The Moscow Times headlines its post “Russian Foreign Ministry Slams U.S. Over Iran Protests,” but the statement from spokeswoman Maria Zakharova is more of a sneer than a slam.
Zakharova invoked Occupy Wall Street and the Ferguson riots to insinuate that America has no standing to criticize how the Iranian regime handles protests.
Zakharova’s comment came in the form of a Facebook post protesting U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s statement at the United Nations, rather than a formal Foreign Ministry communique. Specifically, Zakharov quoted the part where Haley said the U.S. would seek to convene meetings of the U.S. Security Council and Human Rights Council to discuss regime violence toward the protesters.
“There is no doubt that the U.S. delegation has something to tell the world,” Zakharova snarked. “For example, Nikki Haley can share the American experience of dispersing protests, tell us details of how mass arrests and the crackdown on Occupy Wall Street were made, or how Ferguson unrest was quelled.”
Russians have delivered some quality trolling in the past, but this is a weak effort. (The problem with Occupy Wall Street, for example, was that the authorities allowed it to drag on forever in defiance of local ordinances, not that the occupations were ruthlessly dispersed.)
More to the point, Zakharova seems to have little to say about the substances of Haley’s remarks, or about the overall U.S. criticism of how Iran is handling the protests.
Also, whatever else one might say about moments of American unrest like Ferguson or Occupy, or the more recent Antifa riots, the government is not muzzling protesters by taking away their free speech rights as Iran is doing to its protesters, or as Zakharova’s government would do to a comparable uprising in Russia. Each of the American incidents was a geyser of commentary, argument, and rebuttal in both the legacy media and online. Major media organizations eagerly repeated even blatantly false memes put forward by protesters and faced no official sanctions for doing so.
Of course, it is grotesque and absurd to compare even a controversial police response in the United States to the murderous thuggery of totalitarian regimes. But there is a deeper point to be made about the banner of free speech still waving over the United States, even though it is a bit tattered around the edges, while much of the rest of the world embraces censorship as a vital tool for maintaining social order.
In Russia, they like to make people wonder if dissident speech and challenging ideas are really worth the cost of expressing them. As one writer put it, “People are left to explore the boundaries of their own bravery.” That’s a fair description of what dissidents are doing in Iran right now.