool, but I find it funny enough that I can’t help but steal it and end with it myself:
In New York, Sex and the City may be empty and banal, but in Iran, its social and political implications run deep.
Deep. But how deep?