Ican’t get enough news about what’s happening in Iran. The power struggle fascinates me for a number of reasons:
* The demonstrations in Tehran and elsewhere show the huge miscalculations made by the country’s theocratic leadership. For years, Iran’s leaders have claimed that the country’s biggest threats were those that were coming from the outside: the US invasion of Iraq; the Israelis’ willingness to launch airstrikes, etc. In reality, the bigger danger to the Iranian regime was its own corruption and ineptitude.
* The demonstrations and resistance to the Iranian government prove, once again, that information wants to be free. As soon as the demonstrations started, the government shut down SMS and most cell phones. Thus, text messaging – a prime means of communication for Iran’s young people (and young and old in dozens of other countries around the world) – became impossible. But still the demonstrators found a way to get the message out. New social media technologies like Twitter and Facebook – which until now I thought were just useless examples of Web 2.0 navel-gazing – have instead become an integral part of the resistance efforts. Videos readily available on YouTube confirm the size of the demonstrations and the brutality of the pro-government forces. On Monday, L. Gordon Crovitz of the Wall Street Journal wrote about China’s efforts to control Internet access. But his analysis applies to Iran as well: “Information remains the great enemy of authoritarian governments.”
* People want to be free. Yes, that’s become a hackneyed phrase. But the video and photos of Iranians marching in miles-long processions are inspiring. Even more remarkable: the video from the demonstrations last week showed that the marchers were largely quiet. No chants. No singing. And by being silent, their desire for freedom rings through. The BBC’s Hugh Sykes, in an article printed Sunday, quoted one Iranian he met as saying, “We want the freedom to talk, and the freedom to think. We want freedom for our spirit, ok? That’s not very much to ask.”
* Juan Cole’s blog, Informed Comment, is indispensable. Cole, a professor at the University of Michigan, is providing some of the best and most comprehensive coverage on what’s happening in Iran. He has translated newscasts from Iran and posted numerous articles about the situation. Further, he has a deep understanding of Islam and Arab culture. His blog and his role as an analyst of Islamic, Arab, and Persian issues is a testament to the power of the Internet.
* The color green has become a symbol of resistance. The theocrats, and autocrats in Iran have been worried about another Colored Revolution, i.e., the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and guess what? They’re getting a Green Revolution in Iran. The color green is fraught with symbolism. It’s the ultimate Islamic color. Thus, in a striking bit of political jujitsu, Mir Hossein Mousavi and his supporters are using an Islamic image to subvert the power of an old, corrupt cleric – Ayatollah Khamenei — who’s threatening to kill his own countrymen for not submitting to his hold on power. In a letter published on Sunday, Mousavi commented on the color, saying “The self-propelling movement of the people chose green as its iconic color. I admit that in this I followed their lead.”
* The Iranian situation makes me proud to be an American. I’m hardly a flag-waver. But the election of Obama restored my faith in the US political system. George W. Bush’s tenure in the White House was a disaster. He will be remembered as one of the worst presidents in American history. But he left power and he did so voluntarily and with class. Despite America’s many faults – and I could make a long list — the US remains a beacon of liberty, prosperity, and stability, a place where the rule of law matters.
* Obama’s right to keep his mouth mostly shut about what’s happening in Iran. Nearly 60 years after Kermit Roosevelt launched his ham-handed coup that tossed out Mohammad Mossedegh and replaced him with the shah, the last thing Iran needs is any meddling by the US in their politics.
* Theocracies are doomed. The conflict between freedom and the type of religious tyranny that is practiced in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia is simply too great to last. In 2006, I visited Saudi Arabia for a week. Like Iran, the country is a living lie. Islamic law – and the prohibition on alcohol – rules in public. But in private homes, alcohol is readily available. Priests and politics are a deadly combination. Eventually, rational thought and the desire for freedom overwhelms piety and the pettiness that inevitably comes with it.
* There’s a thin line between theocracy and thugocracy. Again, the parallels between Saudi Arabia and Iran are obvious. In Saudi Arabia, the religious police patrol the streets unimpeded by the regular police and are allowed to enforce their own brand of conservative Islam. In Iran, the mullahs are using gangs of Basijis, plainclothes thugs who are terrorizing the protesters in their homes. In neither country is the rule of law – the secular law – respected or obeyed.
* It may take a while, but it looks like people power will prevail in Iran. Ghandi has gone to Tehran.
ROBERT BRYCE’s latest book is Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of “Energy Independence” which just came out in paperback.