Wednesday, July 1, 2009

the future of opposition in iran.

an op-ed i wrote on iran...

The Future of Opposition in Iran

In the days after the Islamic Republic of Iran’s election, I found myself, along with many others, glued to the internet and scanning unconventional sources like Twitter and Facebook for news about a conflict that was largely ignored by the mainstream media. The world over claimed they were caught off guard, from CNN to the CIA, but I’m not so sure they should be so surprised. Although the West’s perspective on the Islamic Republic may be skewed by the Iranian Diaspora’s perspective, which highlights their first hand experience with the regime’s callousness, the brutality of the Islamic Republic should not be underestimated.

The story of the Iranian Revolution is a familiar one. It began as a massive movement with an array of disparate political ideologies united against the regime, with plenty of good reasons. But like the French and Russian Revolutions, there was no clear plan beyond the immediate goal of removing the regime, and the revolution soon began to devour its own children. After the Shah fled, the alliance of liberals, communists, and Islamists found themselves confronted with very different visions of Iran’s future, and in a power vacuum like that of revolutionary Iran, the most brutal usually prevails.

In this case, the most brutal were those who could reason away their humanity because they had God on their side, and thus any measure of brutality could be justified. Anyone who opposed the Islamists was silenced, often by their disappearance. Anyone who did not fit in with their interpretation of Islam, like the Baha’i architect of Tehran’s ironic Freedom Monument, was deprived of even the Islamic Republic’s dumbed down version of basic rights. The Iranian regime came to power because of its brutality, and it will attempt to stay in power through brutality. For the safety of the protestors and the ultimate success of the movement, Iranians should never forget this.

I’ve seen the eyes of Iranian exiles light up when commentators compare the events on the streets of Tehran to 1979, but as much as I hope to live to see the end of the Islamic Republic, this is not 1979. The Iranian protesters are not up against monarchists, they are up against a regime that proudly sent Iranian children as young as twelve across minefields to clear a path with their bodies. These brainwashed children comprised the Basij, the same militia that has now opened fire on the protesters, triggering a flood of internet images depicting young Iranians dying in the streets.

Given the regime’s well established character, Mir Hossein Mousavi, a reform candidate with massive popular support who sought to “take the moral police off the streets,” would certainly clash with the regime’s conception of Islam. Given the regime’s denial of even basic rights like property, education, and expression to those who do not subscribe to their religious interpretations, one might predict that electoral rights are no exception.

The majority of polls and analysis, now well published on even mainstream media, point to a massive fraud. Although I did describe Iran, where most power lies in the hands of the unelected Supreme Leader, as a “joke of a democracy,” I’m embarrassed I didn’t predict the outright fraud better myself. I suppose even I thought Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and the regime wouldn’t give Ahmadinejad a two-to-one margin of hand-written and hand-counted ballots within a few hours of polls closing, nearly uniformly consistent across every region.

The week following the elections saw hundreds of thousands of Iranians take to the streets in previously unheard of acts of defiance, watched and supported internationally by millions of people. There were chants on the streets of “death to the dictator” and even chants of support for discriminated religious minorities like Bahai’s and Christians. On Friday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech warned that the regime would begin what we had anxiously expected, a brutal crackdown, where Khamenei indicated that the bloodshed would ultimately be blamed on the victims themselves, the protestors.

As the protests were brutally forced off the streets by Basij with live ammunition, this past week has seen the protests take a different form, with strikes, chants from rooftops at night, and memorials for victims like Neda, the girl whose murder was posted on YouTube. The regime is now conducting nightly raids into apartments, dismantling satellite dishes, and even blocking proper funerals for the murdered protesters. Prominent clerics are even calling for the executions of imprisoned protesters.

As much as it saddens me, it appears that the crackdown will become increasingly severe, but the Iranians and their supporters must know that the world is still watching. No matter how brutal the suppression, their cause, like so many movements before it, is ultimately on the winning side of history. So to the Iranians, don’t give up. Stay safe, but don’t give up. As a child of the Iranian Diaspora, as a hopeful supporter, and as a global citizen with a sense of what is decent, I implore the Iranians who have already been so brave, don’t ever give up.

“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If they’re shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.” –Harriet Tubman