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.


  1. A lot of the discussion in the last 24 hours has been about the role and nature of leadership in Iran. I like @manydrums comments on my blog (http://jamesthehype.blogspot.com/2010/01/war-over-words-in-iran.html) that allude to a fluid leadership, one governed by decisions that small groups of people make that contribute to the collective action of the entire Green Movement.

    However, that "fluid leadership" seems to be more and more convinced that the path forward for Iran is to dump the theocracy and create a secular government. This will pit the masses against the figureheads like Mousavi and Karroubi, because these officials are attempting to reform the government that already exists. (see my article on religion and the Green Movement: "The Philosophical & Ideological Revolution in Iran: http://jamesthehype.blogspot.com/2010/01/philosophical-ideological-revolution-in.html"

    One observation is that if reform was possible then how did we get this far? Barack Obama managed to get elected on a platform of change. Nobody in the government tried to assasinate him, or arrest him, or block/hack his websites, or arrest people at his rallies. The government didn't even rig his election. That's how a government of the people, by the people, and for the people works. The Islamic Regime is none of those things.

    The fluid leadership seems to have figured this out. The blogs are full of discussions about secular government, the failure of the theocracy, the hypocrisy of Mullahs, the the paradox of the hijab. There is a lot of evidence for this. On Twitter. comments like the following are frequent:

    "RT @jefryslash: You can not push Khameneii off Power by reform or any of that Crap!
    IRAN will be Free only by a Revolution #iranelection #Iran #CNN #Reuters"

    Opposition members removed the Islamic Crest from the Iranian flag. "Death to the dictator," has been shouted from the rooftops... I could go on.

    The political leaders (Mousavi, Karroubi, Rafsanjani, ect.) walk a fine line between tyranny and obsolescence, as the government threatens to arrest them and the masses seem to move beyond them. In the comments on my post, @manydrums argued that the Green Movement didn't need the MLK/Ghandi type central political leader in order to be well led. So far, that point of view seems to be coming true. We'll see in about a month what the fluid leadership can do next to free Iran.

  2. Amen to that sister! never lose hope.