This is a guest post by Ben Cohen
He appeared suddenly on the east side of Eleventh Avenue, bobbing and weaving under the hardening gray sky, drawing stares from the construction site workers and a chuckle from the guy manning the hot dog stand a few yards on. A car hooted its horn appreciatively, then a truck. Someone exclaimed, “Only in New York!”, which is the phrase reserved for sights like a ten foot latex caricature of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad crossing a busy intersection in the heart of midtown.
The grotesque puppet is a creation of Iran180, an energetic NYC organization that stages street theater protests against the Iranian regime and those doing business with that regime. Last September, the puppet beat Ahmadinejad himself to the front page of the New York Times, when it performed outside the UN building round about the same time the Iranian tyrant was performing inside.
He was back in action on Friday for a protest outside the imposing Javits Conference Center, where a major auto industry show is being staged. The Iran180 team, along with representatives of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) — an advocacy group that maintains an invaluable database on those companies commercially engaged with Tehran — was targeting the Italian car manufacturer Fiat, which recently acquired a controlling stake in ailing U.S. automaker Chrysler.
Why Fiat? This excerpt from a letter sent by UANI’s Mark Wallace to Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne lays out the answer comprehensively:
As reported in The New York Times, some 2,000 Fiat vehicles have been produced for sale in Iran (The New York Times, “Profiting from Iran, and the US,” 3/6/2010). Given that the Siena model, which you developed in a licensing agreement with the Pars Industrial Foundation, is still prominently on display on the Pars Website (http://www.topco-ir.com/fa/home.aspx), it is reasonable to conclude that Fiat is continuing to actively develop and cultivate business relationships in Iran.
In addition to Fiat’s direct business activities in Iran, a number of Fiat’s subsidiaries are operating in Iran, including CNH, an Illinois-based agricultural and construction equipment manufacturer, which has disclosed its business activities in Iran to the SEC. Similarly, according to Business Monitor International, the Pars Industrial Development Foundation (PIDF) is importing Fiat’s complete knock-down kits from Turkey, specifically JV Tofas. PIDF recently announced plans to invest US$313 million in new models. By importing these kits from Turkey, observers could reasonably conclude that Fiat is attempting to circumvent sanctions imposed by the European Union. (Business Monitor Online, “Competitive Landscape: Iran Autos, Q4 2009,” 9/30/09)
Other examples give equal, if not greater pause for concern. According to the Italian-Iranian Chamber of Commerce, Fiat’s subsidiary Iveco, an Italian truck maker, is active in Iran. As reported in the The Wall Street Journal, Iveco trucks have been used not only to transport Iranian missiles, but have been used to stage gruesome public executions. When confronted with this evidence, Maurizio Pignata, Director of Iveco’s press office, callously dismissed the problem by stating the company “can’t know the ulterior exploit of our vehicles.” (The Wall Street Journal, “The Rome-Tehran Axis,” 1/10/10) UANI finds this explanation remarkably lacking, given the regime’s long history of sponsoring terrorism and committing human rights abuses.
Plenty, then, to be indignant about, which was one reason I joined the protest. Another reason was curiosity – I wanted to see what kind of crowd something like this could draw.
In the event, it was a small one, although the engaging street theater and the sympathetic response of many people passing by gave the protest a boisterousness that it otherwise would have lacked. And it gave me, someone al who hasn’t attended a demonstration in years, food for thought.
The act of demonstrating with signs and slogans is associated much more with the left than with the right. So if you want to organize a large protest, logic dictates reaching out to the left. The Iran protest certainly had a format, style and substance recognizable to the left: a corporate target at a corporate event, a vile and brutal regime, plenty of chanting, a clear set of demands.
Not one of New York’s numerous left-wing, “progressive” groups showed up. On this very blog, you will find plenty of articles which explain why that’s the case, but it essentially boil down to this: Iran is regarded by them as a warmongers cause, to be disdained by “anti-imperialists.”
In point of fact, Ahmadinejad was not the only puppet I saw yesterday. Before leaving for the protest, I watched the first few minutes of this fawning, and unintentionally hilarious, tribute to anti-Zionist hack Max Blumenthal on Press TV. Blumenthal, who sees fascists lurking on every corner in America, is nevertheless quite happy to jump into bed with a Holocaust denial outfit.
But that, you see, doesn’t really matter. Surely, any country which permits Blumenthal to ramble about the imperative to “dezionise” Israel – and, my God, does that line sound sinister when it’s broadcast on an Iranian channel – is an ally of the international struggle for peace and justice? Surely?
Yesterday’s protest, then, unwittingly demonstrated the moral crisis of much of the left, which was contemptuously silent when the democracy protests erupted in 2009 and remains so two years on. Meanwhile, the Iranian regime has responded to the upheavals elsewhere in the region by stepping up repression, even aiding the Ba’athist tyrant Assad’s bloody response to democracy protests in Syria.
Still, the conclusion I draw is a positive one. Rather than bemoaning the absence of the New Left’s inheritors, we should feel liberated by it. We have an opportunity to build a solidarity movement with the Iranian freedom struggle unencumbered by the ideological hang-ups of anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism. I dare to believe that the campaign against Fiat’s dealings with the Iranian regime might become a global one.
Make it so, people. Make it so.