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 unprovable involvement in the Islamic Republic’s crimes during his term as president, 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.

9 comments:

xagros said...

So meaningful and great as usual. I love your words Khaleh Mina ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I partially agree with what said in this article, although I also think that in life, it is always much easier to criticize than to build. Due to the very nature of Iranian politics, I think that it would be impossible to find a candidate for the presidency with no flaws, no ambiguity, no past involvment in repressive or anti-democratic politics.. simply, this kind of candidate doesn't exist because in the first place he would not be admitted in the election process at all; second, if he is a real democratic, and against the Islamic regime, he would more probably be in jail or exhile. Yes, it would be nicer to have as a candidate someone like Shirin Ebadi, but is it possible in the actual circumstances? is it even thinkable? So, let me ask you something:

1. is it possible for a presidential candidate, or for a politician in general, in Iran, to dissociate from Imam Khomeini or overtly criticize him? isn't criticizing him seen as doubting the divine nature of velayate faqih? isn't this a political suicide (and even dangerous for your life)?
2. is it possible for a high-ranking politician to have been involved in politics in the '80s and '90s in Iran and not have some involvment in killing, torturing, abusing human rights, etc? is there any innocent politician (or any innonce at all) left from that period?
3. isn't it possible for people to change? even if they are very pious men who claim that their values are rooted in non-democratic ideas such as the infallibility of a supreme leader, or the absolute supremacy of religion over politics? isn't it possible for even some sepahi or basiji militants to change their mind when they see such things as their own sons and nephews killed, tortured, raped, etc, especially when in the same family there are pro-reformists and conservative ideas?
4. what is the alternative to Moussavi?

dokhtare khareji

Mina said...

Dear Dokhtar - Khareji,
Thanks for your very thoughtful comment. In full agreement with what you said, I have no doubts in the impossibility of such a perfect candidate; indeed, I even do not believe in the necessity of such perfection as a criterion for a public servant. In fact, as soon as Mousavi’s nomination by Khatami was announced, I wrote an article to welcome the decision. In that article I fully acknowledged his flaws, though I still thought, given the circumstances, as you have rightly mentioned them, he is a good candidate. I would even have voted for him if Karoubi had not been running.
Yes, you are right on all your questions. I would say yes to all of them without any hesitation, including the capacity of man to changes.
However, none of the above should stop us from questioning, demanding, and challenging. It is exactly in this spirit that I write my blog and set forth my ideas to be challenged; and it is in the same spirit that I welcome your comments full-heartedly. This is the only way that our ideas come to some fruitfulness. I bet the consideration of my failure in being able to meet your challenges won’t, and should not, stop you from writing your comments and expressing your views.
I’m afraid the success or failure of Mousavi at this stage of history is the least of my concerns. My first and the last commitment is to advance democracy, and that not as a static and definite phenomenon but as an ongoing process. A democratic system as a progressive system, exactly like science, is alive only in being constantly challenged. In this regard, if by any chance we would have the most democratic government, still, the only guarantee for its progress is to be constantly challenged.
However, in none of my articles have I objected to Mousavi per se; it is the failing institution of Islamic Republic that my criticism targets, and naturally whoever stands for it will receive some share of it, and Mousavi is no exception. If Mousavi is named, it is only the institutions he stands for and not he himself, that interests me, and even so I think he is entitled to subscribe to any school of thought, no matter how reactionary, as long as if he wants to convince us, he refrains from appealing to authority or manipulations in any form.
As for the final question that if we have any other alternative. I should say no. No authoritarian regime such as Islamic Republic’s system, being absolutely hierarchical, would ever allow any alternative among the political figures who manage to survive and advance to higher positions. Even Khatami, with all his open-mindedness, and with all his democratic ideas and all the prestige he brought to the regime, could not train a successor for himself in the reformist party. To endorse someone to succeed him, he has to go back 25 years, to the fundamentalists, to Mousavi. In this kind of system there is never any alternative. We only select the lesser evil, and that is what we did, and that we will do.
P.S. This is another article I have written on Mousavi, you may find it useful.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

please see this, this is one of the Salafi Kuwait member of Kuwait parliament accuses I ran government of killing the Sunni in Iran and he threatens Iran and says he will retaliates against Iran it is important to highlight what he is saying he is threatening Iran government clearly and he is supported by members of the royal family
this is the youtube
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_H_A5Oud-NI

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for your long and articulate reply to my reply and the seriousness with which you took my points.. I fundamentally agree with all you say.. maybe I was being semplicistic, because we "kharejiha" tend to have more simplicistic views of Iranian politics, like "if Ahmadinejad is evil, and Moussavi is his opponent, well so Moussavi must be the good one..", because the truth is that Iranian politics is really complicated and for an outsider is easier to portray it in black and white, or at least in scales of gray, rather than in all its color shades.. that's why it's so interesting to read articles like yours, written in English but with an insider point of view..

anyway if I may ask you something, I would like more articles about literature and book reviews, I miss them!

thank you

dokhtare khareji

Sanam said...

Hi Mina,

I wasn't able to find your email, so thought to post my question here.

I am seeking help from Iranian bloggers who write about Iran in English to fill out a questionnaire of a PhD project for a US university.
I'd be happy to give you details and the website link if you are interested. The questionnaire is so short and wouldn't take more than 5-10 mins of your time.
Looking forward to hearing from you!

Sanam
Sanam.dolatshahi@yahoo.com

shima said...

I liked the central point of this post: our strong dualism that always divides everything in good and bad.
like old myths.

Mohammad said...

hi mina
why have you been away for such a long time?