June 16, 2009

Forms of Revolt Without Revolution

Uprisings belong to history, but in a certain way, they escape it. The movement through which a lone man, a group, a minority, or an entire people say, "I will no longer obey," and are willing to risk their lives in the face of a power they believe to be unjust, seems to me to be irreducible. This is because no power is capable of making it absolutely impossible. Warsaw will always have its ghetto in revolt and its sewers populated with insurgents. The man in revolt is ultimately inexplicable. There must be an uprooting that interrupts the unfolding of history, and its long series of reasons why, for a man "really" to prefer the risk of death over the certainty of having to obey.

--Michel Foucault, on Iran, May 1979

Zahra Rahnavard

I think that the first thing to do is to recognize the fact that there are democratic pluralists in Iran fighting for democratic values and civil liberties. Their struggle for empowerment or Iranian civil society goes beyond a simple act of contestation. The process of democraticization in Iran is a day-to-day challenge which is not only political, but also social and cultural.

Democracy is not a place where you sit and relax for the rest of your life. It is about responsible civic participation and intellectual integrity. So without this sense of responsibility I don't see how we could manage to have a strong civil society wherein people find their confidence in speaking and acting. . . .

The actors in Iranian civil society need to find their own logics and practices of togetherness rather than those imposed on them. But this cannot be done without intellectual maturity. Maturity is the condition of possibility for pluralism in Iranian society.

--Ramin Jahanbegloo, Iranian dissident, 2006

With the semi-spontaneous demonstration in Tehran and other major cities (including Shiraz, where we have had eyewitness accounts by members of my family), the civil unrest that began on 13 June with opposition to the announced results of the presidential election of 12 June has entered a new phase. The assumption of the election having been rigged is now a "social fact." It is no longer relevant if the election was or was not rigged. Millions of Iranians believe it was and they are putting their lives on the line to announce and assert it — with at least 12 fatalities, as just reported by The Guardian.
We need to have a careful and accurate summation of what has happened so far. On 12 June upward of 80% of eligible voters, about 40 out of 46 million, have voted. This has been the most magnificent manifestation of the political maturity of Iran as a nation and their collective democratic will. This nation does not need, nor has it ever needed, either a medieval concoction called the Vali Faqih in Qom or Tehran to patronize it or else a Neocon chicanery called "Iran Democracy Project" in Hoover Institution in California to promote it. This nation, as always, can take care of itself. It needs nothing but the active solidarity of ordinary people around the globe to be a witness to their struggles and demand from their media an accurate and comprehensive representation of their movement. So please, hands off Iran! No "democracy project," no sanction, no threat, no military attack, no regime change.
The day after the results were announced, on 13 June, there was a spontaneous demonstration in Tehran by supporters of Mir-Hossein Mousavi demanding recount and charging vote rigging. The following day, on 14 June, the government staged a major pro-Ahmadinejad rally in which his supporters were bussed in from surrounding villages. It is important to keep in mind that Ahmadinejad's supporters come from the poorest and most disenfranchised segments of Iranian society, subject to his and his campaign's populism and demagoguery. From this fact one should not conclude that all the impoverished segments of Iranian society, suffering from double digit inflation and endemic unemployment, are on his side or fooled by his charlatanism. The supporters of Mir-Hossein Mousavi and the Reformist movement come from a vast trajectory of Iranian society.
Today, on 15 June 2009, the uprising has assumed an entirely different dimension and may have already transmuted into a full-fledged civil disobedience movement, with hundreds of thousands (according to BBC, which is usually quite conservative in its estimations), demonstrating peacefully and joyously between Meydan-e Enqelab and Meydan-e Azadi. Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mohammad Khatami have led the demonstration and made speeches, as has Zahra Rahnavard, now an inspiration and role model for millions of Iranian women. Please take a good look at her and keep a print of her picture and the picture of other women participating in these demonstrations in your files before some other charlatan comes and crops it for the cover of the next edition of Reading Lolita in Tehran, or else puts together a collage of it for yet another book on "Sexual Revolution" or "Sexual Politics" in Iran. Whoever has won this particular presidential election, lipstick jihadis, career opportunist memoirists, obscene and fraudulent anthropologists on a summer "field work" in Iran, useless expatriate "opposition," and comprador intellectuals in general are among its main losers.
--Hamid Dabashi, June 15, 2009