Iran: Myths and Realities

Iran is at the top of international news. What led to the mass protests? How did the situation change so dramatically over a week? What do people want? What will be the outcome of this protest movement? These are the questions discussed repeatedly on TV channels and in the press. Different political analysts and members of Iranian-American/European academia, all with different degrees of allegiance to the so-called state reformist camp, are invited to throw light on the situation. All these different commentators make one common assumption: “The people in Iran do not want a revolution.” By this, they mean that the people do not want to overthrow the Islamic regime. They claim that the people want an evolution, a gradual road to change. They insist that people want some minor changes in the political system, a bit more freedom. They argue that people are protesting against Ahmadinezhad and the rigged election and not against the Islamic regime. Thus, if Mousavi becomes president, everything will return to normal.

This is the core of all analyses presented by the international media. From the Independent’s so-called left wing, “anti-imperialist” Robert Fisk to the right wing reporter of the Financial Times, they repeat the same line. The former categorically claims that the people in Iran “are happy with the Islamic regime.” He goes on to repeat the “anti-imperialist” cliché that people in Iran “do not want the West to tell them what to do. They do not want to be like the West.” (Quoted interview with Aljazeera TV/English) As though wanting to get rid of the Islamic regime, wanting to get rid of religious tyranny, gender apartheid, suppression, poverty and corruption are by default Western aspirations and not universal human aspirations. As though the people in Iran and women in Iran cannot distinguish on their own between dictatorship and freedom, discrimination and equality, brutality and respect for humanity. As though if they even were so-called Western values, this would discredit their validity and desirability. According to Fisk, people in Iran are loyal to the “Islamic” revolution. They only want to get rid of Ahmadinezhad.

The Financial Times reporter on GMTV breakfast news adamantly disagreed with my statement that these protests are “the beginning of the end of the Islamic regime.” She maintained that people in Iran “do not want a revolution. They want an evolution and a bit more freedom. They want to be able to wear the T-shirts they want.”

If I did not believe so firmly in what I want to see happen in my birth country; the one from which I had to flee (like thousands of others) to save my life, to escape torture and execution, at the time of Mr. Mousavi’s term as prime minister, I would have thought I was crazy for wanting real change, for wanting the overthrow of this brutal, misogynist, reactionary, religious dictatorship. I would have thought all my beloved comrades and friends who were murdered in the Islamic regime’s notorious prisons were crazy for having lost their lives fighting against this regime. I would have thought that these hundreds of thousands of people who risk their lives and venture into street must be crazy.

I am sure Messrs. Mousavi, Karoubi and Khatami do not want much change. They only want a little change. I have no doubt that “they are happy with the Islamic regime.” But what about Neda, the young woman who was shot in Tehran? What about that pregnant woman who was killed protesting? What about her partner who lost two loved ones in one shot? What about all those mothers and fathers whose sons and daughters were brutally tortured and executed; those parents who still do not know where their beloved children are buried; those parents who, for fear of reprisal, buried their children in their front gardens. What about the parents of those thousands of children who were made to walk over land mines during the Iraq-Iran war with a key to heaven around their necks? Those children whose mothers were stoned to death? What about the millions of women who are forced to wear the veil and are treated as half humans? Are all these people “happy” with the Islamic republic and only want a little bit of freedom, a bit of change?

If I did not know and feel these grievances so closely, if I had not seen them first hand, if I did not know some of those decent brave young women and men who were executed by this monstrous regime, then I would be convinced. I would have no choice but to accept the only interpretation offered by the international media. It is bewildering. Is this accidental, or is there a hidden agenda? Are these analyses the products of a superficial understanding of a society under the grip of dictatorship and censorship, or are they part of a plan to materialize a make-believe plan and strategy?

We’ve been there, we’ve seen that!

I am from the generation that has seen the mass protests against another dictatorship. I am from the generation that fought against the Shah’s dictatorship. I have fought against two dictatorships for freedom, equality, socio-economic justice, and prosperity. I am, like so many other comrades, a seasoned political activist. The international media acted the same way 30 years ago. Back then, technology was not so advanced. There was no YouTube, no internet or satellite television. But people still depended on international media for news. Then, it was the age of short wave radios. People depended on the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Israel and Radio Moscow for information and analysis.

In 1978, these media played an important role in making a leader of Khomeini – who was no more than an exiled clergyman, hardly known by the majority of the population, and almost forgotten by many of his fanatical followers. Then, in the midst of the Cold War, the fear of an increasingly popular leftist movement in Iran, brought the Western states around the table in a summit held in Guadeloupe, to change the course of events of the hitherto largest mass movement in Iranian history. In a short time, to our shock and bewilderment, the Islamists, who were marginalized in the initial phase of the protests, took over the leadership of the anti-monarchist movement.

Saddam Hussein was asked to deport Khomeini, under the pretext of engaging in political activities against the Iranian state. France welcomed him. Overnight, he became an international media celebrity. A “leader” was born. A revolution for freedom, equality and justice was aborted. This was the beginning of 30 years of bloodshed, oppression, misogyny, gender apartheid, stoning, mutilation and a most heinous political system.

History is being repeated. As ever, fearful of radical changes that may lead to empowerment of the left, the opinion-making machinery of the media is telling half of the truth. Their “in-depth analyses” do not even scratch the surface. Maybe on the part of some journalists, the surface is all they are capable of grasping, but overall, there is a deliberate plan to censor the left, not to present the deep aspirations and demands of the people. A “moderate leader” is all they are ready to give voice to.

Balance of power

Are the protesting people only against Ahmadinezhad? Are they really happy with the Islamic regime? Do they really want only a bit of change, a bit of freedom? How do these journalists and political analysts arrive at such assumptions? Let us examine these questions.

This is what has happened in Iran in the past few weeks. In the couple of weeks leading to the election of June 12th, people organised rallies and meetings in support of the two so-called reformist candidates and against Ahmadinezhad. They voted for Mousavi or Karoubi. There was widespread anticipation that the election would be rigged, so the people stayed vigilant and ready to take to streets. When the results were announced only two hours after the closing of voting polls, massive demonstrations took place. The people rushed into streets in the thousands and protested against the rigged election.

This is how events unfolded. But this is not the whole truth. There is more than meets the eye. While trying to analyse the situation in Iran, one must take into consideration the important factor of balance of power. It is self-evident that people could not go into the streets and shout “down with the Islamic Republic”, while the brutal and sophisticated machinery of suppression was intact. People work within the framework of a balance of power and try to change this balance in their own favour.

Most people’s vote for Mousavi or Karoubi was in fact a “no” vote for Ahmadinezhad and the Islamic Republic. There were only four candidates who passed the vetting system of the Guardian Council. Under the Islamic regime, around 99% of the people are not allowed to stand as candidates. According to Islamic law, a woman cannot become president. This excludes roughly half of the population in one stroke. Godless people not only cannot stand as candidates, they must be beheaded according to the law. Adherents of other religions, except Shi’a, are also excluded. So we are left with male Shi’as. But among the latter group, only those who are true followers of the Islamic Republic may stand as candidates for presidency.

The Guardian Council vets all the prospective candidates and decides who complies with the requirements. In this round, only four men who have been prominent figures in the regime, who had occupied high-ranking posts and played an important role in consolidation of the regime, passed the vetting. The candidates besides Ahmadinezhad were Mousavi, Karoubi and Rezaei. Mousavi was the prime minister at the time of the Iran-Iraq war. Under his term, in August 1988–in less than a month–thousands of opposition activists and even some children were executed in prisons. Karoubi was a prominent figure in the regime from the time of its inception, close to Khomeini and also speaker of the Majlis (Parliament) for some time. Rezaei was the commander of the Islamic Guards Corps (IGC), the main instrument of suppression. These men have all participated in the brutal suppression of the opposition under the Islamic Republic. If the people of Iran ever succeed to bring justice to their society, all these men will stand trial for crime against humanity.

Does this present any real choice to the people? This is the first question that must be asked. If no, then why did people participate in such numbers in the election? People used this opportunity to express their protest, to show their discontent and to say a big “NO” to this regime. The mass rallies that were identified as Mousavi’s or Karoubi’s campaign were a big shock to everyone, including the candidates themselves. In a country where any show of protest, let alone a demonstration, is brutally suppressed, the presidential campaign presented a window of opportunity. The Islamic regime became quite frightened of these mass rallies and the speed with which they grew in numbers and in radicalization.

In the face of this rapid escalation of anti-government rallies under the banner of an election campaign, the IGC issued a communiqué stating that the extremists in the camp of the candidates are trying to overthrow the regime. It threatened the people with hard clamp down if such attempts were to take place. Therefore, the IGC and the Khamenei-Ahmadinezhad camp decided to put an end to the election mood and abort any plans aimed at further weakening of the regime. This led to the election results being announced only couple of hours after the polls closed.

They misread the situation. They failed to recognize the different collective psychology and general mood among the people. They did not see or understand that the times were changing. This time the mood was very different among the people. The people seemed to have become determined not to back down. This was not necessarily a conscious or expressed decision. This mood of defiance was rather the result of a deeper change in the social mood and collective psychology of the people. Iran is at a crossroads. It seems that the situation has reached a point of no return.

The people do not want this regime. They do not want to live under a religious tyranny. They do not want gender apartheid. People want to be free. They want equality and prosperity. This is the will of the people. It seems that this time they are determined to continue their protest until they achieve their demands. The development of events in the past few days, particularly after the Friday sermon by Khamenei, has shifted the power struggle between the people and the regime. Despite heavy clamp down by the security forces, killing around 200 people, injuring many more and imprisoning of hundreds of protesters, despite unleashing security forces and militia thugs on unarmed people, people are defiant. The balance of power has shifted in favour of the people, not in a military sense, but in terms of defying intimidation and fear.

If until Friday, the protesters rallied with their mouth shout, in an attempt not to provoke violence, in the past few days, the protests have become more radical and less restraint. Already the protesters are shouting “down with the Islamic Republic”. The true uncensored feelings are surfacing on the streets. There are news and even video clips of unveiled women in complete non-Islamic clothes in some neighbourhoods. One significant characteristic of this protest movement is that it is not organised or led by those who claim to be its leader, or are identified by the media as its leader. They have a spontaneous characteristic. What we witness on the streets of not only Tehran, but also some other large cities, looks more like an uprising. It seems that the Islamic regime has entered a phase that whatever tactics it adopts and whatever tones it takes on, it only brings its demise closer. This is the beginning of the end of one of the most brutal, heinous and notorious political regimes of the 20th century. Its demise will have far-reaching effects on the Middle East and political Islam. The women in Iran and indeed the whole region will stand to gain significantly from this course of events.

23 June 2009

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