Iran: revolution for the hereafter

Aziz Motazedi
25 August 2009

Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, the miracles Iranians have witnessed often centre on what happens at the ballot-boxes, where the country's rulers allow Iranians to agree with what they have no choice but to agree with. This pattern was extended in the presidential election of 12 June 2009, marked by the victory of the one candidate that Iran's supreme leader had designated as his favourite.

Aziz Motazedi is an Iranian novelist and essayist. He has lived in Montreal since 1995. His website is here

The ensuing fight exploded into the streets, and the story broadcast around the world. It continues, albeit in less spectacular fashion than before: the regime's intense counterattack has driven most demonstrators out of sight, and many into prison, without by any means quelling the deep anger and defiance of Iranians of all backgrounds and ages.

The question now is whether the Islamic Republic will survive this great disgrace as it has survived previous ones or whether it will sink in this, its greatest ever crisis of legitimacy.

There are many possible ways to answer this question. The analysts in openDemocracy's post-election series have addressed it through various lenses: Iran's modern political history, intra-regime tensions, the Islamic Republic's ideological exhaustion, the parallels between the constitutional revolution of 1906 or the anti-Shah movement of 1978-79 and today's protest-wave, and the unprecedented challenge of a young Iranian generation born and raised under the revolution itself.

Each approach generates fresh insights. This short contribution to the debate adopts another perspective, one focused on defining the central impulse of the resistance to injustice today (as "positive" or "negative") and how this is embodied in the character of the rising generation.

The wrong calculation    

For the three decades since the Islamic Republic confirmed itself in power through repression until the historic events of mid-2009, even most critics of the regime considered that change would come through what might be called "positive" means: involvement in parliamentary and presidential elections, civic organisation, judicial activism, media dissemination, grassroots education. True, the authorities made every effort to "brand" actual or suspected opponents of the regime and treat them as second-class citizens; but at least some channels were occasionally available for such participation. 

The election miracle of 12 June 2009, despite all the calamities that it has caused Iranians, may have finally put an end to the thirty-year delusion about the idea that positive resistance might be a route to change. It may still be too early to predict the overall outcome of the series of overwhelmingly peaceful protests since the election; but it does seem clear that a corner has been turned.

Indeed, the June miracle is casting new retrospective light on much of the last thirty years, making it appear that the active engagement of so many critics and opposition figures against - but also with - the regime was also a source of its growth and legitimacy. By contrast, the newer forms of "negative" resistance - the boycotting of goods and services promoted on state-run television (or imported from China), the orchestrated honking of car-horns, the deliberate power-outages caused by turning on electrical appliances when government officials are scheduled to appear on television - lack illusion and are free of collusion. True, repression may have had its effect in limiting these, but in the purity of their defiance they offer a glimpse of a way beyond the present. 

Indeed, if from the beginning the vast majority of dissidents had chosen the path of negative resistance, the life of the regime might have been greatly shortened. Even to enter the arguments of politics and priorities was always to concede ground. I recall, for example, when asking why we should accept the compulsory veil being told: "the revolution is also at war with the world's superpowers; this is a minor matter; think big!" I recall when asking why I should vote for certain representative who has no respect for my opinion being told "this one is better than the other, in the long run the effect would be beneficial." I recall when asking why I should be deprived of music being told: "Shajarian [a famous male Iranian singer] has received permission for a performance (albeit just one, and in a small concert hall)"; and when responding "why not Parisa [a famous female singer before the revolution and banned afterwards]" being told, "be thankful that at least the male singer got permission." I recall when questioning the control over literature, cinema and art being told: "The leader [at the time Ayatollah Khomeini] admires Gaav" (Darius Mehrjui's famous 1969 film The Cow) - which allowed the Iranian cinema to avoid being completely banned after the 1979 revolution.    

With such generous understanding and split differences, we nurtured a regime that today is spilling the blood of young Iranians in the streets and destroying their lives in prisons.   

The birth of a generation    

Each generation can experience the birth of hope several times, but innocence is born only once. All revolutions are bathed at the start in a sort of innocence - but once the suppressive machine is installed, blind vengeance crushes it forever.

Yet in its own way the generation that has arrived onto the scene in today's Iran, in opposition to one of the world's most violently repressive regimes, has only its innocence as well as its negative resistance to sustain it and defend itself. The images of its emergence in 2009 may gradually be transferred from the news front-pages to the inside and then to the archives; but they have done the indelible work of marking a clear separation of young Iranians from the regime that seeks to rule and colonise them. 

In their response to the latest election miracle, young Iranians have also punctured the mistakes committed by their parents and established their autonomy in face of the Islamic regime. If people in the free world today look on Iranians as people not unlike themselves, and certainly different from the ruling minority that governs its country, this is the achievement of the protesting young Iranian generation. In its continued refusal to allow its innocence to be sacrificed for the benefit of this or that group, this generation may yet find a remedy for the deadlock of Iran's past thirty years.


Also on the disputed election in Iran and its bitter aftermath:

"Iran's election: people and power" (15-18 June 2009) - a symposium with Ramin Jahanbegloo, Anoush Ehteshami, Nazenin Ansari, Omid Memarian, Grace Nasri, Rasool Nafisi, Nasrin Alavi, Sanam Vakil, and Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour, "Iran's stolen election, and what comes next" (18 June 2009)

Hossein Bastani, "Iran's coming storm" (22 June 2009)

Kamin Mohammadi, "Voices from Iran" (23 June 2009)

Hazem Saghieh, "Iran: dialectic of revolution" (23 June 2009)

Reza Molavi & Jennifer Thompson, "Iran's quantum of solace: step back, look long" (25 June 2009)

Ali Reza Eshraghi, "Iran's crisis and Ali Khamenei" (29 June 2009)

Mahmood Delkhasteh, "The archaeology of Iran's regime" (2 July 2009)

Asef Bayat, "Iran: a green wave for life and liberty" (7 July 2009)

Hazem Saghieh, "Arabs and the Iranian upheaval" (9 July 2009)

Fred Halliday, "Iran's tide of history: counter-revolution and after" (17 July 2009)

Rasool Nafisi, "Iran: revolution beyond caricature" (7 August 2009)

Hossein Bastani, "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: a political shadow" (17 August 2009)

Among openDemocracy's many articles about Iran:

Ardashir Tehrani, "Iran's presidential coup" (26 June 2005)

Trita Parsi, "The Iran-Israel cold war" (28 October 2005)

Nayereh Tohidi, "Iran: regionalism, ethnicity and democracy" (28 June 2006)

Hooshang Amirahmadi, "Iran and the international community: roots of perpetual crisis" (24 November 2006)

Kamin Mohammadi, "Voices from Tehran" (31 January 2007)

Anoush Ehteshami, "Iran and the United States: back from the brink" (16 March 2007)

Rasool Nafisi, "Iran's cultural prison" (17 May 2007)

Nasrin Alavi, "The Iran paradox" (11 October 2007)

Omid Memarian, "Iran: prepared for the worst" (30 October 2007)

Sanam Vakil, "Iran's political shadow war" (16 July 2008)

Nasrin Alavi, "Iran: after the dawn" (2 February 2009)

Abbas Milani, "Iran's Islamic revolution: three paradoxes" (9 February 2009)

Homa Katouzian, "The Iranian revolution: beyond enigma" (13 February 2009)

Nikki R Keddie, "Iranian women and the Islamic Republic" (24 February 2009)

Sanam Vakil & David Hayes, "Iran's election and Iran's system" (21 April 2009)

Nasrin Alavi, "Iran: a blind leap of faith" (2 June 2009)

Omid Memarian, "Iran on the move" (11 June 2009)

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