Thursday, June 18, 2009

"A Heaving Volcano" in Iran (Michael Totten last Friday)

Another item on Iran from Michael Totten. The most interesting thing about this piece is that it was posted on Friday, June 12--that is, before the fraudulent election "results" were announced and Iran erupted in massive political protests. That seems a long time ago now, but in some ways it makes reading this piece, with its prophetic title, even more intriguing and illuminating to read in retrospect.

At one point Totten quotes from a London Times article by Martin Fletcher which includes this passage:
Only one thing is certain. Iran will never be quite the same again. “We are in a new phase in this country and civilisation,” Saeed Laylaz, a respected political consultant, said as his compatriots prepared to vote.
Well, that's even more true now.

As they say, read the whole thing ...

--Jeff Weintraub

=========================
Michael Totten
June 12, 2009
A Heaving Volcano*

Iran’s presidential election isn’t real. The four candidates were hand-picked by the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei. It’s turning into something more than he bargained for, though, even if his regime is rigging the outcome for Mahmoud Admadinejad.

Take a look at Martin Fletcher’s piece in the Times of London.
Whatever the reason, Mr Mousavi's campaign took off. The youth of Tehran and other cities took to the streets in huge numbers. They flocked to Mousavi rallies in their tens of thousands. They turned the capital into a seething sea of green with their ribbons, headscarves, balloons and bandanas. They festooned the city with posters and banners. Until the small hours of each morning they packed squares, blocked junctions and careered around town in cars with horns blaring and pop music blasting.

The Islamic republic has never seen such sights before. It was almost open rebellion, an explosion of pent-up anger after four years in which the fundamentalist President and his morality police cracked down on dissent, human rights groups, and any dress or behaviour deemed unIslamic. “Death to the dictator,” young men and women roared at Mousavi rallies. “Death to the Government.

[…]



Mr Mousavi is an unlikely champion for such people. He is no reformist. He promises some social and economic liberalisation, and to do away with the hated “morality police”, but he is not challenging the political system. At 68, and distinctly lacking charisma, he is more Bob Dole than Barack Obama. Mousavi-mania is less a reflection of his popularity than of the loathing most educated, urban Iranians feel for a messianic President who has curtailed freedom, embarrassed Iran internationally and squandered record oil revenues through reckless spending.

In 2005 many liberal Iranians refused to vote, partly because they did not want to legitimise a political system that they abhor, and partly because they were profoundly disillusioned at how the conservative establishment had thwarted the reform efforts of their previous champion, President Khatami. But they will turn out in huge numbers today because they cannot contemplate four more years of Mr Ahmadinejad. “Now you and I vote so he will be defeated,” was the text message sent to millions of mobile phones after campaigning ended yesterday.

[…]

It is possible that violence will erupt if Mr Ahmadinejad is declared the victor and Mr Mousavi's supporters cry foul. It is likely that Mr Mousavi will fail to meet his supporters' sky-high expectations, partly because the Supreme Leader remains the real power in the land and partly because he is, in truth, a flawed vehicle for their hopes and aspirations.

Only one thing is certain. Iran will never be quite the same again. “We are in a new phase in this country and civilisation,” Saeed Laylaz, a respected political consultant, said as his compatriots prepared to vote.

All this reminds of me a piece I published a few years ago in Reason magazine about exiled Iranian revolutionaries in Iraq called The Next Iranian Revolution. Here are some excerpts:

More encouraging than Komala’s moderation and political evolution is its plausible claim—backed up by most Iranian activists, expatriates, and dissidents—that Iranian society as a whole is far more sensible and mature than it was in 1979, at least at the level below the state, on the street. The aftermath of an Iranian revolution, Mohtadi said, will not resemble the postwar occupation of Iraq with its civil war, insurgency, kidnappings, and car bombs.

“We have an internal opposition,” he said. “We have an internal movement against the regime. Women were warned not to celebrate 8 March, Women’s Day. They did. There are demonstrations in Iran. There are movements in Iran. You have the intellectuals, the political activists, the human rights activists, then the Kurds, Arabs, Azeris, Baluchis, different nationalities. There is a movement in Iran, unlike in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, where you had Kurds and nobody else.” (Iraq’s Shia did rise up against Saddam in 1991, but they had been quiet since Baghdad’s brutal response to that insurrection.) “It’s not like that in Iran.”

[…]

“You can complain about the government,” Mohtadi said. “You can insult them. But America is a red line. Khomeini himself is a red line. The Israelis are a red line, absolutely.” Iranians can’t buck the party line on certain topics, but they are brave enough, or just barely free enough, to protest the government to its face. “When [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad spoke to students,” Mohtadi pointed out, “hundreds of students stood up and called him a fascist and burned his picture.”

[…]

Islamist law is so widely detested and flouted in Iran that it’s a wonder the regime even bothers to keep up the pretense. In June 2005 Christopher Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair that every person he visited there, with the exception of one single imam, offered him alcohol, which is banned.

Everyone I met at the Komala compound said the Iranian regime itself wallows deep in the post-ideological torpor that inevitably follows radical revolutions. Except for the most fanatic officials, the government cares only about money and power. “Followers of the regime are not ideological anymore,” Sanjari said. “They are bribed by the government. They will no longer support it in the case that it is overthrown. Even among the Iranian military and Revolutionary Guards, there are so many people dissatisfied with the policies of the regime. Fortunately there aren’t religious conflicts between Shias, Sunnis, and different nationalities.”

Mohtadi concurred. “The next revolution and government will be explicitly anti-religious,” he said.

The Iranian writer Reza Zarabi says the regime has all but destroyed religion itself. “The name Iran, which used to be equated with such things as luxury, fine wine, and the arts, has become synonymous with terrorism,” he wrote. “When the Islamic Republic government of Iran finally meets its demise, they will have many symbols and slogans as testaments of their rule, yet the most profound will be their genocide of Islam, the black stain that they have put on this faith for many generations to come.”

The regime is claiming Ahmadinejad won, and there are unconfirmed reports that Mousavi has been arrested.

Interesting times are ahead in Iran.

UPDATE: It turns out that Mousavi wasn't detained.

UPDATE: Haaretz is now reporting that he has in fact been arrested.

*I stole the title of this post from Amir Taheri’s new book The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution, which I cannot recommend highly enough.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 12, 2009 9:47 PM

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