Sunday, November 09, 2008

Ahmadinejad Rejects Panoptic Surveillance

From my good friend Alireza Doostdar sent this note from Tehran:

This is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it's the second time (as far as i know) that ahmadinejad's government has opposed a disciplinary police move like this. The first time it was in response to the so-called "social security project" that has seen male and female police officers stationed in different parts of town and confronting men and women who are dressed "improperly" (or men who have "unconventional" hairstyles). The government spokesman announced back then that the government was against this plan and had no role in its design, but then the police retorted that the government had known about it all along and was in agreement with its basics. It ended up being implemented and it has been fairly controversial, with horror stories told every now and then (one interesting case i heard about recently was from a friend who personally saw a girl face down police officers who wanted to force her into their van, up to the point where a female officer grabs her to push her in, she resists and falls down, then the people who were watching step forward a few steps, the girl gets up and curses at the cops at the top of her lungs, and the police get into their car and drive off, leaving people clapping and booing and whistling). I haven't seen anything like this myself during the past five months: I've only seen two police cars from the "social security" unit in all of Tehran, and they have been tucked away into inconspicuous corners (I've seen one in Tajrish and one near the Mirdamad subway station). And the project doesn't seem to me to have
had much of an effect on men's hairstyles or women's hijab.

The second interesting thing about this is that Ahmadinejad doesn't really control the police. Their commander is appointed by the Supreme Leader and I believe they only report to him, except in cases where the interior minister is delegated this authority (which hasn't happened in a long long time, since before Khatami I believe). So I don't know what sort of power Ahmadinejad really wields in this case,
although he seems pretty sure of himself in the letter.

The third thing is that police have, for a few years now, been focusing on a discourse of "science" and "rationalization," up to the point where they would distribute reports about the scientific reasons for bad hejab (some girls have run away from home, some are exhibitionists, some are depressed, and other nonsense like this), and talk about all sorts of scientific foundations for their projects.
This camera things seems to me to be along the same lines, adopting the measures of "advanced" societies in controlling their citizens (this is actually pointed out by a few people in the comments section of this news item. people say if the UK does it, why not us?). I think that if it hadn't happened in the context of years of police intrusions into people's privacy, it probably wouldn't have been seen
as particularly controversial (although ahmadinejad is the only person I've heard of on this so far!!!).

President Orders that Camera Installations in Thoroughfares be Canceled

Translation of Article:

The President has written a letter to the Commander of Police in response to published reports that cameras will be installed in some areas. Ordering that such measures be stopped and canceled, he commented that "this measure is against [the country's] interests, it would be a step in the direction of policification of the peaceful and secure atmosphere of the country, pitting police against the majority
of the people and purging trust and mental security from society."

The full letter of Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Commander Brigadier General Ismail Ahmadi Moqaddam is as follows:

"Based on published reports, the Police Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran is to install cameras in some areas in order to control individuals. Notwithstanding the fact that neither the National Security Council nor any other decision-making body in the country has ratified any such measure, this measure would be against [the
country's] interests, it would be a step in the direction of policification of the peaceful and secure atmosphere of the country, pitting police against the majority of the people and purging trust and mental security from society.

The criminals and offenders in our country are very few compared to the population. Rather than using methods that would stoke suspicions that police is out for a general confrontation with the people, it can employ advanced and proper intelligence methods to confront offenders and protect the public's rights.

I repeat that police has to be beside the people and avoid implementing projects that show its distrust of people, that pits the police force against them, and that lacks legitimacy and necessity. It is necessary that you stop and cancel these decisions and report the results [to me].

I ask Almighty God for the increased success of the dutiful police.