At the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, antiwar-protesters who massed outside were beaten with bully clubs by Chicago police. The entire episode was covered heavily by the media. This fact was not lost on the students, who chanted loudly, “The whole world is watching.”
If it was not literally true that the entire world was watching–after all, CNN was barely a twinkle in Ted Turner’s eyes at the time–it was most certainly true that the police brutality at the Convention was widely covered, and that it paradoxically played into the hands of the protesters, the leaders of whom wanted to spark a police overreaction and thereby gain sympathy for their cause (see link for discussion of these motivations).
One of the reasons the brutality in Chicago in 1968 was so shocking to those of us watching on television–and I count myself among them–was that its extent was unexpected. Some tear gas, yes; but wading into the crowd and indiscriminately cracking people’s skulls with billy clubs? No. Although many of the protestor’s organizers may have counted on some sort of violence of that type, many of the rest of us did not. We had grown used to relative police restraint–although there is some history, even in this country, of violent official reactions to rioting and/or demonstrations (see the Bonus March of the Great Depression).
But even the police violence in Chicago, although deplorable and excessive by almost all accounts, resulted in no deaths. And this is also part of what the demonstrators relied on; they never thought they were risking their lives.
Not so with many other demonstrators around the world. In fact, recently in Iran, there have been a series of demonstrations in which protestors have died.
There appear to be two sets of types of protests going on right now in Iran. The first type seems to have been sparked by ethnic strife; the result, naturalment, of US provocation, according to Iran’s leader Ahmadinejad.
The ethnic protests erupted over a cartoon (how odd that cartoons have been the subject of so many recent protests that have led to deaths):
Four people were killed and 70 were injured in riots last week in the Azeri region northwest of here, according to local news reports, as tensions spread after the publication of a cartoon that has outraged Iran’s Azeri population.
The Azeris are Turkish in origin, and the region in which they live was (at least, according to the article) one of the strongholds of Iran’s 1979 revolution. The cartoon, by the way, depicted an Azeri-speaking character as a cockroach. It is significant, I think, that the cartoon is described as having been published in an “official” newspaper, and therefore to have had some sort of government approval.
The demonstrators have other demands as well:
…the release of jailed protesters and the right to start independent television channels that would broadcast in Turkish Azeri.
Independent television channels–sounds like a desire for more freedom of speech. Although perhaps not; the article is not very forthcoming on what’s really going on here. In fact, note the passive voice for the rioting deaths: “four people were killed.”
I’d like to know a lot more. Were they killed by police, or did they somehow get trampled in the demonstrations? Gateway Pundit has fairly extensive coverage of the story, and there are reports that police have fired on demonstrators and killed them in some of the protests.
The other type of Iranian demonstrators are anti-government students; ironic, because many of their parents were probably in the forefront of the 1979 revolution, back when they were students. And, despite the increased ability of the post-1968 media to cover these events and beam them instantaneously around the globe, I can’t say that the slogan “the whole world is watching” applies.
Here’s some opinion from a blogger who bills himself as “Winston,” a “Canadian based Pro-America Iranian neo-conservative, seeking a democratic regime change in Iran.”
Winston links to this report at Rooz Online, which mentions accusations of police brutality and students in critical condition.
Of course, these are not unbiased sources. But the same could be said for much of the media. At any rate, it’s impossible to know exactly what’s really happening in Iran right now, or what effect it might have on the Iranian government. My guess is, on the latter question, not much.
But I think it’s logical to suppose that the less the western MSM covers it, the better it is for the Iranian leaders. If the whole world really were watching, it would be a good thing. But it’s not likely to happen.
Is this the fault of our MSM? Partly, I suppose. But it’s also due to the fact that student protests have been going on sporadically in Iran for many years, and it’s old news, not new–it doesn’t seem all that dramatically different.
Generally, something is news because it’s different. Although the police in Chicago had never been known for their gentleness, police brutality against student rioters in Chicago was bigger news, paradoxically, because it was not the norm; it was different, and therefore shocking.
Another paradox is that, in a society with a free press and a fair amount of transparency, even events that make government look bad can be freely covered and widely disseminated. Not so in repressive countries that make it much harder to get such information. The Rooz article reports that coverage of the student demonstrations has been almost nonexistent in Iran itself, except for a short article downplaying them. This, of course, is to be expected. If, as Rooz writes, local reporters are not allowed into the university, it’s exceedingly difficult to cover the event properly, even if the will to do so existed.
Blogger “Iranian Woman” thinks these protests may be the start of something big, however. Wishful thinking? I haven’t a clue. But if she’s correct, the whole world will soon be watching.