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Iranian Greens are not Revolutionaries

by AHMAD SADRI

25 Oct 2009 07:2221 Comments

revo2.jpg[ comment ] It has been four and a half months since the Islamic Republic of Iran, like the giant of fables, foolishly broke the jar that contained its life. By committing massive election fraud, this wobbly theocracy has sealed its fate. For three decades the Islamic Republic that had never gained religious legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of Shiite jurists, leaned on the crutch of democratic processes. Now in absence of democratic legitimacy, the regime is left teetering on the tip of its own dagger. The Zoroastrian image of walking barefoot on a hot, razor-sharp bridge over the flames of hell -- imagery that has been retained within the eschatology of Iranian Islam -- is an apt description of the situation of the Iranian regime these days.

If desperate times call for desperate measures, one must not be shocked that the Iranian leaders would attempt to rule at the point of a bayonet, and by street thugs, torture chambers, rape and an elaborate "ministry of truth." Savagery and mendacity may not be the best ways to rule, but they are the last refuge of an unpopular tyranny.

The scale and intensity of the violence perpetrated in the last months against dissidents and peaceful demonstrators is shocking even by the standards of the Islamic Republic. Show trials are not new in the history of Iran. But now dissident intellectuals and leaders of the reformist opposition are kept imprisoned long after airing their obligatory confessions. One prisoner is writing self-deprecating blog posts from prison and others have appeared on stage-managed roundtables to continue their contrite self-accusations.

The horrific record of human rights abuses in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a record that ranges from mass executions and extra-judicial murder of dissidents to arbitrary arrests and persecution of journalists, is particularly shocking for a different reason. This regime is not a garden-variety Third World autocracy. It is the result of a genuine, people-based revolution. It came in with the promise of the kind of freedom that would make a thousand flowers bloom. Polish Solidarity and other Eastern European velvet revolutions learned from the Iranian Revolution. It was the result of courageous mass action of the kind we see today in the streets of major Iranian cities.

One of the billboards of the revolution was a naïve painting of the Ayatollah Khomeini with a line from the Persian Poet Hafez that read: "Only when the Devil departs shall the Angel arrive." The Iranian Revolution was as radically idealistic as the French and Russian Revolutions. Like them, it rejected the actual institutions and political culture of a nation-state with deep historical roots. Just like the French Revolution 190 years before it, the Iranian Revolution marked the triumph of a universal, abstract idea over an actual state.

When the first signs of tyranny and oppression appeared in Iran I, was a graduate student at the New School for Social Research in New York City, dabbling, like everybody else in that enclave, in Hegelian philosophy. One gloomy afternoon, I happened to look at the picture of one of the ruling Ayatollahs and noticed that a strange change had occurred. The face that had once loomed angelic now appeared as a cartoonist's depiction of an evil character in a graphic novel. This was not a hallucinatory delusion or a religious experience but a philosophical vision. I thought that, at that moment, I understood Hegel's critique of the French Revolution, in which he describes the arc of descent of a utopian revolution into the pits of a regime of terror.[i] Abstract revolutionary visions that refuse to start with the actually existing institutions, embodying the collective national lived experience can "flip." Because they are pure negations, because they are a collage of clichés divorced from reality, these Manichean visions can turn into their equally empty, negative counterparts. And they turn on a dime: divine halo turns into satanic aura and Absolute Good becomes Pure Evil.

I believe that my vision represents a common realization in post-revolutionary Iran. This explains the dogged moderation and peacefulness of the current Green movement of Iran. Yes, there are some (mostly in exile) who are calling for the gallows to be erected and for heads to roll. But the movement itself, despite savage repression by the state, has refused to sound the revolutionary note. It is true that Iranians have seen what happens in a Revolution, but this is about more than just collective learning. Iranians have not merely lived through a revolution; they have lived a revolution. Indeed they have been the revolution; they know it as self-knowledge, in the deepest possible sense of that word. They know the price of idealism and radical social engineering that turns utopias into dystopias, dreams into nightmares and romantic comedies into interminable horror stories.

The Iranian Greens are not calling for a revolution or for liberating invasions or even sanctions against the Islamic Republic. They are only calling on the world to recognize that the leaders of Iran do not represent the people of Iran or even the revolution to which they are heirs. Iranian Greens are not against anyone -- not even the presumed president Ahmadinejad. This movement is for achieving a disestablished, secular democracy. It calls on the US and EU leaders to demand that the Iranian regime observe the universal standards of human rights -- rather than pursuing the double standards of nuclear coercive diplomacy. Iranians Greens are gradualists who know how to wait and fight. Taking the advice of that old Chicago gadfly Studs Terkel to heart, they are determined to "take it easy, but take it."

As nuclear negotiations proceed, the US and EU leaders must beware of the significance of the seismic changes that are transubstantiating the Iranian nation. Let them negotiate for narrow geopolitical advantages but let them not do so against the tide of much larger historical changes.

Ahmad Sadri is Professor of Sociology and James P. Gorter Chair of Islamic World Studies at Lake Forest College. He is the author of
Max Weber's Sociology of Intellectuals (Oxford University Press 1992, 94) co-editor of Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam: Essential Writings of Abdolkarim Soroush (Oxford University Press, 2000). He has published four books in Persian and is a former columnist for the Daily Star of Lebanon and the reformist Etemade Melli of Iran.

[i] from Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Paragraphs 590-593 "...that universality that does not let itself advance to the reality of an organic articulation... divides itself into extremes equally abstract... it has completed the destruction of the actual organization of the world, and exists now just for itself... wholly unmediated pure negation.... The sole work and deed of universal freedom is therefore death, and indeed a death that has no inner depth and filling... it is thus the coldest and meanest of all deaths, with no more significance than cutting off a head of cabbage or taking a gulp of water... the terror of death is the vision of this negative nature of itself... The universal will... changes round into its negative nature... its negation is the death that is without meaning, the sheer terror of the negative that contains nothing positive, nothing that fills it with content.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau

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21 Comments

there are many understandingsabo of the green movements and greens. The author should explain first on his definition of greens. Is his greens those that are unhappy with the election result and have foots & interests in the IRI regime and wants the regime to continue its 30 years of destruction and oppression, or the author is referring to people that want secular democratic government system that fits and has roots in Iran and has potential to bring back stability and peace to Iran and put stop on supporting terror in the area. If he talk on behalf of the latter group, his analysis does not sound right to me!

Arezu / October 25, 2009 10:05 AM

Is the picture belong to 1979? or 2009?

Arezou / October 25, 2009 10:12 AM

Photos are from 1979.

Anonymous / October 25, 2009 3:27 PM

I think the author has quite clearly stated which "greens" he's describing. It's well said, and good imagery. I want to learn more about my country and to be able to travel comfortably throughout, but I cannot do that with the thoughts of such negative things happening. Change must come. But it seems as the author here points out about the "double standards of nuclear coercive democracy" that exist. I have always had my issues with the US owning 1000 nuclear warheads and have them at the same time deny another country nuclear power. For this to have to complete attention of the world, something drastic must happen internally that has the potential to send a seismic shock throughout the minds of leaders. Maybe if these executions and kidnappings continue to escalate, and others join the continuing student protests and recreate the moving images of june and july we can see some more complete change. If they continue to take the peaceful and passive path there won't be anyone to continue the fight! They (current regime) clearly have no qualms with baseless arrests and will continue to do them until they have no more space. The iranian governments have never cared about what anyone thinks of them and therefore they do not have the fear that some other countries may have of international shunning.

I continue to hope and cannot wait to see the days of a new Iran.

DC / October 25, 2009 5:58 PM

Moving, important essay, yet parts read like another expatriate attempt to define the green movement -- from the outside -- with core "hegelian" contradictions. I'd agree that this is not per se a movement for a "revolution" -- though he seems to equate revolution with violence. He ends up saying it is a movement for a secular, disestablished system -- though I wonder what his source for that bold claim is. Sure sounds rather "revolutionary" -- like regime change. We're also instructed (as if it's obvious) that the greens don't want the outside world to recognize the current leaders as legitimate representatives of the people. What does that mean? Are we now to accept the Condi Rice style argument that we shouldn't do anything that would legitimize them? (and thus, no serious negotiations, no deals, no addressing vital nuclear questions, etc.)

Scott / October 25, 2009 6:01 PM

Intelligent, well written, clearly argued though it is and as much as I'd like to think that it is spot on in its analysis, it somehow seems rather idealised nonetheless. I'm not entirely certain that being subject to brutal treatment over such a long period of time could possibly leave much room for such superhuman restraint. There are times when power must come from the barrel of a gun. And indeed I can't for the life of me see how any other reaction but a seriously violent one could resolve the situation there.

I feel strongly that the original scenes we saw from outside were strikingly reminiscent of the 1978-79 action on the streets. I also had high hopes that the outcome would be similar, in that it would prove the present regime to be a paper tiger. But to all appearance from the outside the 'movement' as such simply folded and dissolved away once Ahmadinejad was sanctioned by the clergy.

Another factor that I feel must always be taken into account when considering Iran is the depth of the people's patriotism. There was, I remember even as child an almost frantic sense of patriotic fervour instilled in all Iranians. I still hear major echoes of this fanatical element in the way even the so called youth underground still resort to invoking the essential role of Aryan blood and the idea of inherent superiority as a valid argument, not to mention as a motivating force. It chills my blood to hear my fellow countrymen speaking those phrases with such simple, almost arrogant conviction.

But, that what looked to be developing in Iran a few months ago was nothing less than a revolution, is obvious. I can't imagine how else anyone would define revolution if not as a forceful overthrow of government! And that certainly looked very much like what was being enacted in Iran in the lead up and the wake of the elections.

I think anyone in all seriousness would find it clearly obvious that what was happening was an act of revolution.

There is of course also no denying that the obfuscation that the nuclear argument constitutes can only lead to more tension and by effect more oppressive measures in a desperate Iranian establishment.

What the country needs right now is encouragement and support from the rest of the world so that they can see they are not alone in the fight against their own government. Instead Iranians are continuously being branded, en masse as fanatical, anti-West and regressive. This I believe is also the mistake that has been widely perpetrated by for the last many years by the West, which has served only to alienate the Middle East more and more rather than generate any confidence and hope of accord.

Vishy / October 25, 2009 7:10 PM

I think the author contradicts himself here.
"Iranian greens are not revolutionaries" but they're trying to create "a disestablished, secular democracy" out of a theocracy. How does Mr. Sadri define "revolution" exactly? Mousavi, one of the main faces of this movement has stated time and time again that the main goal right now is the constitution. And this constitution is not one that can remotely be defined as a "secular democracy."

How many polls has Professor Sadri conducted in Iran to make the claims he does?

Maybe he claims that the secular democracy is the END GOAL ... well, that's a VERY, VERY far fetched end goal and if the greens are going to have the smallest success inside Iran, let's hope the people at the head of this have smaller, more incremental plans in their strategy.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again: we need to stope generalizing. There are millions of Iranians who are in favor of a religious government. Many "good" hardworking Iranians who still believe in the supreme leader. There are Iranians who have no news about the election unrest except for what they have heard on IRIB.

I don't claim to know how many million, or the proportion, but neither can Mr. Sadri, Mr. Ahmadinejad (unless they actually counted the votes and know the real #s. One theory is that the votes weren't even counted.) or Mr. Mousavi.

What we do know however is that the pro-movement #s are AT LEAST 15 million. That's not a small number. Constructive change CAN come to Iran even with numbers smaller than that, if the movement has a pragmatic, inclusive strategy.

I wish people would stop getting so ahead of themselves and focus on what we do know, what we do have and what we CAN actually do.

Pedestrian / October 25, 2009 9:01 PM

Just to humanise the images and to respond to the question about the date, the smaller photograph of the man kissing the soldier (not of the one offering the flower) is of my brother-in-law Masoud Delkhaasteh in Tehran, aged 19 at the time of the picture, and killed several weeks later. Apologies for not responding to the article itself or the comments; I have yet to read it in full, but thought I could contribute regarding the photo.

Sarah Amsler / October 25, 2009 11:58 PM

The author of his article - Sadri - seems to still have some affinity for the Islamic theocracy. It appears that he is promoting "reform" of the regime. People like him should stop trying to change the course of the democratic movement in Iran by making these dangerous and misleading statements. First of all this regime is not reformable and it would never recognize the legitimate human rights and freedom of its people. So please Mr Sadri get the illusion of "reformability" out of your head. Secondly, the only alternative for the people of our homeland is a secular democratic government, elected by the people that works for the people. Nothing else will work. The sooner we have such a government the better. So get this out of your Islamic leaning head Mr Sadri, that a "gradual" or "evolutionary" movement is what people want. Such a movement will not be in the best interest of our people, but on the contrary, will be what the criminal leaders of the regime desire most in order to once again deceive of all.

F Zurvan / October 26, 2009 1:26 AM

Ahmad Sadri's analogy of Iran's 79 revolution and the Great French revolution is excellent especially by reflecting on Hegel's critique of 'pure negativity' as furry of destruction. However, Mr. Sadri is certainly aware that Hegel's rejection of pure negation is not meant as the positive embrace of what is.

At the core, it has to do with the dialectical relation of necessity and freedom. Not because Hegel wants to preserve the institutions of ancient society prior to the revolution, but because the French revolutionaries relied on pure 'will' and substituted it as the fact of consciousness of all. Hence, they became a 'faction' that did not at all represent the general will. Here is a fitting end note from Hegel's Preface to Phenomenology of Spirit:
“our epoch is a birth-time, and a period of transition…the spirit of the time, growing slowly and quietly for the new form it is to assume, disintegrates one fragment after another of the structure of its previous world…”

• Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, Preface, p.75

ali JAVAHERIAN / October 26, 2009 4:25 AM


With due respect, I should make a few points:
- First, I enjoyed reading this article. But I think that, unlike what Ahmad Sadri takes for granted, social revolutions, like social reforms, could either be violent or non-violent as there is nothing inherent about them. Post-revolutionary violence and dictatorship are not pre-determined and can be avoided (examples include the American revolution, or the recent Eastern European revolutions). He argues that unlike in the 1979 revolution, the participants of the present uprising are not revolutionaries (and hence by default are reformist); to support this, he refers to the dogged determination of the young people who are using peaceful means of resistance despite a violent crackdown. This is true, but the fact is that the current generation has tapped into the experience of their parents’ and their methods of struggle are to a large extent the up-dated version of those of the 1979 revolution. That is why their methods are peaceful, as our methods during the revolution were intentionally and doggedly peaceful. So how is it possible to argue that the peaceful nature of the current resistance mean that the current generation is not pursuing revolution?

- To a large extent, people do not define their actions in terms of reform or revolution; they mainly define a goal and move in order to achieve it. It is the reactions of the ruling power that condition the nature of this movement. If the regime shows wisdom and decides to accommodate at least part of the public demand, then the movement might be defined as reformist. However, if the regime closes itself and leaves no option for the people but to challenge the structure of the regime, then we might see the beginning of a revolutionary movement. That is why in a recent article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mahmood-delkhasteh/irans-not-yet-revolution_b_311457.html ) I called Khamenei the ‘negative leader’ of the revolution.

- Unfortunately, many Iranian scholars and intellectuals have systematically written and spoken against social revolutions and praised reform during the last 30 years. Now, while they can see the gradual radicalisation of this uprising, they are trying to save face and define it in terms that are simply wrong, instead of showing intellectual humility. One good example of this is Prof Dabashi, who takes a sarcastic approach to ‘revolution’, a term that he argues is outdated, in order to characterise current events in Iran as a ‘civil rights movement’. This is curious, first of all, as the term ‘revolution’ is very much alive and kicking amongst some of the world’s leading theorists and philosophers, such as Badiou, Tilly, Zizek, Kurzon and Laclau. They may not come to any agreement about its meaning, but the idea of revolution seems far from ‘outdated’. Secondly, if the term revolution is outdated, then the term ‘civil rights movement’ must be even more so. We have not seen such a serious movement of this type after the movements of the 1950s and 60s in the US, while there have been a number of revolutions since that time. That is not to disregard the importance of gay rights, disability rights, feminist movements, etc
- What happens in Iran is taking place from within, and against, a dictatorial system – context matters – in which a non-elected ‘supreme leader’ has absolute power and, as we have seen, uses it brutally against the people. Furthermore, the ideological and political bases of the Iranian regime are totally incompatible and hence unable to accommodate people’s demands, which are becoming radicalised by the day. Hence, the demand for freedoms and democracy within a dictatorial structure is, in itself, is a revolutionary demand, and its realization necessitates a new political and ideological structure. This is nothing less than a total revolution.

Mahmood Delkhasteh / October 26, 2009 4:43 AM

Why is it that everyone try's to define the "greens"? The Iranian freedom movement is much older and the "green" is just another episode of it. The movement is made up of an spectrum, ranging from Nationalists to Socialists. They have somethings in common, despise for the Islamic Republic and wish for Free and Secular government.

Maziar / October 26, 2009 6:47 AM

Hi every one, this is a good article.. and i want to comment it breifly..

(The Iranian Greens are not calling for a revolution or for liberating invasions or even sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
They are only calling on the world to recognize that the leaders of Iran do not represent the people of Iran or even the revolution to which they are heirs. Iranian Greens are not against anyone -- not even the presumed president Ahmadinejad. This movement is for achieving a disestablished, secular democracy.)

Ahmed Sadri's aricle paint

Abdikadir / October 26, 2009 6:32 PM

Hi every one, this is a good article.. and i want to comment it breifly..

(The Iranian Greens are not calling for a revolution or for liberating invasions or even sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
They are only calling on the world to recognize that the leaders of Iran do not represent the people of Iran or even the revolution to which they are heirs. Iranian Greens are not against anyone -- not even the presumed president Ahmadinejad. This movement is for achieving a disestablished, secular democracy.)

Ahmed Sadri's aricle paints a drastic picture of Iran's Secularists Condtions and politcal circumstances and then expects that he can decive any.. this is an example of policy pushing that has run off the rails and into a field of fantasy.

I say this because, a close look at the begining of the paragraph ( The Iranian Greens are not calling for a revolution ) and at the end of the paragraph ( the movement is for achieving a disestablished, secular democracy) explains the contradiction without interpretation.

A- (the iranian people are tired of this theocratic rule and its political system, They want secular goverment on the sort of western democracies ( if there is any).. so they had lost confidence in the system and the establishment as a whole and they are calling a revolution )
he could have said blatantly..

so this means a real revolution and the aim is to uproot the establishment with all of its good and bad faces..

B- A major segment of the people of Iran want greater participation of political life, freedom of expression, free media that is not scrutinised by hardliners in power and parliment and in the IRCG ... so they see that sytem to be re-oriented to cope with the demands of modren society and to deliever the social good .. ( he could have also said this.. again, he has chosen not to say...

In between them, comes differences and disputes as to target, policy and ideology.
so i ask Sadri is there clear, understandle policy instead of trading such endless philosphical argument.....

thanks

abdikadir / October 26, 2009 6:42 PM

Iranians are very secretive people and specially now, because if directly stand against the IR regime, they'll be considered enemies of the state and may lead to death penalt. That's why they used Mousavi & the election results to establish a movement with a hidden agenda of removing the regime from power, not as many seens as support for Mousavi & demanding reform.
the Islamic Republic must be completely removed (including the IRGC, Basij & all government organizations) & restructured in order to satisfy Iranian peopl'e desire for a free secular democratic country

Cyrus / October 26, 2009 9:02 PM

by the way, the picture is from the 1979 revolution, young protesters giving flowers to Shah's soldiers
Unfortunately, in this revolution, we aren't dealing with normal humans, IRGC employs the most violent and emotionless animals without any sense of humanity

Cyrus / October 26, 2009 9:08 PM

Amongst some contributors there seems to be a romantic notion that a 'secular democracy' will solve all current problems with authoritarian behaviour by the Vali e Faqih, the President, IRGS etc.
The best examples of these 'democracies' are to be found in Europe and the US. But we all know that their governments regularly disregard the overwhelming majority of the people's wishes such as the British/US action against Iraq when other, usually economic, interests are at stake. In most of these democracies electoral participation is actually declining and support for extremist parties is increasing especially those which incite hatred against Muslims, migrants, asylum seekers etc.. Compared to these countries, the Iranian electorate is highly politicised and the fact that 85% took part in this election is a great achievement unequalled yet. Change, hopefully in a peaceful manner, will come because as someone said a substantial, some 15m of them, voted for that. It is all a matter of time and a lot of patience and hard work. Please do not buy into Western propaganda of their being 'democratic', these are only superficial, underlying control always lies with corporations and the military industrial complex.

rezvan / October 27, 2009 5:16 AM

Good day

When I read that "one must not be shocked that the Iranian leaders would attempt to rule at the point of a bayonet, and by street thugs, torture chambers, rape and an elaborate "ministry of truth." Savagery and mendacity may not be the best ways to rule, but they are the last refuge of an unpopular tyranny", remind me of the Shaw regime put in place by the British and American governments to keep a grip on their oil reserves, as usual it has been in the american history to do everything they can to live on everybody's else back by any mean and at any price, especially lives of the most educated that would cause problems. In any case, all middle eastern countries have their load of people disatisfied with theocracy of any kind and beleive they will in a short while take the matter in their own hands. Saudi Arabia is on the edge of breaking apart because they have engaged like others, in educating their population while they are still ruling like they were almost a century ago. Satellite TV is bringing a wide range of ideas, governments can not hide anymore, nor can they lie, as they have done for decades. I think the their biggest ennemies are within. Thank you

Yves Bertrand / October 27, 2009 6:20 AM

Please do NOT attempt to define "Iranian Greens." We are rooted within all social classes, cover the span of at least three generations, include all forms of ideologies, camps, and factions, and constitute a wide range of beliefs, doctrines, and attitudes. Although, diversity is the one true thing we all have in common, we are all connected through our entrenched and zealous desire for CHANGE!

As long as one particular ideology or faction, neither ignores our existential realization, nor tries to forcefully master our collective consciousness, we will be able to stretch the boundaries of our movement and eventually expose an Iran built around an enlightened state of harmony and everlasting tolerance.

We ARE COUNTLESS! V

Iman / October 27, 2009 4:49 PM

There is nothing revolutionary about Islam, and that is the biggest problem for a free and secular Iran. Freedom of religion is freedom from religion.

Daishin Sunseri / November 1, 2009 11:48 AM

Although it contains some accurate observations, this is a rather weak article. How does one go from a theocratic dictatorship to a secular democracy without a revolution? Also that bit about the "Greens not being against anyone" is nonsense.

Cy / November 5, 2009 3:52 AM