Addressing the Supreme Leader
02 Jun 2010 12:06
Green leaders must take their campaign to Khameini.
There is a Persian saying, "When riding a camel, there is no crouching" (shotor savari dola dola nemisheh). Meaning, when doing something obvious, there is no point in trying to hide. As the first anniversary of Iran's contentious election nears, I would like to remind the Green Movement's leaders of this expression.
Many writers, activists, and scholars in the Iranian diaspora have called on the movement's most prominent figures to more explicitly state their demands and the manner in which they want those demands achieved. My own feelings are perhaps most inspired by Mehdi Jalali's open letter to Ataollah Mohajerani published on Jaras, in which he suggests that the choice not to directly address Ayatalloh Khamenei will soon be viewed as a "moral weakness" by the Iranian public. Jalali argues that this "reservation" about reaching out to the Supreme Leader has in fact "increased the costs" and "decreased the moral capital" of the Green Movement.
Given how the last 12 months have unfolded, with arrests of political activists of all stripes and the hardliners dictating the fate of the opposition at every turn, I believe there is little else left for the Green Movement to do but the unthinkable and finally address Khamenei directly.
Whether or not a military mafia has largely taken over the country, Khamenei is still ultimately the person in charge. It is clear to everyone that he alone has the power to make real changes in Iran, so why not address him publicly instead of hiding from the fact?
In Gene Sharp's From Dictatorship to Democracy, 198 methods of nonviolent action are listed, categorized, and even subcategorized. They include varying forms of economic, social, and political noncooperation, protest, persuasion, and intervention. For those who aren't familiar with his work, his book was translated and used as a blueprint for many of the Eastern European color revolutions after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Though comparisons of those revolutions to the Green Movement proved to be premature and in various ways inaccurate, there are still enough similarities, I believe, to use Sharp's work as a lens through which to examine Iran's current political situation.
However, it would be best to reimagine the book's title: "From Dictatorship to Reform." After all, both Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi have explicitly stated their belief in the Constitution. Instead of any form of regime change, Reformists like Mousavi have called for gradual transformation. Even with this emphasis on reform in mind, we should still question why Mousavi and the Green Movement have engaged in fewer than a dozen of the activities listed by Sharp, and those mostly symbolic forms of protest.
By now, both Mousavi and Karroubi have made it clear that the Green Movement's cause has grown beyond the 2009 election and that their concerns include human rights, civil rights, and women's rights. They have asked for all political prisoners to be released. They have condemned the political executions. They have called for transparency in economic matters. And they have done all of this without naming the one person who truly has the power to meet their demands, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
This is not a question of semantics, revolution, regime change, or even challenging Khamenei's rule. This is also not to second-guess Mousavi as a political leader or even as a spokesman. He is heading a movement without precedent in Iran's last 30 years. Regardless of the results, he has helped introduce a new dynamic in Iranian politics that the hardliners cannot ignore and will surely never forget.
I do believe, however, that it is time to begin engaging Khamenei in some form of dialogue, directly. To address him, directly. To plead with him, directly. After all, to ignore Khamenei in Iranian politics is, to use an American expression this time, tantamount to ignoring the elephant in the room.
There are activists and scholars who would argue that if Mousavi were thus to proceed, it would essentially be the end of him, politically and existentially. But one could argue that aside from giving speeches and calling for more protests, he has been rendered largely ineffective anyway.
With many of his aides, including the head of his security team, arrested, Mousavi is now the captain of a ship with no crew. The Revolutionary Guards and their fellow hardliners in the judiciary have done what they please since the aftermath of the election. They have arrested and tortured major public figures. They have called for Mousavi's arrest in newspapers, the sort of demand that typically gets satisfied. They have made veiled threats about the possibility of his assassination. And even his calls to protest on June 12 are worrisome.
As Sharp points out, protests outside the context of a considered, expansive plan -- a grand strategy, as he calls it -- serve only as symbolic gestures that may inspire the public in the short term but rarely achieve anything material in the long term. Mousavi, it seems, has been banking on tactical moves, which at best will generate some emotional or moral momentum, and at worst could cost the lives of many. Besides, if the last few weeks serve as any indication, future protests are more likely to be impromptu affairs than coordinated rallies.
Of course, I use Sharp's book only as a point of reference, not a manifesto. And again, Mousavi and Karroubi have made it clear that they believe in the Constitution. They have been very explicit about this. And I am not one of those in the diaspora screaming at Mousavi to call for regime change or for the end of the Guardianship of the Jurists. But if change is to occur in Iran -- which, after all, is the stated goal of the Green Movement -- it starts at the top with Khamenei. In the eyes of the Iranian people, there is no hiding from this fact.
So if the protests on the anniversary of the election turn out to be as muted and stunted as the 22 Bahman protests, failing to produce any gains for the Green Movement, then perhaps Mousavi and company can begin the second year of Ahmadinejad's second presidency by addressing Khamenei directly in pursuit of their demands.
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