Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mousavi, Saint or Sinner?

As an Iranian growing up in a culture that is rooted strongly in cosmological dualism, I always took polarization as a given. It came quite natural that pop music stands opposed to classical music, new wave poetry to classical, the Theater of the Absurd to classical acting, and abstract painting to realist painting. Dualism was carried on to all aspects of life where the modern was counterposed to the traditional. It was quite natural when we placed two individuals in opposition to each other, no matter how fundamentally similar they were. However, our undemocratic political arena did not provide with grounds for such polarization of the political characters. We never had political figures to stand up against each other. We had one Dr. Mosaddeq standing alone by himself who was pushed back to exile by the Shah without finding a chance to compete with any real opposition. (If only the Shah had known this little, he would not have need the CIA’s help!)

If this trend went into hibernation during the first two decades of the Islamic Republic, it emerged fully in its third decade, though in a different guise and domain. It was when a popular personality such as Khatami emerged who charmed 22 million fans while some millions called him traitor, liar, etc. This duality of character was soon carried over to the reformists in general, and then to the reform movement itself. A movement that appeared to many to be the way to salvation was considered an intentional device to perpetuate the Islamic Republic’s tyranny.
Mousavi, an old-timer politician, reentered the political arena as a reformist candidate. Once the fundamentalist prime minister of the reign of terror, when Islamic Republic sought its survival in war, mass executions, and serial murders, boasting about supporting terrorists, suicide bombers, murderers and extremists, suddenly emerged a born again peace lover and supporter of human rights and became the candidate of reform movement, and, later a central figure in the leadership of the Green Movement.
His first speech upon his nomination stunned many of us. He said a fundamentalist in essence is nothing but a reformist and a reformist in essence must be a fundamentalist. This speech should have given us a clue as what to expect; instead it made some of us giggle, while his staunch supporters thought of it as genius.
His double messages soon multiplied. His constant deference to Imam Khomeini, the sublimity of the Revolution’s unfulfilled goals, and his commitment to the regime, the Supreme Leader, and the Islamic Regime’s ideals alarmed many of us. But for a variety of reasons, chief of which being President Khatami’s backing, he stayed immune from the scrutiny of potential voters and so came ahead of Karoubi in the polls taken during the campaign and later on in election.
It was only after the fraudulent election that he found himself in the spotlight in need of something more significant to say besides those election attacks or appeals to his wartime government record, which little by little turned into a liability for him. He was criticized more and more as the upheaval continued. Above all, the mass executions of 1988 turned out to be his Achilles’ heel.
However, the most serious damage done to Mousavi did not result from his alleged involvement in the Islamic Republic’s crimes during his term as prime minister, but from the most certain and widely-witnessed matter, namely his speeches, written and recorded. It was in this domain that he became most vulnerable.
His ambiguity, imprecision, sweeping generalizations, contradictory statements, false assumptions, taking stands on behalf of the people whom he very openly admits are not subject to his leadership, and finally flip-flopping and twisting statements became his trademark. These problems appeared in his messages to the people or the authorities, causing them to require as much interpretation as the oracles of the sibyls of Delphi. Oddly enough, those who had come to his help, mostly his journalist and blogger friends, not only failed to clarify his words, but added to their ambiguity and therefore to people’s frustration by declaring them to be pearls of wisdom.
Pages in Facebook are crowded with comments referring to Mousavi as Gandhi, a hero, a genius, a phenomenal politician, a superb manager of the wartime economy, and a political savior. He is also referred to as a murderer, a traitor, a terrorist, pawn of the regime, a liar, a cheat, and an incompetent. Although, it is not too difficult to make a bridge between savior and a murderer (as in To Kill a Mockingbird), but seeing all these contradictory characters in one person is a little incongruous to many Iranians. Sometimes I think Mousavi, being the collection of opposites, is either a bad book that is not worth a read, or is like a laboratory culture that has everything in it from extreme good to extreme evil and is therefore a good breeding ground for whatever we wish to cultivate, one of which might be democracy. Sometimes I think the man who has passed through horror very likely knows how to survival better than those who have no such experience. After all, the Islamic Republic’s style of repression is so unique to itself that only its architects know how to access its facilities. But, sometimes I think, more likely, he is a religious man who simply modeled himself after a monotheistic God who is capable of good and evil simultaneously as the situation requires, a God who punishes severely and rewards generously in this little earthly life with impatience, as if there is no after life as He has promised in the Holy Book.
Mousavi has repeatedly issued statements of his unshaken loyalty to Khomeini (who has long lost his esteemed aura among Iranians), his idealization of his premiership (based on his eight years of office in wartime), his commitment to combining theocracy with democracy, and his definition of freedom based on Khomeini’s “the people’s vote is the criteria”, as well as his constant references to “the regime’s interest.” Oddly enough, none of these, with their contradiction to his promises of reform, has become a serious topic of discussion within his camp, as if they all are political and social norms. The absence of analysis, explanation or any sort of dialogue regarding these issues has added to the fog and mist of ambiguity around him. We are all awaiting that miracle to come and clear it up.
Being ambiguous might have been part of Mousavi’s nature. It may be part of his style to be so mysterious, as many artists like to be. It may be the political nature of our country that calls for his statesmen to not be so revealing. It may very well be his way of being clever. It may be an old-fashion style of leadership modeled after Khomeini, who did not believe in dialogue or criticism. He might be a bit more modern than his model in his communications, but only in technological terms. After all, Khomeini’s idea of communicating with his followers was through a one-sided flow of cassettes from him to them. Mousavi may even think of himself as a Khomeini’s legitimate heir, in spite of his humble mode of speech. He may not even believe in being challenged. He may even be the very simple pious man he appears to be. Or, he may be an old-fashioned politician on the verge of an early retirement who was enticed to return to politics and did not refuse out of politeness.
His words, spoken (very rarely) or written, could lead us to all the above. But ultimately, Mousavi remains as unknown to us as his fate is at this stage of the game. A man who came from a fog, brought with him a fog, continues living in fog and promises even more fog. If paradise is this foggy, he is surely an angel, but if what appears to us as fog is nothing but a thin smoke, I think he is the Prince of Darkness coming from Hell. I pray for him to be the former.
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