The bruised pride driving the Iranian protesters
People are dying on the streets of Iran, which isn’t surprising. Iran seems to have ended up as both a theocracy and a military dictatorship, and neither forms of government are known for their permissiveness to public disorder.
So why are rioters still bothering? Even if you dislodge the latter, you won’t get rid of the former. And lets keep in mind that Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s reformist colleague and friend Mohammad Khatami had two terms as president and the mullahs- the real power in Iran- let him reform but very and little.
Khatami even found that while he held the highest elected office in the land, governmental agents were still murdering other reformists. And even after he found out about it, he couldn’t stop it. So I ask again, why bother? And why now? I think the answer is maturation and technology, but also pride.
After the revolution in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini encouraged married couples to start large families and banned contraception. In 1980, after the Iran-Iraq war set in Khomeini practically ordered births for his ‘million man army.’
In 1988, the Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education studied the effects of the population boom and realised that, if the birth rate continued as it was, the country would certainly end up bankrupt. A lessening of the birth rate was ‘ordered’, and contraception was reintroduced, but still there is a population with a massive number of 21-29 year olds, many well educated and unemployed.
Good rioting stock.
The accelerating penetration of mobile phones and access to Internet access has been a huge contributor too. Farsi is the second most used language on the Internet, despite it being the eighteenth most spoken language in the world and there are more bloggers per capita in Iran than anywhere else in the world.
I don’t have to tell you that the Internet is a great place to anonymously foster discontent, but it’s also an unparalleled tool for opaque organization. ‘Would you like to join the group ‘Death to the Dictator’? Start: June 12th 9am. Finish: TBA. Admin: Mir-Hossein Mousavi. This is a closed group.’
I think the other ingredient is bruised pride.
The fact that Iran’s middle class is disappearing is embarrassing and angering for Iranians, so too the fact that no amount of education guarantees employment. Every Iranian knows how resource rich the country is too, compounding the embarrassment of the economic mismanagement.
That Iran is bunched in with the same mind space as the other ‘axis of evil’ countries is also a sore point. Iran is not North Korea, a bizarre by-product of the cold war. Nor is it Iraq, another relatively new country ruled in pockets by schismatics.
Iran is the current incarnation of a proud and enduring nation. Iran is the land of Ferdowsi or Hafez, two famous Iranian poets who are still read on the streets of Iranian cities in the evenings. Iran is the country of Perspolis, of Xerxes and Darius the Great.
And also Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Forget his policies and application of power, Ahmadinijad himself must be personally embarrassing for many educated Iranians. He panders to religious fundamentalists, the rural poor and xenophobes, he baits and goads the west, he denies the Holocaust.
Having a president who denies the holocaust is nasty in many ways, but one is just plain anti-intellectual. The same embarrassment must be felt when being represented by a fundamentalist Christian who believes the earth was created six-thousand years ago. It’s the contradiction of inalienable fact.
I met a girl in Tehran last year that I always see in my mind as a part of those demonstrating crowds in Tehran or Isfahan. Her name was Rahalek and we met after she followed me for an hour at the main train terminal.
A twenty-six year old Isfahani graduate student who spoke seven languages, Rahalek was in Tehran interviewing for a job at the German consulate. After half an hour I knew she hated the hijab, hated the Iranian economy was derailed and very much wanted to tell me about the first two things.
After talking for a while, a policeman came over and had a stern word with her. She gave him an even sterner word. I couldn’t understand what was being said, but I could tell that he was threatening to take her to the police station. Eventually he backed down and left with a vein throbbing in his neck. I asked if he really would have put her in a cell. She told me that they have before- her and most of her friends. She said she just didn’t care.
When you see so much wrong, even a few moments of empowerment can go a long way. And if the state won’t empower you, in even the most marginal way, I suppose you can’t help but take it yourself.
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