Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Letters to Ahmadinejad

Diversion doesn't work forever.

HBO is airing a Swedish documentary called "Letters to the President", about the phenomena of people writing letters to Ahmadinejad asking him to solve their problems. It's an interesting move - people write in and ask for money, help, medicine, water to irrigate their crops - and he has a staff that answers them. About 90% of the letters are answered, sometimes with face to face meetings with goverment officials, and occasionally with meetings with Ahmadinejad himself. The movie was completed before the election, but featured protest-like schemes in which Ahmadinejad's motorcade was mobbed by people seeking to deliver their letters.

The odd thing is many of the issues people are trying to address are symptoms of systemic problems, rather than just individual misfortune. There's "I have cancer," but there's also "I need a bank loan to buy sheep and the banks won't give it to me because they don't have the money," and "I can't irrigate my crops because my village doesn't have access to water." Women waiting in line to see him complain that inflation is so high they can't afford basic food; one cries as she says she had to save for 3 weeks to buy her child strawberries. One person comments that inflation was 10% under the previous administration, and is 90% now. Others complain that although Ahmadinejad promises public works projects in the provinces, inefficient local management means that local leaders only begin them a week before he comes to visit, and stop them after he leaves.

It's excellent PR, and appears to work in some of the poorer provinces (although apparently not in the cities, where a series of cool guys with cigarettes tell the camera the president doesn't do anything.) But even in the rural areas, it seems to be cracking. In one scene, Ahmadinejad has a town hall discussion with farmers. Before speaking, he gets them to chant "Death to America" and "Nuclear energy is our right!" The farmers' concerns, however, have little to do with America or nukes. One old man tells the president he lost two sons in the Iran-Iraq war, and now cannot irrigate his crops because the village has no water. Ahmadinejad promises water will be delivered, and quickly changes the subject to the man's sons, asking if anyone has a picture of the martyr, and giving a long speech about the fallen. He then goes off about how Iran is going to crush its enemies and tells the crowd that there is poverty elsewhere in the world, that the U.S. has 40 million homeless unemployed and no social service agencies. He does not explain what this has to do with bringing water to the old man's crops.

Diversion doesn't work forever, and eventually exposes itself. It did here, where banning gay marriage proved unrelated to providing jobs and health care, and it has in Iran as well. Demonizing others is just no substitute for not sucking.

No comments:

Post a Comment