Sunday, July 05, 2009

Lessons of Revolutions Past

The presidential elections in Iran started with huge excitement, followed by grief, followed by disappointment, followed by shock, followed by devastation by the shameless brutality of men who came to spread peace and justice to all, and finally, came to a standstill. We Iranians of the older generation sadly remember the uprising of 1979, and some even the 1953 coup, and wonder what to expect next.

Although there are none among us to remember the constitutional movement of 1906 which put an end to the absolute monarchy and started a new page in Iranian history, many of us, the students of history, are delighted to detect the lessons learned from those golden era are being faithfully implemented by our younger generation today.

In 1979, as a student in the United States, I was glued to the television when Ayatollah Khomeini emerged from obscurity to fame and from exile to leadership, thanks to the media. Passing from anger to amazement to despair to rage and back to resignation in a heartbeat, I came to understand a page of our history which I had missed as a child then, the 1953 CIA coup that toppled our democratically-elected government of Dr. Mossadegh and returned the Shah to power. In those days, the excitement of revolution did not let us see the similarity of the events, which would have prevented us from going astray, and so we did go astray. But today it seems the youngers are much too wise and better equipped (thanks to the internet) to commit the same mistake we did.

Witnessing these two uprising with the same intense interest, from the same standpoint physically, emotionally, and intellectually, I’m amazed not only at the emergence of more and more fundamental difference between the two recent events, but the degree to which the traits of the Constitutional Revolution can be observed in the recent uprising.

The sectarian nature of 1979 revolution naturally did not embrace us all. Not only the minorities, but the secular Iranian had to force themselves and hide their disappointment under a fake veil of “after all we are Muslims.” When the leftists came to the game with their artificially-induced “class struggle”, I felt the last nail was hammered into the coffin by the Islamic Republic as an Islamic coup against the Iranians’ legitimate demands for democracy.

It happened that it took us some thirty years for the shock to wear off and for us to accept our failure and, more so, to accept responsibility for our mistakes and the price we ought to pay for it. Though it happened that those of us who made the mistake are living in the safety of “old age”, well-respected by Iranians, the price to pay is left to our offspring!

It took us some thirty years to learn that there is no “class struggle” in Iran, but cultural struggle, and that neither of the preceding movements was anything but a demand for democracy and the establishment of democratic institutions such as a constitution and a parliament. That the participants in those uprising crossed over the divisions set by class, gender, or ethnicity, and their demands were more in the nature of cultural change (as much as I try to avoid the terminology for fear of being identified with Maoism) than political.

It took us thirty years to find out that we did not need to have any leaders, charismatic or otherwise, with beards or without, with a halo or a ring, to shepherd us. If there were a few who appeared as leaders in Constitutional Movement, they were in fact just like a placard and banner whose function is to carry on the message written on them by others; and Dr. Mossadegh always considered himself a representative rather than a leader. It seems that where there is no such hierarchy of the leadership, the movements have a better fate in our society (i.e. recent Campaign for One Million Signatures, and various minor revolts in sport arenas, such as the setback of government in dispute over the TV program of 90.)

And finally, it took us just thirty years to tell God’s emissaries that we do not need their God. We Iranian know our God very well. Our God respects freedom; our God has created us all equal; our God has created each of us to be his emissary on earth; our God has appointed us directly to be the guardian of good; our God has given each of us a mandate to fight with evil, liars, scoundrels, murderers, thieves and those who turn the lights off to cover their crimes.

It took us thirty years of daily practice to realize that we value culture over the empty rituals and appearance of culture and so-called ideology, be it religious or otherwise. We proved that we would guard our humanity as it is passed to us for centuries through our literature and our customs. We showed in practice that we prefer death to life in disgrace.

And finally, we all came to realize that what unites all Iranian is just a simple voice, a Neda, which no matter from how far it emerges, it will always be heard by all those who consider themselves Iranian.

It is odd that a century ago the king Mozaffar od-Din Shah, signed the constitution which limited his very own power. Unhappy as he was, he had enough Iranian blood in his body and love of the county in his soul that he preferred to step down from his throne but not to detach himself from those opposed to his absolute power. Even the last Shah of that dynasty was wise enough to abdicate. And oddly enough Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, for all the wrong he did to the people and the country, has enough love in his heart and wisdom in his mind to leave when he faced the choice of being with people and leaving or to stay and remain as opposed to Iranians.

Two weeks ago in a conference in Columbia University on the current issue in Iran, I asked two of the participants, Dr. Fatemeh Haghightjoo and Hojjat ol-Islam Mohsen Kadivar, if it is realistic at all to expect a peaceful solution to our present crisis in Iran, or if either of them could foresee the possibility that one day anyone could get into dialogue with the Islamic Republic and make them hear the voice of reason. I think my question was out of the norm, but still I received a warm smile from Kadivar, which I took as an acknowledgement, and a good response from Haghighatjoo: “Lets hope, after all, that is all we have, that is all left for humanity.” A simple and wise a response, as was expected from her.

Yes, “hope” is the torch we Iranians carried faithfully through history and passed on to the new generation. It took us through the bleak days of our failure and defeats, it took us to the street to demand our rights, it made us to reclaim what was ours, and it gives us the sweet promise of a joyful future. That is all we have, and that was all we ever had. But something more, it worked in the past and it will for sure do so in the future. Let’s pray it will stay alive in our hearts. It is our only ally for the days to come.


çiçekçi said...

For sharing thank you very much good very beautiful work

Simone said...

Dictators by nature, do not abdicate their power for the "good of people". Shah did not leave till he had no choice. The Mullahs will not step down unless they are left with no other alternative either. However it is too easy for me, or any one else living outside, to wish our hamvatans to continue to their struggle. All I am giving them is a voice of support, they have their lives to give.

catlest said...

I disagree with Simone. I was in Iran during the Revolution, and in spite of the violence there was a sense that the Shah could have use much MORe violence if he'd wanted. One of my acquaintances was an ex-British Army type, and he used to go on about all the things the Shah could have done if he'd had the stomach for a bloodbath!

Thanks, Mina, for a sensitive and compassionate analysis. I particularly liked the insight that movements are best when they're a grass-roots impulse of the people, rather than centered around some charismatic "leader."

Zoroaster said...

Hi my American Friend,
I am Persian and i watched your program on VOA about Iran. Thanks for your love for Iran. You have definitly lived in Persia or Iran in one of your early past lives according to the law of reincarnation. Maybe you dont belive in it, but for people like you that are not Persian, it has been a drawing force in your unconscious mind. anyway. Good luck my friend. With the hope of a great friendship between the two countries after the death of occupiers of my country.