Reformists are Islamists, Too

The ‘Green Revolution’ is underway. Iranians have put aside their greatest fears, and now carry the destiny of the nation in their own hands. We are in 1979 all over again; only that now, it is the ‘mullahs’ who have become the fleeing Shah. Tensions on the Iranian streets have boiled over to a simple equation: “whose violence threshold is higher?”

The above characterizations capture, to a large degree, the essence of the sensationalized media reporting that has gripped Western capitals in the wake of the Iranian elections. As is the norm with Western coverage of Iran, much of any analysis specializes in the art of the demonization of President Ahmedinejad. Not far distant, as always, is a usual dosage of derisive language reserved for the Islamic Republic. Indeed, the latter enjoys a rich and arguably unparalleled heritage in contemporary Western media. The difference this time around however, has been the extent to which hysterical media outlets have lined up to champion the cause of presidential candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

Without need for truth or facts, media outlets from across the spectrum have at once become pro-Mousavi advocates in this kangaroo trial whose verdict had been determined even before the trial was underway. A question should be posed at this stage for objective readers: ‘what response should we have expected from these very media outlets had the election results registered a victory for opposition candidate, Mr. Mousavi?’

But even this unfailing pro-Mousavi advocacy shades (almost surreally) in comparison to a most flabbergasting marvel in Western reporting over the last few hours. Believe it or not, but the likes of the BBC now have nothing but words of praise for the “language of the Islamic Revolution” i.e. the slogans of 1979; that single event which gave the US one of its most painful drubbings. Not in my wildest dreams did I foresee a day in which, both the Right and Left would light up with glee on hearing cries of “Allahu Akbar” shouted out from Tehran’s rooftops. Regaining my composure (for having the great privilege of witnessing this historic milestone), I was led to question: ‘what has led to this sudden (and truly unexpected) spiritual awakening of the Western media?’

Novel fantasies aside and back to reality. To any impartial eye, there is something deeply out-of-sync in the dominating frameworks against which the sights and sounds of Tehran’s so-called ‘Green Revolution’ are analysed. On the one hand, there are fast-selling images of liberal Americanized youths who (as we are endlessly told) happen to be worshippers of all things Western, and impatiently seek to break away the shackles of the ‘despotic mullah regime’. Juxtaposed against these visuals are the traditional chants of the Islamic Revolution of “God is Great” and the newborn slogans of “Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein”.

Question: what should we make of the disparity between these two contradicting poles that are somehow seamlessly interwoven in the fictional world of Western media?

The answer to this question has almost entirely eluded the West ever since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. For Western capitals, the failure to properly appraise the religiosity of Iranian society has been a perpetual quandary. Let’s get things straight: Mousavi and his supporters are not calling for a counter-revolution against the Islamic Republic. Although the BBC (who wilfully signed up to the Bush-Blairite ‘Ministry of Truth’) is twisting and turning rumours in its attempt to depict the ongoing tensions as a life-or-death predicament for the Islamic Republic, the reality on the ground could not be further distant.

Chants of “Ya Hossein, Mir-Hossein” admittedly mesmerize the BBC’s Tehran correspondents. To Iranians, the slogan that translates to: “O Hossein, Mir Hossein”, sticks out like a sore thumb. One would find it instructive to compare the slogans raised during the 1979 revolution to the almost insulting one cited above in order to get a measure of the difference in the usage of religious symbolism (the opening segment of the slogan: ‘O Hossein,’ is in reference to the revered third Shia Imam, and grandson of the Holy Prophet whereas the latter, as is evident, refers to the presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi).

Such attempts, aimed at plastering Mousavi’s campaign with quasi-religious legitimacy, have drawn the ridicule of many Iranians – including some of his own supporters. A slogan of such wanting sophistication and symmetry, somewhat like a Mozart-Whitehouse remix, not only reflects the tardy desperateness of leading Mousavi campaigners to reach out to a highly religious society (i.e. a wider political base), but even more importantly, it further demonstrates just how deficient Mousavi’s campaigning really was in appealing to the wider Iranian electorate.

As the clock ticks away, media pundits on the airwaves will almost certainly lay claim to the ‘real import’ of ‘Tehran’s frustrations’. Spurious experts on the BBC will likewise speak of the impending downfall of the ‘mullah regime’. Facing all these, and yet more, Orwell provides an apt response: “To see what is in front of one’s nose requires a constant struggle.”

Or perhaps more fittingly: “All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.”

ALI JAWAD is a political activist and a member of the AhlulBayt Islamic Mission (AIM).