Iran connection makes strange bedfellows in support of OccupyWallStreet

Iran's Supreme Leader, hikers he imprisoned support same movement, different goals

It's more coincidence than conspiracy, but Iran's Supreme Leader and the three American hikers recently released after being accused of spying in Iran have come out on opposite sides of the OccupyWallStreet protests.

The three hikers – Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd – spoke at a gathering of the Occupy Oakland protest last night, just days after the last two arrived home after being arrested for straying over the Iran-Iraq border on foot and spending 26 months in prison on espionage charges. Sarah Shourd was released in September of last year.

All three said they were inspired by the Oakland protest and OccupyWallStreet (OWS) movement's success.

"I feel proud of this happening in my city," Bauer told the crowd.

Like every other group of more than one participant, the hikers tied their own particular issue – a call for better conditions in California's maximum security prisons – to the broad but nonspecific demands within the OWS movement.

Though mostly from the political left, groups leading the movement have avoided trying to tie it to specific issues or demands, presenting it as a revolution of the majority against inequities in power and wealth in the U.S.

Foreign OWS franchises have mostly followed suit, though in Italy and some other European cities existing conflicts arising from the EuroZone financial crisis have taken over part of the agenda and, in Italy at least, attracted protesters more violent than the bulk of OWS participants.

Unwelcome support, inaccurate praise

Despite the deliberate pacifism of the movement, refusal to endorse radical political ideologies or advocate anything resembling overthrow of the government, the success of the OccupyWallStreet movement is an early sign of the collapse of social order and ultimately the power of the United States, according to Iran's unrealistically optimistic Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni.

Khameni actually praised the protests, though not as an effort to reorient the economy and division of power. Khameni said the protests stem from "the prevalence of top-level corruption, poverty and social inequality in America" and is being suppressed by "heavy-handed treatment of the demonstrators by U.S. officials...[the like of which] is not seen even in underdeveloped countries with dictatorial regimes."

Khameni reaction to underground protesters involves placing many underground

Far be it from anyone in this country to second-guess an Iranian Theocrat on heavy-handed treatment of protest or the brutality of dictatorial regimes, of course.

What he described seems more a case of his projecting Iran's own protest movement and its intent to overthrow a totalitarian government on the Occupation, which is only asking that economic rules that make it easier for the rich to make money and harder for the middle classes to keep it be made more fair.

Certainly Khameni's own reaction to protest doesn't indicate any real support for opposition.

In 2009 his government violently suppressed widespread street protests following the disputed re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the No. 2 spot in Iran's government.

The protests, which went on for nearly six months after the June election, were routinely answered by riot police who used tear gas, beat protesters, arrested and held them without charge according to Amnesty International.

Government reactions – consistently described as "heavy handed" or worse – devolved to the point that security forces were allowed to simply fire live ammunition into crowds to break up demonstrations.

Given the conditions in Iran, it will be at least one revolution and several years before even optimistic protesters could expect to put changes in economic policy at the top of their reform agenda. Keeping the government from disappearing, torturing and executing opponents is usually considered to deserve a higher place on grass-roots agendas than financial regulations.

Occupiers, police both try to avoid confrontation. Mostly.

Even in New York, where confrontations between OWS and police have been most intense, there has been no violence remotely approaching even the first, mostly non-lethal response by Iran's government to its own protests.

There have been a series of incidents in New York, Boston and San Francisco in which police have used batons and pepper spray, drawing complaints from protesters of police brutality and violent overreactions.

On the other side, there have been several incidents in which subsets of OWS protesters hoping for more conflict to make their story more dramatic and impact more intense attacked police, not the other way around.

In New York and other cities, even senior police officials responsible for containing the protest largely praise organizers for their careful and purposeful adherence to the rules – if only to give police as little excuse as possible to arrest or disperse them for trespassing, blocking roadways or other trivial offenses rather than opposition to major government policies.

Uncertainty, not opposition, is the threat U.S. officials fear

Conservative pundits and politicians have spoken out against the OWS movement as promoting "class war," which, at best, is code for "advocating higher taxes" rather than anything resembling real war.

Even having hacktivist group Anonymous among the leaders of the movement hasn't resulted in any major online attacks that can be tied to the protests. Anonymous, like most of the other groups involved, seem to have toned down its extralegal tactics to focus on the public, law-abiding approach of the coalition of groups that make up OWS.

It may disappoint Khameni to discover even American anti-government protesters don't consider his support useful or his praise accurate. Probably not. Khameni used the Occupation as a rhetorical device in the same way conservatives use it as a straw man on which to hang their own fears and accusations.

It's not really clear what OWS is, yet. Its broadest intent is clear, and there has been no indication there are hidden agendas or conspiracies likely to leap out and surprise anyone. What specific changes its members and member groups will agree to demand, let alone from whom they will demand it or who will respond, are all up in the air.

That's the real danger to any fan of a powerful central government and enforcement of strict rules limiting the ability of protesters to make trouble: OccupyWallStreet has caught the public imagination, gathered millions of approving followers among those unhappy with a variety of problems, but has not settled on a specific agenda that would give those in power a set of fixed policies to undermine or even any specific leaders whose character can be attacked.

OccupyWallStreet has become a power player because of the support it has attracted; it has become a threat because of its refusal to name a set of targets at which it will direct its own attack.

That's what makes officials in the U.S. nervous: power gathered outside the usual restrictions and confines of American politics – like the potential energy in a coiled spring, or an anvil hanging over the heads of those in power, none of whom can tell whether they or their political opponents are the ones standing where X marks the spot.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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