Saturday, January 16, 2010

Quitting is Not an Option

Recently there's been much debate over "What are the Green Movement's chances of success?" and a few Western activists are asking themselves, "Should I go on trying?  Is this all worthwhile?" I think the real question is "Can the Green Movement afford to quit?"

Maintaining the status quo or returning to pre-election conditions are not options.  The current Regime remaining in power indefinitely is also not an option.  Things are going to change drastically, one way or another.

Government by velayat-e faqih is a system destined to fail because there are no checks and balances, so it will inevitably lead to corruption sooner or later, and corruption is only tolerated by a population for so long before they overthrow the corrupt.  Unchecked dictators eventually go too far, steal too much, kill too many, and the people simply refuse to stand for it any longer.  Iran may or may not be at that point yet, but it is the certain outcome of this method of government. 

Those who invested their hearts and minds into backing velayat-e faqih are like cult followers who can't bear to admit that their leader has misguided them.  People in that psychological situation are extremely unlikely to agree to any changes in the worldview they've set their heart on.  It's just too damaging to the ego to admit that you did such extreme things, threw out a shah, killed all those people (my god, all those people!) for something that was never, ever going to work.  It's unthinkable, so they subconsciously choose not to think about it, and it is not likely that any amount of persuasion will ever alter that state of mind.

The IRI has been tolerated thus far by other nations because, although it has been hostile and belligerent to an entire hemisphere, declaring open enmity to vast sections of the planet for the crimes of "arrogance" and "imperialism," nobody thought it would last.  And it hasn't.  Thirty years is the blink of an eye in terms of nations.  It's one generation, and that's all it took for the population of Iran to break the spell and realize this system can't work.  The world waits now with anticipation and hope for the rise of true democracy from this new generation.

I think they're sure to succeed, but even if the Greens did fail, the IRI's time is up.  Even if the people had not risen up, that would still be so.  The machinery of war is gearing up worldwide.  As someone who fights for peace, I look for the signs, and they have been building for some time.  The patience of the world powers for the lawlessness of the IRI is coming to an end.  No more will they tolerate the funding of terrorists, the threatening of neighbor states, the inflammatory rhetoric and declarations of hostility, the kidnapping, the torture, the rape.  No more. 

George Bush and his cronies actually wanted to invade Iran long ago for reasons of pure plunder, so at this point BushCo probably set things up so it would be easier for the US to invade than to not do so.  I have no facts to back that up, I'm just going by how ruthless operators operate.  They fix things.  They get their money.  If they know they might not be in the right place at the right time, they arrange it so the person who will be there is pressured to decide the way they want.  If you realize BushCo's main goal was Iran all along, their two "foolish" wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suddenly look like extremely slow pincer movements to box in the real quarry.

Thankfully we have a president in office now who is not completely motivated by oil profits, so he may choose to dismantle that elaborate Neocon plan and pursue diplomacy with all his might, but because of the cult mindset of the IRI leaders, they will not be interested in cooperation.  They will never cease from their goal of developing highly enriched uranium, and the world at some point in the near future will collectively decide that is too dangerous to be allowed. 

If someone is telling you one minute they're incredibly devoted to a religion, and then the next minute they're violating every principle of that religion in a naked bid to stay in power at all costs, you can't trust their word that they're not going to build a bomb.  The fact that the IRI leaders think nobody notices their hypocrisy is further proof that they are living in a cult-induced fantasy, completely oblivious to the rapidly disappearing patience of the rest of the world, and such delusional people having vast quantities of enriched uranium is very dangerous for everyone.

The mullahs aren't stopping, and the IRGC aren't stopping, and the worried leaders of the rest of the world aren't stopping.  The only path out of this situation that doesn't involve massive bloodshed is the Green path, so I hope like hell they're not stopping either, and I think the least we Western supporters can do from the comfort of our computer desks is stay with them to the end, whatever that turns out to be.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Gods and Dictators

In some belief systems, people will tolerate a lot from a god.  If a god orders people to go to war, they go.  If certain people must be tortured, killed, or exiled by order of the god, it is done without question.  The people do this out of fear for their personal safety, not wanting to be the next ones to anger the god, but also out of a sense of true duty and morality.  They believe that the god made them in the first place.  The god owns his people the way you would own dolls you made out of clay.  If you choose to smash your dolls, who are they to complain?

However, a religion that's all smashing and being owned for no reason is usually quickly abandoned by people encountering a slightly upgraded version, the idea of a good god, one that, although he still has the right to, never would randomly smash his dolls, because he cares for them and loves them very much.  This type of god wishes he could never smash any of them, but sometimes he has to because they deserve it, or because it's important for the unfolding of great historical events in a majestic tapestry of human advancement.

This introduces a lot of practical problems into society.  Now you can still kill people, but they have to be duly designated combatants or lawfully condemned convicts.  Although some people must still be rounded up and punished, you have to treat them humanely while you are imprisoning them.  You can confine them and prevent them from having free access to those they love and long to be with, but it's no longer okay to torture them or starve them or let them die of medical neglect.  Beating them to death in the street is right out.

That's obviously better, but still doesn't explain random natural disasters or the existence of evil people.  Great earthquakes, fires, and floods tear the hearts out of millions of good people, and evil people make a hurricane of bullets and batons even where weather is fair.  If the god loves his creations so much, why does he let these things happen to them?

Despite the vast libraries devoted to this topic, it really comes back to the same answer as before.  If the god is what's really alive, and the people are just creations, then it doesn't matter what happens to the people.  Although we may find it distasteful that the god would choose to tell such abominable stories of torture and pain with his dolls, we have no right to question his mysterious ways, which must be somehow for the best in the long run, because the god can see things that his creations can't.  Some religions add a little flourish, that there is something really real inside the dolls that escapes and lives on when the doll is broken and smashed, so again it doesn't matter what happens on Earth.

But that doesn't match how people feel.  Inside, each person knows they are really alive and not a clay doll.  In fact, each person is only sure that he or she is really alive, really experiencing the universe.  We see all these other creatures rambling about, but we really only know ourselves for sure.  Each one of us has a unique viewpoint, a memory of a life lived on this world that is the only one like it in all the universe, and can never be replaced or copied.  Isn't that worth something?  Surely that is not the description of a mere doll.  Surely it matters very much if that precious memory is cut short or twisted into a nightmare of pain and injustice.

I don't know what the answer is to the problem of evil, but I know it's not that people don't matter.  Maybe the answer is, as some have said, "Evil exists because we let it."  When it comes to dictators who abuse people because they say a god told them to do it, they can only get away with that for as long as the majority of the people believe they really do speak for the god.  This means the dictator has to maintain an aura of holiness at all times.  If he allows any admission that he is a human being like everybody else, and was not, in fact, imbued by the god with infallibility, then all his previous decisions are up for debate.  And some of them were very, very nasty indeed.  If the god didn't order those things, then the dictator is a bad, bad man.  This realization dawns on the people, and that's the end of that dictator.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

World's Shortest Response to the Leveretts

Recently in The New York Times Hillary Mann and Flynt Leverett had some questions about Iran's Green Movement:

First, what does this opposition want? 

Marg bar dictator. It's pretty clear on the vids, maybe try using headphones if you can't hear it. Could be time for a hearing aid.

Second, who leads it? 

You'll find out when it's safe for them to reveal themselves.

Third, through what process will this opposition displace the government in Tehran?

Wait and see. They're the experts.

[These questions were also answered in great detail by other people but I feel short answers are more suited to people of the Leveretts' mental caliber.]

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

An Outsider's Perspective on the "Message to Iranians Abroad"

Shortly after the recent Mousavi statement containing his five-point plan for national unity, another message appeared on Mousavi's official facebook page.  A sobering open letter from Ezzatollah Sahabi titled "A Message to the Iranians Abroad" with the subtitle "Let us not forget our historic experiences" quickly made the rounds of the internet, creating a bit of controversy as some readers felt chastened by the wise words of an elder reformist statesman calling for slow and gradual change within the Islamic Republic system, and others felt angry at what they perceived to be a condemnation of their goals and a defeatist attitude not in tune with public sentiment.

The man who wrote this message is a die-hard reform activist who has spent his share of time in the horrific secret prisons of the Regime.  He has the right to command respect for his words.  And he has a daughter who was arrested during the Ashura protests on December 28, 2009.

Haleh Sahabi's arrest may only merit one line in the Wall Street Journal, but to her father, who knows from firsthand experience what happens to women in the Regime's houses of torture, it must be the most important thing in the world right now.  What man would not do anything, say anything, to protect his daughter from the worst abuses of the Evin guards?  Haleh was also arrested last August and has only been out of prison a few months; how can a father stand to see his daughter subjected again to the same abuses she was just beginning to recover from?  When Mousavi's nephew has been assassinated, and Shirin Ebadi's sister arrested, are we really to believe that, unconnected to his daughter's arrest, Mr. Sahabi wrote his message urging the world to accept the permanence of the Islamic Republic out of his own free will, spontaneously moved by love for Khamenei?

As an outsider, I look at the videos coming across YouTube, read the news, blogs, comments and facebook notes, and listen to the satellite radio stations.  I see and hear whatever gets through the filters and makes it to popular awareness, garbled as that may be.  When I look at all this evidence, with all due respect, I have to say I do not see a violent or misguided group of people who need to be corrected in any way.  I see steadfast people, resolute in their goals, who know what they want.

They want to get rid of the government they've got now, and start over fair and square with something new to be determined by a free vote.  Maybe a new Islamic Republic will win that vote, maybe it won't.  Those who feel velayat-e faqih is really best will have their chance to say so like everybody else.  But whatever is chosen will be chosen by the people, who are not children or lost souls needing the rule of any kind of dictator.  They will decide for themselves.

It is not possible to achieve these goals by tweaking or reforming the current system, because it contains an inherent flaw.  Once velayat-e faqih is chosen, there's no way out of it.  Any suggestion that it might be a good idea to have a national referendum, constitutional convention, or vote of confidence is simply vetoed by the Supreme Leader.  That is not an acceptable system for people to live under; they must have the legal ability to change government systems anytime they wish through a free and fair vote.  Anything less than that is simply not workable for humans, who will assert their sovereign right to change governments whether or not it is legalized by the current government, whenever oppression becomes too much to bear.

Attempting to work within the system will also never work because the ruling elites who cause the people's suffering don't do it out of error.  They do it on purpose, to get and stay rich and powerful.  Khomeini himself wasn't like that, living an austere life dedicated to his version of Islam, but such true-believer charismatic gurus are like magnets to hangers-on who only want to exploit people's belief in them.  We see it all the time in America, where any charlatan with some exotic props and a good patter can attract at least a few hundred followers even by peddling the most shameful lies.  Among those followers there are always some who don't believe a word of it, but are ready and willing to make a profit off the beliefs of others.  Powerful speakers who have a true spiritual message they really believe in are like pure gold to these types, who don't believe the message but see the potential for vast wealth and power.

For the past 20 years since the death of Khomeini, it is those cynical profiteering types who have gained and consolidated complete control over the Iranian government and economy, and they have siphoned off an enormous fortune that should belong to the people of Iran, while stifling free market competition and entrepreneurship among the same people they rob.  This has not gone unnoticed by the proud descendants of Cyrus the Great, who are not used to being in the position of serfs, and who now identify more closely with that historical experience than those of the past 30 years.

Unrest has been going on in Iran ever since the revolution, and this cycle of brutal repression has been repeated many times [PDF].  But this time, the world is watching.  This time the Regime is not able to solve its "Green Problem" quietly, the old-fashioned way.  We outsiders hear the names of every person who is killed, and we mourn them and write letters to the UN about them.  We pressure our governments to stop doing business with their killers.  We will not go away.  We want to see these brave people who have been striving so hard for so long finally make it to victory.  After all, they're only asking for what all of us in the West take for granted every day.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Peace is Profitable

Some people say that the US government, corrupted as it is by global corporate agendas, secretly wants to prop up the Khamenei regime because the US somehow profits from Iran being a fascist rentier state that can't produce all its own needs and has to sell oil to buy imports.  I disagree.  Just because some corporations may currently be profiting off that situation, that doesn't mean it's the most profitable arrangement.  Corporations are always on the lookout for ways to improve the market.

Surely the entire US business community recognizes that right now America could really use a new, rich friend suddenly in the market for high-quality upscale consumer goods and fashions!  When the mullahs and IRGC stop skimming off the top of the Iranian economy and forbidding people to buy the products they really want, I bet average Iranians would be happy to take up some of the slack in the American economy that our own hardships are causing.  New customers means more profits and more jobs, so Americans can get back on their feet.

But the profits don't stop there; a US business relationship with Free Iran wold have sustainable long-term benefits for both countries.  Iran is a gorgeous place that would be an ideal tourist destination for everyone from nature-lovers and students of art and history, to those who just love to shop and have fun.  There are traditional Iranian craftspeople who hand-make unique items of art that can't be replicated anywhere else, and Americans will always want to come watch the artisans work and buy the finished products.  It's an outsourcing-proof industry built into the Iranian economy, and all that's required is national friendship for it to reach its full potential.

At the same time, American heavy industry can provide the technical skills and raw materials to help Iran get up to speed with a 21st Century infrastructure, so that the benefits of education and  a modern standard of living can be extended to all Iranians, while providing good manufacturing jobs for hard-working Americans.  After the recent stock market fiasco, it's clear to all but a few that the idea of endless profits derived simply from trading pieces of paper back and forth was a ridiculous pipe dream, and America needs to get back to its roots as an industrial powerhouse with high-paying jobs for skilled industrial workers.

It is true that there is one group that profits from continuing enmity between Iran and the USA: the military-industrial complex.  However, all the other industries, which form the backbone of American prosperity, flourish under peace and wither under war, and although the M/I complex has managed to gain a strong foothold in American policy, I have confidence that when all the other corporate interests find their own profits in these desperate times so clearly lie in the other direction, they will collectively overwhelm the voices of their warmongering colleagues and insist on fostering peace with Iran and support for the Iranian people's movement toward openness and democracy.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Mousavi's Ashura Statement: A Hail Mary Pass for National Unity

This is my humble opinion on Mousavi's latest statement, which is available in Persian and English on his Facebook site

It seems to me that this message is written with a "frame" that gives us insight into how to interpret the main body of the statement.  The first and final paragraphs of the message seem more pointed than the rest, and I think it is there that we find a key to understanding the whole statement.

Mousavi writes both these framing paragraphs largely in passive voice, allowing him to indicate that certain actions have taken place in certain ways that may not have been wise, without actually laying blame at anyone's feet.  Because of this we have to use inference to determine who the people are that would be involved in these actions.

The first sentence of the message after the opening invocation is, "It was constantly told to me and [my] friends that if we don’t issue any statements, people would not take to the streets and would quit their protests and demands, and peace would return to the country."  This sentence is very interesting because of who is absent in it.  Mousavi, his friends, and the people are the only figures directly placed in the sentence, yet the action lets us know there must be some people doing the telling.  In fact there must be a lot of them because this telling is going on "constantly."  Mousavi avoids describing who has been chastising him, but it's also unclear who he is now complaining about it to.

Mousavi is addressing the general reader, of course, but the point of describing other people in passive construction in an open letter is to subtly get a message across to one or more people who would be "in the know" enough to understand exactly who you mean without the need to name names.  Hardline mullahs and secular leaders from many areas of Iranian society have no doubt been pressuring Mousavi to stop calling demonstrations since June, but who could Mousavi turn to about that?  The people are already aware that they plan to go out on the streets regardless of Mousavi's silence, so who is Mousavi trying to convince that his words are not the source of the demonstrations?

The idea that Mousavi has one particular reader in mind is reinforced when he goes on to state how he disagreed with the people pressuring him into silence.  Mousavi barely touches on this, as if to merely remind his reader of long-familiar past debates that were already hashed out at great length.  This indicates the intended reader is someone privy to closed-door discussions at the top levels of Iranian politics, who doesn't need a recap of all that.

The body of the message appeals to this particular reader as if to a judge, laying out a case that, just as Mousavi had predicted, his ceasing to call people to demonstrations did not prevent massive crowds from coming onto the streets on Ashura.  Mousavi gives thorough evidence that he followed the laws of Islam, did all that was asked of him, silenced his call for protest, and still the crowds came out.  He was right, and those who had been pressuring him were wrong, and he wants someone in particular to know that. 

Mousavi then goes on to poetically and specifically describe the current state of Iran and explain the alternative steps he thinks are the right ones to begin achieving the goal of restoring peace to the country, since silencing him didn't work.  That part has been thoroughly discussed elsewhere, so I will just highlight that Mousavi refers to the current national situation as like a flooded river full of silt, and his five proposed actions as like fresh rivulets flowing into the stream to clear it. 

Then in a short paragraph following his five points, Mousavi once again seems to pointedly address a particular reader.  With neat symmetry, the very last sentence of the entire message is, "And the last word is that all these suggestions can be executed with wisdom, insight and good will and without the need for treaties, negotiations, and political deal makings."  This is another very interesting sentence.  Though once again using passive voice without naming names, things have deteriorated from a situation of general verbal chastisement to "treaties, negotiations, and political deal makings."

"Treaties" in particular is a telling word, as it implies a cessation of hostilities.  With the assassination of Mousavi's nephew on Ashura, it's not really a stretch to think this might not be just a poetic turn of phrase, but more of a mafia kind of deal.  One that might be negotiated as, "Put out a statement withdrawing your claim to have won the election, so the people stop protesting, and we won't kill your wife or daughter next."  Whether or not that was ever explicitly said to Mousavi by anyone, some might see the assassination of the closest person to a son Mousavi has, his sister's son, as a nonverbal message to that effect.

It is worth noting that this new statement does not include any reference to Mousavi's earlier demands for an investigation into election fraud, and conservative politician Mohsen Rezaei apparently interprets the statement as a withdrawal of the election fraud claim.  Although Mousavi declares he is ready to die himself as a martyr for the cause, what man would put his family at risk of further mafia-style hits?

Seemingly disgusted with whoever these would-be negotiators and treaty-makers are, whatever their demands might be, Mousavi  dismisses that kind of thuggish back-room deal-making, and appeals to a higher authority.  He calls out to someone who has "wisdom, insight, and good will" to hear his evidence, understand that there is nothing he can do to stop the Green Movement, and call for an end to violence and the beginning of real changes that could truly restore peace to the land.  The world waits to see if the message gets through to the right person, and if that person has a change of heart in time to prevent further tragedy.