A lot of us, Iranians and non-Iranians, inside or outside, are asking: What now?
A group of Iranian intellectuals and activists met at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies for a three day seminar to discuss recent events in Iran.
Among the panelists was prolific Iranian journalist, Masoud Behnoud. I think he gives a very pragmatic analysis. I don’t wholeheartedly agree with it, but they are especially necessary for those outside of Iran who may be far from Iranian reality.
Here is a translation of the first part of his talk:
If we look at the history of Iranian social/political movements, we will see a weakness that emerges over and over again.
If you go and look back at Sur-e-Esrafil [a progressive daily newspaper estabalished in 1905 before the constitutional revolution, whose editor, Jahangir-Khan Sur-e-Esrafil was later executed], in the second week of its publication, you will read an article that states: “this movement that has begun [the movement for the constitutional revolution] shows that every last Iranian is in quest of freedom and will not rest until full freedom is achieved for all of Iran. There can no longer be tyranny and injustice towards these people.”
In that time, 97% of Iranians were illiterate but Sur-e-Esrafil believed that every last Iranian is in quest of freedom. But many of those Iranians didn’t even know what the quest for freedom was. But, these words are nice words, so people like saying them. I don’t mean any disrespect to the people of Iran, but I don’t believe that anywhere in this world, not here in England, not in the United States, a quest for freedom exists in every last one of the people. It seems that if we distribute money and goods to people – something that happened during the first term of Mr. Ahmadinejad – we can do pretty much whatever we like.
You see, the Iranian ruling system, especially what you call the hardliners, are much stronger and much more rooted than you would like to think. A few thousand people in the streets or at the Friday prayers can not attempt to destabilize or change them so that religion will be isolated from politics, the power of the supreme leader will be taken away, ad infinitum. This is not how things work.
What is achievable in this route is related to consistency. A consistency that might take hold within people. I say “might” because I am deeply afraid of romanticizing this current situation. That fact that this movement’s expectations and goals sometimes go above and beyond any attainable achievement frightens me. Sometimes the expectations go so high that even if we were to assume that 90% of Iranians were working towards these ends, they would still be impossible.
One of the things that has constently threatened and damaged Iranian movements is this high expectation. Go and read the newspapers from the days of Mohammad Mossadeq to see how highly his supporters thought of him. This wide praise for Mr. Ahmadinejad that asks of him to take control of global management [newspapers close to Ahmadinejad have written of this extensively in the past four years and he has spoken of it himself] is a part of Iranian society too. This is a mentality that believes because Ahmaidnejad has been able to spread some of the oil revenues in a far away village – at a time when oil was $100 a barrel – he can take over global management. If you looked at Ahmadinejad’s campaign documentary, you can see a house he built for a Baluch woman over and over again. I wrote in a past article: when did we say that with $300 BILLION DOLLARS of oil revenues, it is impossible to build a house for a Baluch woman?
The point is this: we should learn a very important lesson from the recent election. Three hundred billion dollars have been spent, not including all the other resources, and if, even 50% of the Iranian people are now gravitating towards a particular side [Ahmadinejad] it should come as no surprise to us.
We have no choice but to abstain from words that sound chic and elegant. We must keep from dreamy, lovely-dovey words that are impossible to carry out.
I am deeply frightenined if we come out and say that in this information age, censorship is no longer possible. How does that make sense? It is possible. It is. Didn’t you see it in the past twenty days? They closed down a society of 75 million people. Not more than a few film clips got to the hands of the world media. They were successful in closing down CNN and the BBC. Why should we kid ourselvse in thinking that they weren’t successful? Only one film clip, of the death of Neda, got out. What about all the other deaths and occurances? Don’t think that all people in Iran have access to high-speed internet and can jump around anywhere they please online. It is dangerous to exaggerate the power of Iranians for dissipating correct information. Attributing this characteristic to a society which is devoid of it can be dangerous.
If this goes on longer, and in two months, people [in Iran] go home and surrender like they did after the 28th of Mordad [the coup that ousted prime minster Mossadeq] this should come as no surprise. Why would you be surprised? People must live their lives. We can sit here in London and talk all we want about the separation of religion and state, decreasing the powers of the supreme leader. But that’s not the reality in Iran.
We must stay away from deceit. We should not kid ourselves. We must see that each side has a large following and a good number of supporters.