In a July 4th Washington Post oped, the excellent Iranian-American journalist Afshin Molavi writes of how Iran’s fitful struggle for freedom is well in-grained within Iran’s history and political culture.
“It’s important to recognize the Iranian struggle for what it is: a grass-roots, vital movement for greater liberty enriched by more than a century of struggle against foreign powers, autocratic kings and repressive theocrats. Iran’s rulers would have the world believe that the protesters are a minority inspired by foreigners, but this denies a fundamental piece of Iranian history.”
I agree. Molavi then asks the question of the day — “Who will stand with Iranians?”
“Last month I attended a candlelight vigil to honor those who died fighting for freedom. The gathering was somber yet hopeful, but it was still too narrowly Iranian. We need more Americans… If there is one issue that politically polarized America ought to be able to rally around, it is the gallant struggle of Iranians.”
I concur in part; most of the protests thus far are far too… “Iranian,” perhaps because of the organizational model of most Iran focused interest groups. (To get invited, it helps to be “Iranian.”) In the western protests thus far, we often can see demonstrators splitting along factional lines, sometimes violently, as largely incompatible political agendas of monarchists, mujahedin, komali, liberals, secularists, etc. come to the fore.
Yet if such divides could be surmounted in common support for Iranians, what exactly would Molavi have us do?
Human rights groups are planning mass rallies in the west for July 25th. What exactly will be the message of such solidarity? How will such rallies help?
If truly major demonstrations emerge, are they not vulnerable to cynical misuse by certain lobbies here as “evidence” to pressure western governments to “do something?” Already in Washington DC circles, we have initiatives gaining steam for non-recognition of Ahmadinejad as President, for “crippling” sanctions, for “regime change” funding, and for giving Israel carte blance to bomb, bomb, bomb… bomb bomb Iran.
Even if such solidarity demonstrations are not hijacked here in the west, how will they play in Iran? Will not Ahmadinejad and his cohorts use them to tell Iranians that the US is behind American protests just as they claim foreigners are behind the demonstrations in Iran?
These concerns get to the core of what I have dubbed in academic writings as the “legitimacy paradox” for Iran. How do those who would change their system from within seek the approbation of international opinion without the attainment thereof undermining their standing at home?
I’ve been mulling an answer that dissenting clerical scholar Mohsen Kadivar suggests in his important interview with Der Spiegel recently. While rejecting a role for foreign countries and commending President Obama for prudent restraint, Kadivar insists that, “This is a battle the Iranian people have to win by themselves.”
Deeming “Ahmadinejad’s insistence that Washington has fueled the unrest” as having “no effect,” Kadivar boldly reasons:
“When [Khamenei], together with Ahmadinejad, speaks about foreign countries being behind the protests in Iran, he very much reminds me of the king (the Shah). He used the same arguments and could not recognize that he was witnessing a national and democratic protest movement of his own people…. “
This is a remarkable parallel. I welcome other comments about the legitimacy paradox at hand — about Molavi’s question.
Speaking of world class journalists,I also recommend Roger Cohen’s NYTimes oped today. He’s now out of Iran — and “bereft.”
[J]ournalism is a matter of gravity…. to be a journalist is to bear witness. The rest is no more than ornamentation.
I confess that, out of Iran, I am bereft…. A chunk of me is back in Tehran, between Enquelab (Revolution) and Azadi (Freedom), where I saw the Iranian people rise in the millions to reclaim their votes and protest the violation of their Constitution.
We journalists are supposed to move on. Most of the time, like insatiable voyeurs, we do. But once a decade or so, we get undone, as if in love, and our subject has its revenge, turning the tables and refusing to let us be.
I know the feeling. Cohen, like me, Mohlavi, and other would-be Baskervilles, hears an Iranian echo in our own celebration of Independence. Wanting to stand with the Iranians, Cohen closes,
“This distance… feels like betrayal.”