Friday, July 24, 2009

Iran's Revolution: While Obama Slept

Anyone who thought Iran was getting back to normal after the theft of its June 12 elections has been surprised by recent events.Ayatollah Khamenei who had been revered by Shiite Muslims around the world is now seen as little more that a political hack, stitching together ill fitting religious garb to cover the ugliness of the Iranian body politic.

The regime in Iran has resorted to kicking down people's doors and beating them in their homes. Women and girls as well as boys face rape and beating in prison. There have been demonstrators executed. How have the Iranian people responded? The Ethiopian Review paints a picture of incredible bravery, of people who take to the streets with the full knowledge that they are risking everything for the sake of their country. The Ethiopian Review reports as follows.

"Thousands of protesters streamed down avenues of the capital Thursday, chanting "death to the dictator" and defying security forces who fired tear gas and charged with batons, witnesses said. Turning garbage bins into burning barricades and darting through choking clouds of tear gas, the opposition made its first foray into the streets in nearly two weeks in an attempt to revive mass demonstrations that were crushed in Iran's postelection turmoil. Iranian authorities had promised tough action to prevent the marches, which supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi have been planning for days through the Internet. Heavy police forces deployed at key points in the city ahead of the marches, and Tehran's governor vowed to "smash" anyone who heeded the demonstration calls. In some places, police struck hard. Security forces chased after protesters, beating them with clubs on Valiasr Street, Tehran's biggest north-south avenue, witnesses said. Women in headscarves and young men dashed away, rubbing their eyes in pain as police fired tear gas, in footage aired on state-run Press TV. In a photo from Thursday's events in Tehran obtained by The Associated Press outside Iran, a woman with her black headscarf looped over her face thrust her fist into the air in front of a garbage bin that had been set on fire. In another image, a man dropped to his knees, overcome by the effects of tear gas. But the clampdown was not total. At Tehran University, a line of police blocked a crowd from reaching the gates of the campus, but then did not move to disperse them as the protesters chanted "Mir Hossein" and "death to the dictator" and waved their hands in the air, witnesses said. The crowd grew to nearly 1,000 people, the witnesses said. "Police, protect us," some of the demonstrators chanted, asking the forces not to move against them. The protesters appeared to reach several thousand, but their full numbers were difficult to determine, since marches took place in several parts of the city at once and mingled with passers-by. There was no immediate word on arrests or injuries."

Pictures have been smuggled out of Iran via the internet and an interesting contradiction is readily apparent. Iran is proud of its language and its millenia of history. It remains a strong regional power. Yet the picket signs in the streets of Teheran are in English. Anyone who is familiar with Iranians living in America knows that they are proud of their nation's culture and maintain a strong affection for and interest in the land of their birth. The picket signs in English are an appeal to the court of world opinion.

The English speaking world is overwhelmingly democratic. There are religious people in Muslim countries who believe that a G-d who silently suffers disobedience and disorder is best served by those who emulate His patience even as they cling to a straight and narrow path. Democracy in English speaking countries has purified itself and expanded the circle of those who enjoy its freedoms. Even those who look with contempt upon the decadence that has come from the west see how a list of basic human rights could enoble and better their existence.

It makes a difference to Iranians risking their lives in the streets of Teheran that people in the west care about them. In their own country, they are bombarded with the message that they are evil and worthless. To know that thousands of miles away they are revered for their bravery and moral courage is a source of unimaginable strength. By whatever means possible, this message of encouragement should be beamed to Teheran, Shiraz, Qom and every town and village in Iran.

Given the risk to life, limb and freedom, why do men and women, young and old, students and workers take to the streets of a fear stricken and violent country? Slavoj Zizek, writing in the London Review of Books ventures an explanation that has the resonance of truth to it. He writes as follows.

"When an authoritarian regime approaches its final crisis, but before its actual collapse, a mysterious rupture often takes place. All of a sudden, people know the game is up: they simply cease to be afraid. It isn’t just that the regime loses its legitimacy: its exercise of power is now perceived as a panic reaction, a gesture of impotence. Ryszard Kapuściński, in Shah of Shahs, his account of the Khomeini revolution, located the precise moment of this rupture: at a Tehran crossroad, a single demonstrator refused to budge when a policeman shouted at him to move, and the embarrassed policeman withdrew. Within a couple of hours, all Tehran had heard about the incident, and although the streetfighting carried on for weeks, everyone somehow knew it was all over. Is something similar happening now?"

It is also interesting that the opponents of Ahmadinejad have chosen green, a quintessentially Muslim colour as their trademark and All-hu Akbar as their chant. In this symbolic framework they are challenging the regime's Islamic credentials.

In 1968, the Soviets led the Warsaw Pact nations in ousting communist reformer Aleksandr Dubcek from the Czechoslovak leadership. For thirty years, Czechoslovakia existed as a drab puppet of the USSR. When Czechoslovakia had the "Velvet Revolution" in 1989, it swept away communism completely. In East Berlin, "Neues Forum" sought to bring a humane communism to East Germany in the late 1980's. In doing so, they risked arrest and imprisonment. When East Germany had its first free elections in 1990 Neues Forum was forgotten.

Alexander Dubcek and Neues Forum had a critical role despite their relegation to history's footnotes. In their respective countries, they were midwives of a new era.Mir Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad's opponent in the June 12 elections has quickly joined Dubcek and Neues Forum. In the birthing room of Iran's future, he is an attending doctor. With G-d's help, when the birth pangs of Iran's future have subsided, he will be sent home with a handshake and heartfelt thanks.

Eastern Europe took about 35 years to overthrow communism. The Islamic Republic of Iran is 30 years old. It is showing a lot of the signs of flagging that were seen in the last days of communism in Eastern Europe.

Ahmadinejad and his minions have wielded their spades with vigor. They have done their best to bury Iran's next revolution. But they are mistaken, because the green revolution is not a corpse, it is an acorn.

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