by THOR NEUREITER
05 Jan 2010 06:35
[ analysis ] As the Islamic Republic prepares to celebrate its anniversary next month, similarities between the current turmoil and the one that led to a successful revolution 31 years ago continue to increase. Perhaps this is most evident in Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's seeming attempts to use lessons from the galvanizing moments of the Islamic Revolution to employ defensive tactics against the Green Movement.
The galvanizing moment for the Revolution referred to in several news reports occurred after Grand Ayatollah Shariatmadari called for all Iranians to observe arba 'een for those killed at the hands of the Shah's police forces during protests in Qom on January 7, 1978. Those protests were in response to slanderous allegations from the Shah that included implicating Ayatollah Khomeini as being both a drunkard and a servant to the British.
Observances took place across Iran and in Tabriz, the home of Shariatmadari, anti-government protests formed, drawing the deadly attention of police forces. The government's heavy handedness began a cycle that continued into the summer of arba 'een with the suppression of protesters by the Shah's police force.
In the past two weeks a similar trend appears to have taken place. Beginning with the tactical reactions to anti-government rallies that coincided with the mourning of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, and culminating with massive crackdowns across Iran during demonstrations on Ashura, the Khamenei regime appears to have taken notice and acted accordingly.
The current crackdowns appear to be focused on what the Shah failed to foresee in 1978. After the protests in Qom during Grand Ayatollah Montazeri observance, the government reportedly banned all additional memorial services for Montazeri outside of Qom for the seventh day of mourning. This decision implies the government's understanding that Montazeri's popularity and message could spark a growing unified movement. It also mobilized security and forces and the Basij in advance of the day of Ashura.
This willingness to politicize one of the holiest days of the year with tactics that resemble martial law may have been more of a mistake than proactive maneuvering. Instead of deterring protests with its brute force, many believe the government may have inadvertently provoked a new fearless face within the opposition. The surprising retaliation of demonstrators to the security forces may have signaled a shift in the Green Movement.
The Islamic Revolution truly evolved from a rebellion in the late summer of 1978 when two important events occurred following the bloodshed of the first half of that year. As it became evident that Khomeini and his xenophobic message were unifying Iranians in a way political opposition leaders and the more moderate Ayatollahs could not, protests grew in size and intensity. The Shah reacted again with an extreme show of force, which became the first monumental event, the Black Friday massacre.
Khomeini's call for strikes as a sign of protest to the killings, and the crippling economic effects those strikes created, provoked the Shah to call for Khomeini's expulsion from Iraq. The expulsion to Paris from Najaf was the second and final event to solidify the Islamic Revolution.
From Paris, Khomeini now had a very loud megaphone with new access to Western media. The Shah, unlike Khamenei today, underestimated the power of the media for an opposition movement. The Khamenei regime's effort to limit communication has been well documented and reported over the past six months, but new tactics are surfacing, mainly activities tied to mosques with sympathetic views of the Green Movement.
The death of Seyed Ali Mousavi is a key example of the government's attempt to suppress mourning as a rallying point. Government officials took the body of the murdered nephew of opposition leader Hossein Mousavi immediately, as they claim for identification purposes, for what was widely seen as ploy to delay his funeral. It has been reported that tear gas was fired into a group of mourners who gathered at the hospital where his body was being held.
As drastic and incomprehensible a tactic this may be, it could indicate a defining tactic or miscalculation on the part of the Khamenei regime as Seyed Ali was buried in a small quiet ceremony according to the demands of government authorities.
The Shah greatly underestimated the power of the people during his rule. The elements of the Islamic Revolution brewed and simmered during a decade of oil riches that never reached the working and middle classes. The movement grew and suffered greatly at the hands of the SAVAK and the Shah's police forces.
By changing the names in the previous paragraph, it could easily define what is happening today. Analysis of these two periods of time shows many parallels on both sides of the confrontations, but the growing similarities that the Islamic Republic's leadership shares with its former foe is the most revealing.
Khamenei apparently has taken notice of the Shah's failure to move offensively to confront an opposition movement. But by making such bold and deadly decisions, he and his regime also show the same out-of-touch tendencies towards a great portion of the Iranian people that ultimately led the demise of the Shah.
Thor Neureiter is a filmmaker based in Brooklyn. He has worked on several documentaries for PBS Frontline, including "Showdown with Iran."
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