Sunday, June 28, 2009

media fantasies

Guardian | Iranian Islamists' allegiances do not lie with saffron rice and Hafez's poems. They love God, then country, grind through life as factory workers and farmhands in addition to getting PhDs in engineering and medicine. Iranians loyal to their Islamic project recite prayers for their president, relish the martyrdom of Hussein, and wait for the return of their messiah. So did anyone really think that his terrestrial representative would allow more than a week of bank burnings and highway closures? Are we really shocked that the military would close rank, dissidents would be arrested, and political threats be neutralised as 250,000 US troops sit on the country's borders and Cheney's $400m support for regime subversion gets stamped by Obama?

Instead of trying to understand the complexity of Iranian Islamism and its fusion into the international political system, intellectuals in the west have dismissed its architects and supporters as brainwashed fanatics controlled by wicked priests. We have lived vicariously through its dissidents and exiles. We have cherished stories such as Reading Lolita in Tehran and recommended films such as Not Without My Daughter and Persepolis to our closest family and friends. It was only a matter of time, we so desperately believed.

But a match can only be lit once. Mousavi was from a generation that stood in front of the Shah's helicopter gunships, slept in trenches before Saddam's tanks, and waited hours in line for flour. But Tehran's tech-savvy are far from Frantz Fanon's lumpenproletariat. The hundreds of thousands trickled down to a few hundred this week precisely because they never came to revolt. Had they wanted a revolution, they could have had one when they crammed the streets in front of the state television and radio station. The bazaar shop owners, much less the oil refinery workers, have not gone on strike, nor will they. The opposition's tiny political infrastructure has all but been destroyed. The revolution will not be televised – or Twittered – because it was only going to happen in our imaginations.

Soon, Iran will fade from the news cycle and its horrors will blend with those of the rest of the world. Ahmadinejad will serve four years as a lame-duck president, tempered by Khamenei domestically and internationally. Mousavi, along with Khatami, will probably retire from politics while Rafsanjani secures his assets as quickly as possible. Larijani will be the supreme leader's new man and after leading the charge on election reform will probably be the next president.

Meanwhile, the "Iranian people" will continue living under the double sanction of a repressive state and an international boycott regime designed to cripple their development. Then intellectuals, journalists and diaspora Iranians such as myself can return to imagining them any way we want.
The power of the Revolutionary Guard had grown exponentially over the past six years precisely because there are 250,000 U.S. soldiers flanking Iran's borders. Anyone failing to comprehend what's actually transpiring in Iran, is simply not paying attention.