The uprising is fragmented. Its unity only concerns outrage against the clumsiness of the vote fraud. Ali Laranjani’s public statement questioning the vote tally was very mild, and buried in a series of denunciations of foreign powers for their public statements condemning the Iranian government. In the moderately arch-conservative no-man’s-land between Mousavi and Khamenei are perhaps dozens of potential kingmakers, including Laranjani.
Americans should not be confused into thinking that anti-Americanism will go away after this uprising reshapes the regime. Iranians have grown up hearing stories of how the U.S. plotted and financed the Shah before the overthrow of Mosaddeq’s fledgling democratic government in 1954 (after he nationalized BP’s Iranian oil holdings), how the US supported the Shah even when he brutally suppressed and exploited his subjects, how the US winked, financed, and even sold ingredients for chemical weapons to Sadaam which he used to maim thousands of Iranians in the Iran-Iraq war, including thousands of wounded veterans who are visible heroes who can be seen throughout Iranian society.
Mostly Iranians are fiercely proud of Iran. Nationalistic rhetoric resonates. This uprising is one enacted by nationalists against other nationalists. But it is not united and fueled by resentment of foreign imperialism. Iranians’ common cause is their stand for their human dignity, their refusal to be bullied to give lip service to what they see as transparent electoral cheating. Will this prove strong enough to prevail? We’ll soon see.
As brutal as are their divisions, all Iranian players are nationalists, motivated by patriotic feelings. Persia has a strong national strain of mystical intensity. Their ethos celebrates feats of strength, endurance, sacrifice, and bravery that are enacted in passionate, intense, altered states of consciousness. These high states are linked to passionate emotions. If the cause is clearly righteous, and volunteers are seen to be noble and needed, there are thousands of potential martyrs in Iran.
Thus, there will be a compromise, or there will be disaster. Anything but compromise would require Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to tear apart their country with purges of most of their best-educated countrymen, in something analogous to China’s cultural revolution. Every institution of Iranian civil society contains large numbers of people who question the election and the Supreme Leader.
There are just too many people who might think for themselves. Meanwhile, Iranians of all stripes are getting a huge dose of new experiences of the very kind that is most likely to stimulate them to rethink a lot of things.
Iranians are being empowered by current events. The eyes of the world have been on Iran in a whole new way — sympathetically, admiringly, appreciatively, not as hostile pariahs. And the star of the show during this great moment of history has been Iran’s ordinary Iranians. How will it affect a whole nation to experience this change of perceptions. What is it like, under these cultural and historical circumstances, to go from being seen as the “axis of evil” to the most admired and heroic of the world’s citizens?
There are millions of people who saw the rigged election results as an unacceptable insult to their intelligence and dignity. “We’re smarter than you think!” they are saying. Mousavi, Montezeri, and Khatami have said it too. But then, a popular movement spontaneously erupted, and the crowds pushed Mousavi further than he would have ventured on his own.
The demonstrations were spontaneous, emotional, and yet still patriotic, still using the traditional symbols and gestures. They marched holding copies of the Koran, they shouted “Allah-o-Akbar” from the rooftops, they declared days of mourning. They very naturally adopted much of the rhetoric and tactics of the revolution that brought the Islamic Republic of Iran into existence. They wanted their experience of justice to be seen.
And what is being mirrored back by the “whole world watching” is respect and congratulations.
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