Everyday Resistance: A Refuge for the Green Movement
by ARYA REJAEE
22 Oct 2010 04:00
"Quiet encroachment" of evolutionary change lays foundation for democratic resurgence.
[ opinion ] As Iranians poured into their nation's streets in June 2009 to protest President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election, the world watched with awe and anticipation. Anger over the manipulated poll results and dissatisfaction with the general mismanagement of the state's affairs appeared to fuel a popular resolve not seen since the Islamic Revolution. At the time, commentators prognosticated that if the dissenting Green Movement failed to achieve its objectives in the immediate term, a continued process of collective resistance would eventually force structural or systemic change.
Nader Hashemi's statements to Time in early July 2009 echoed the assessments of many. In his view, "the ruling elite has suffered a huge blow to their credibility," and that with a large number of Iranians unified behind the Green Movement "it will be very difficult to forever crush the opposition and go back to the way things were."
As is widely known, the Islamic Republic, after recovering from the shock of the unrest, initiated a campaign of intimidation and persecution to subdue the opposition. Security forces detained and tried inciters of the "sedition," stepped up surveillance of ordinary Iranians, and forcefully disrupted unsanctioned public gatherings. Reformist newspapers were shuttered and the state-run media disseminated propaganda aimed at undermining the reformists' political platforms and reputation for personal integrity.
Yet, despite these coercive tactics, the defeated presidential candidates and the movement's de facto leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi actively denounced the election as fraudulent, pointing to the heavy-handedness of the authorities as evidence. The government's inability to effectively muzzle the two men, combined with the opposition's intermittent organization of protests, sustained the initial optimism the Green Movement inspired among both Iranians and outsiders. Author and journalist Robin Wright, for instance, confidently proclaimed six months after the election that the movement's resilience and courage was "setting historic precedents" and that the "the opposition has the momentum."
However, with no notable demonstrations since December, renewed rumors of Mousavi and Karroubi's imminent arrests, and the official exclusion of leading reform parties from the political process, coverage of the Green Movement has turned somber.
In the August 16 New Yorker, John Anderson reported that the opposition found itself fractured, fatigued, and demoralized. One Iranian he spoke with summarized the situation: "Despotism works.... The reform movement is over." And this observer is not alone in sounding the movement's death knell. Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, former reformist parliamentarian and daughter of Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, recently told Foreign Policy that "the exuberance, hope, and excitement of the [post-election period] has given its place to depression and hopelessness." Similarly, Mehrzad Boroujerdi, a Syracuse University professor of political science, opined to the Washington Times that the regime had "generally gotten rid of the Green Movement." Even the Reuters wire service -- usually a "just the facts" news source -- has joined the chorus, declaring that the Green "campaign seems to be fading."
Despite this pessimism, the Green Movement is not moribund. It is, instead, transitioning back to its pre-election contours: a nonmovement embodying the ideals and convictions that were publicly expressed by Iranians last summer. The term nonmovement, as employed by Iranian-born sociologist Asef Bayat, refers to the shared everyday practices of individuals acting without structure, where those practices subtly confront social controls imposed by authorities.
In one effort to expound this concept, Bayat examines female participation in Iran's higher education system and its subsequent sociopolitical impact. He notes that in recent years, the number of Iranian women pursuing and attaining university degrees has surpassed the comparable number of men. Due to their education, females are increasingly employed in positions superior to less-skilled men, thus introducing the traditionally taboo issue of workplace gender relations as a "safe" practical question separated from its reformist origins.
Bayat's point is not to suggest that a glass ceiling has been broken -- as he concedes, that is far from the case. Rather, he aims to demonstrate that the decision of many women to seek a university degree and the results of their individual decisions has produced a dialogue on a topic anathema to the government. While collective challenges to patriarchy, such as the One Million Signatures campaign, are more visible, their organization and outwardly adversarial platform renders them easy targets for government suppression. Conversely, to use a coinage of Bayat's, the "quiet encroachment" by women on traditionally male domains has not drawn the ire of the government.
Broadly put, nonmovements expose and challenge contradictions between the state's politics and its policies, forcing the state to accommodate new, unforeseen realities. Often, the state's process of adjustment is gradual and hence fails to sate the desires of those seeking expeditious systemic change. Taken alone, nonmovements are, by their nature, a vehicle of evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, change. It is shortsighted, though, to view nonmovements as inconsequential to spontaneous displays of political dissatisfaction as seen in Iran last June. By operating in a space permitted (or tolerated in some degree) by the state, nonmovements can safely lay the foundation for wider social acceptance of reformist politics.
Like all social movements, the Green Movement is dynamic, ebbing and flowing as the political climate allows. With the election results as a catalyst, the peoples' quotidian subversion erupted into a collective display of discontent. Now, with the repressive organs of the state cracking down on dissenters, the demonstrators have dispersed into a landscape of everyday resistance. The Iranian government has battered and bruised the Green Movement, but there is no indication that it has corrupted the ideals of its participants. Today, the Green Movement resides in soosool boys' decadent hair styles, daughters' rejection of domesticity for education and employment, flirtations between youths, and other indirect -- but not insignificant -- forms of resistance. In today's Iran, collective opposition has not been crushed. It waits to be awakened from hibernation.
Fars news photo (above): In a police show of force earlier this month, basijis or policemen don women's costumes to mock the protesters.
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