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Everyday Resistance: A Refuge for the Green Movement


22 Oct 2010 04:0013 Comments

25_8907101815_L600-1.jpg"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.

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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Please check out the recently released book, Live Generation - the 1999 Iranian student uprising that opened the door to secular democracy, by Reza Mohajerinejad. www.livegeneration.org



SP / October 22, 2010 11:20 AM

So the Green Movement is a joke is it? Is that why Khamenei marshalled the entire security apparatus of the state repeatedly. It certainly is not a joke to see a young students blood splattered on the cement floor of a jail cell in Evin.

pirooz / October 22, 2010 11:38 PM

The regime might be able to prevent people from wearing green and shouting their demands in the streets but it cannot stop their hearts from beating or their minds from thinking. The heavy handed tactic, murders and rapes have only alienated the Iranian people, unified them in their demand for an accountable and human government and ensured mafia’s failure in the long run. Their injustice has only strengthened our resolve for change and we have learned much from the past 18 months. No one person can predict our demise because we are a nation of human beings unified in our struggle for a better tomorrow.

The mafia in charge has been exposed, and has sacrificed IR’s long term endurance for its own short term survival. Economically the mafia heads and their goons are doing just fine since they have no shame in stealing and witnessing people’s suffering. It is worth mentioning that the sanctions have actually increased the mafia’s black market shares and helped them in solidifying their economical power and in their empty accusations of foreign intervention. Their children still drive Ferraris in Tehran but Iranians now know the majority of the culprits in this façade. Regardless of the ruling elites economical prosperity; the general failures of the Iranian economy and government, the heavy handed tactics against the young and militarization of the country will back fire in the long run. The regime’s failures are obvious to the general population and have pushed Iranians to the brink of desparity in their daily struggle for a decent life. You will be hard pressed to find an educated person or student who supports this government in a country with upwards of 80 percent literacy.

You can suppress the voices of dissent; spill the blood of the innocent; steal and lie; only for so long before history will repeats itself, karma catches up with you, or God strikes when you least expect; put it in whatever terms you please but in one form the other you will see the results of your actions. Shah tried the same for 25 years. In fact he massacred 15,000 people by some estimates in 1963 alone, and continued his repression without hesitation up until to the end when it was too late and then tried to change but nothing stopped the inventible demise of his dictatorship. 60 million Iranians will not stay silenced forever and this dictatorship will be just another step in our continued struggle for justice.

Only if United States cared enough to lift the sanctions, ended threats of war and pushed Israelis to end their inhumane treatment of Palestinians this pretence of David vs. Goliath would crumble in no time. Unfortunately the Billions of dollars made in wars are worth more than democratic governments to the American hypocrites in charge of the military industry complex. Regardless, it will only be a matter of time before another opening will allow the young and the restless population of Iran to rise and ask for justice, peace and prosperity sought by generations and ingrained in the Iranian consciousness.

The yearning for a better tomorrow is in every human’s nature and the regime’s mafia masters have ignored people’s demands at their own peril. Khamenei will die sooner or later and the Guard will not stand up for Mojtaba or any other criminal mastermind in charge for long.

Ali / October 23, 2010 5:30 AM

I can say this with absolute certainty that this regime will fall.
Despotic Rule by brut force, ridiculous lies, amateurish propaganda, and drenched in superstition and outdated social norms is not sustainable.

The question is not IF....it is WHEN and HOW.
when and how, is anyone's guess and unpredictable.

I personally hope to see evolutionary change rather than revolutionary change. I see the green movt as part of that evolutionary change. summer of 2009 was not an isolated event by itself, and not inspired by a personality (Moussavi) but a continuation of 1999 student uprising, a gradual paradigm shift and change in Iranian society's consciousness over decades. It will continue spearheaded by intellectuals, artists, scientists, students and philosophers.

A good example in history would be the demise of the other major theocracy in world history, the catholic/papal rule over Europe which came in form of 'awakening' and shift in consciousness of society spearheaded by brilliant and inquisitive (but not necessarily anti-religion) people like the Medicis, Galeleo, Michaelangelo and Davinci.

Dear Ali,

I only partially agree with your stance on sanctions. I am not against sanctions. I am against the reason behind the sanctions

sanctions based on the nuclear issue is silly and counterproductive.
if they put the same sanctions on Iran based on abuses of human rights (like they did in Serbia and Aparthide South Africa)I would be all for it, and I believe it would be more productive and effective and great precedence for action against other despots around the world (e.g. Aparthide Israel)....A message that you can not get away with whatever the hell you want in the bubble of the country you rule.

The fact that rulers can get away with abuse of human beings that happen to be their citizens (i.e. only by pure chance happen to be born in certain geographical border) is wrong. Human beings are human beings, regardless of their citizenship and where they chose to live or happen to be born.

Governments must make a stance (including sanctions) for abuse of human beings anywhere in the world, as if they were citizens of their own country. Unfortunately it is not happening now. We are not there yet.
May be that will come as part of the evolutionaly process of the human race, what Zoroaster called the strive of man to evolve into a sort of superhuman, what theologists call apotheosis, to become 'one with God'.

Ahvaz / October 23, 2010 9:45 PM

Ahvaz jan,

I agree with your points. However, in case of Iran sanctions are an excuse for the regime to blame Iranian economical short comings on the outsiders, hide their own mismanagement behind it and use it as proof of west's hostility towards all Iranians as they have done so in the past 30 years. Sanctions regardless of their reasoning have never worked, especially considering the history of Iran and her sensitivity towards outsider influence. Sanctions only help the IRG to take on a bigger share of the black market and shut out the middle class. I wonder if you have any family members in Iran; If you do, you should know that these sanctions hurt the average educated Iranian much more than the government goons.

Ali / October 24, 2010 10:51 PM

thanks Ali for the response.

"these sanctions hurt the average educated Iranian much more than the government goons. "

I agree, and I agree even more with this:
"sanctions are an excuse for the regime to blame Iranian economical short comings on the outsiders, hide their own mismanagement behind it"

these reasons and the fact that regime has popular support in Iran regarding nuclear issue
is precisely why I disagree with sanctions based on nucl. issue.

however, if similar pressures where to be put on Iranian regime for stoning women, jailing human rights activists, womens rights activists (like Shadi Sadr), ungodly number of executions, and brutalizing the greens on the streets with their bassij thugs, I would be all for it.

When you raise a moral issue (such as jailing a woman who did nothing other than standing up for children and women's rights) you help bind the regime hands in their savagery and brutality, instruments vital for its survival.
They can make a case for their nuclear 'rights', but not against issues that are universally known to be immoral and wrong.

yes, these sanctions would hurt the general population, but what would the regime say to them? 'death to America for puting sanctions on us because we execute teenagers, and stone women, and beat and kill students on the streets???'
Do you see the difficult position they would be put in when the basis of the sanctions is moral and human rights issues?

And I believe Iranians (including my relatives back home) who are utterly defenseless against the regime's brutality would welcome such measures. ( remember 'Obama ya ba oona ya ba ma'?) ---just read the comments on balatarin regarding the sanctions US put on Radan, Ejei, Jaafari and others.... almost all are positive)

"Sanctions regardless of their reasoning have never worked"
--well, they did work in aparthide S Africa . why. because they were about a fundamental moral issue, basic human rights.

Ahvaz / October 25, 2010 4:03 AM

Unfortunately according to Naylors thorough study "Patriots and Profiteers" sanctions have never worked,wherever they have been tried for a variety of reasons and in the case of South Africa evidence indicates that they only had marginal effect. In Iraq,they did prevent Saddam rebuilding his armed forces and ammassing WMD which is why he fell so easily and was never a threat to anyone but his own people. He ,of course, withheld vital necessities from his people that caused the deaths of thousands, including children. Any action against a dictator is going to rebound against the captive population.When Rafsanjani warned the regime the sanctions were going to have real effect he was echoing the thoughts of many in Iran that if the Regime did not take them seriously they would be held responsible, as well as the West. If the Regime witholds necessities from the people,it will hurt all but they will do that with or without sanctions.
My view is that sanctions have a symbolic value as in the case of North Korea but beyond that I am doubtful. If Obama has decided that US policy is that the current regime in Iran is an unfriendly one, and has violated its international agreements( including on human rights,by the way ) and the Europeans agree,it will take a great salesman to change their minds and Ahmadinijad is not that salesman.So far Obamas pace has been unhurried, nothing drastic has occurred which is the right approach.

pirooz / October 25, 2010 9:46 AM


You are right.
whether sanction 'work' or 'dont work' depends on what one tries to achieve with the sanctions (including political sanctions, economical sanctions, arms sanctions etc)

Sanctions "never worked" ....well 'never worked' to do what?
regime change? bringing someone to the table? modifying behavior? reduce military capabilities?

I agree with you that sanctions against Iran will not directly bring regime change (nor stop their nuclear program). But sanctions, political and commercial, in cases of severe and rampant human rights violations, are not only moral, but they could also modify the behavior of the despot and help tie their hands in their acts of brutality and opression.

Iranian regime is especially vulnarable to this since their image abroad is very important to them. they like to speak from a position of high moral standing (e.g. beating their chest for suffering of palestinians, Lebanese, etc). Last summer they tried their darnest to block the world from seeing their crimes (albeit unsuccessfuly, as the world still saw their savagery and images of our friends covered in blood---especially Neda)

There needs to be consequences for their actions. And people in Iran will not blame any one other than the regime for sanctions that are based on their violations of basic human rights, killing, rape and torture.

I think if sanctions on the regime are with the distinct goal and verbalized purpose of curbing its rampant and savage human rights abuses, it could very well work.
Afterall if you take their brutality and savagery away from them what will they have left to rely on?

re Obama, he dropped the ball when he pursued the nuclear issue at the expense of human rights issue. however his recent gesture in blackballing Khamanai's goons involved in opression was a small move in the right direction.

Ahvaz / October 25, 2010 11:16 AM

The Greens are barely left. Better luck next time you try to have a velvet revolution in Iran.

M. Ali / October 25, 2010 5:43 PM

To: M.Ali
There is still one or two people around who didn't vote for Ahmadinijad.

pirooz / October 25, 2010 9:28 PM

@ M. Ali

"The Greens are barely left"

what. you think you killed them all?...or the millions that peacefully demonstrated in Tehran after the election just left the country?

wishful thinking pal.

Ahvaz / October 25, 2010 9:45 PM

The RESISTANCE against the ISALMIST regime of CORRUPTION has been ongoing for more than 30 years. It is an over-simplification and a mistake to summarize 3 decades of resistance into a colored so called NON-MOVEMENT.

Iranian MAJORITY have been slow to wake up to their collective horrible fate under this regime, but that moment arrived last year. Ever since the regime has been on a defensive. Its latest ECONOMIC counter attack will decide its fate in the short term. Regime is betting that economic hardship will suppress people into submission. That is NOT going to happen.

Maziar Irani / October 26, 2010 12:39 AM

To; Pirooz
on your Oct. 22, comment; where did you get the green movement being a joke from ?? you must be reading a diffrent article.
And to M.Ali; you must be a basiji of some sort or very naive. as long as ignorant people like you exist, it will be tougher to reach the goal of free, independent and democratic Iranian nation. May your owen God shows you the light.

J.R. / October 27, 2010 1:39 AM