Tuesday 16 June 2009

A liberal revolution? (or: 'We just want to be normal')

With events moving so fast in Iran, what we really need is a direct web feed from what looks increasingly like a popular uprising against the repressive theocratic regime. The next best thing is Andrew Sullivan's regular posts, especially (if you can stomach it) those labelled 'This is what fascism looks like'. There's live-blogging of the uprising over at the Huffington Post too. And Harry's Place is doing a pretty good job from this side of the water.  Among the more considered responses to the post-election turmoil, this from Hitchens is worth a look. 

I'm a great admirer of Maryam Namazie's work for secularism and women's rights, but I suspect (and hope) her endorsement of the call by the Worker-communist Party of Iran for a 'revolutionary movement' - led by itself, naturally - to replace the Islamic regime with a socialist republic will fall on deaf ears. As Danny Postel writes in his 2006 book, Reading Legitimation Crisis in Tehran: Iran and the Future of Liberalism:
(T)he parlance of 'revolution' is far from the lips of Iranians today. Iranians are understandably turned off by revolution-speak, given the 'revolutionary' regime they've been living under since 1979, but also - and this is critical - because of the general failure of the revolutionary Left in Iran.
Postel quotes Iranian journalist Afshin Molavi:
The leftist, anti-imperialist ideas of the 1970s have given way to a more pragmatic discourse about economic and political dignity based on Western models of secular democracy. Iranian youth largely dismiss the radical ideas of their parents' generation, full of half-baked leftism, Marxist economics, Third World anti-imperialism, Islamist radicalism and varying shades of utopian totalitarianism. 'We just want to be normal', is typical of what hundreds of students have told me. 'We're tired of radicalism'.
Moreover, as Postel recalls, some sections of the Iranian left 'forged outright alliances with Khomeini's forces', something that, as dissident Iranian writer Faraj Sarkohi remarks, 'is firmly engraved on the memory of the Iranian people'. What united the Islamist and ultra-leftist wings of the Iranian revolution was their virulent hostility to liberalism, with 'Death to liberalism!' a popular slogan alongside 'Death to America!'  Arguably, the anti-liberalism of the revolutionary Iranian left contributed to the Islamic ascendancy.

In place of revolutionary leftism, Postel notices a revival of interest in liberal ideas among the new generation of Iranians, with the writings of Arendt, Popper and Kolakowski popular among younger intellectuals (see this post).

If this uprising is successful, perhaps the neocons' predictions will be frustrated and it will be Iran, not Iraq, that one day provides the model of liberal democracy for the Middle East. We live in hope.

Thanks to The New Centrist for recommending Michael Totten's excellent coverage of events at his blog, and at the Commentary site. Totten also links to this site which includes fascinating video footage of the latest events in Iran. After all the brutality and repression of recent days, this video of demonstrators and police standing silently together is strangely surreal but somehow reassuring:


TNC said...

Michael Totten is providing excellent coverage at his website:


and Commentary magazine's Contentions blog:


Martin said...

Thanks for the excellent links - I shall update my post accordingly.