Act Accordingly

There are two ways of relating to government: 1) I think my government is acting in my best interest – and act accordingly or 2) I think my government is not acting in my best interest – and act accordingly.

Most of us fall between 1) and 2). I was closer to 2) for eight years and acted accordingly. Finally, those actions – combined with actions by millions of my fellow citizens – have brought me closer to 1). Millions of others who were 1)s for eight years are now 2)s. Some of those people have guns and have turned to tragic acts of terrorism in recent weeks.

In Iran, the country has been heading one way for the last 30 years, although the momentum picked up significantly in the last four years. People finally drifted much close to 2) than 1) and acted accordingly, they came out and – apparently – voted for a change in direction. Change did not take place and the result of that failure to change is leaking out of Iran, despite the regime’s best efforts to slap a lid on communication technology.

I’ve been reading and viewing what I can and a few things are becoming clear:

1 – Politics is politics. It doesn’t matter if a political leader wears a cowboy hat or a black turban. Iran might be ultimately ruled by ayatollahs, but it calls itself the Islamic Republic of Iran and it does hold elections. Last time out, the moderates boycotted the elections, thinking their candidates could not get a fair shake. They wound up with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, who seems to be a Persian version of George W. Bush.

No, really. By writing that, I mean no disrespect to Mr. Bush. The similarities I see are that both Mr. Bush and Mr. Ahmedinejad presented themselves to voters as regular guys, outsiders to politics as usual, not part of the ruling elite. (Mr. Ahmedinejad did not need to massage his life history as Mr. Bush did to accomplish this.) Both men in office pursued an aggressive, unilateral foreign policy, curtailed domestic civil rights and played the politics of fear and jingoism.

2 – Perception is reality. If politics is politics, then perception is reality, the same in Tehran as in Washington. The perception, both in and out of Iran, is that Mr. Ahmedinejad stole the election from Mir Hossein Mousavi. Unlike Bush-Gore 2000, this one doesn’t look like it came down to a mere 500 votes in a province inhabited by senior citizens.

More to the point, Iran is a theocracy. Ayatollahs are in charge, regardless of who is president or prime minister. Still more to the point, Iran is an Islamic theocracy and the brand of Islam practiced in Iran doesn’t allow much wiggle room on issues like lying, cheating and stealing elections.

If the general public thinks the ayatollahs are sanctioning a fraudulent election, then the regime loses ALL legitimacy. We Americans expect our politicians to lie and cheat – to a certain extent – and still trust them to act on our behalf. The ayatollahs claim to speak for God and when people like that are perceived to be lying and cheating, then even those inclined to support Mr. Ahmedinejad will begin to lose faith.

3 – The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past. Seventy percent of the people in Iran are under 30, which means they have no personal memory of the shah. All they know about him is what they’ve been told. Whether their parents are religious or secular, chances are they have nothing good to say about the shah. One thing the parents have said about the shah is: “He was an illegitimate ruler. He fixed the elections and ignored the voice of the people.” I’m sure the people marching in the streets in Iranian cities today are starting to think, “If this government is fixing elections, then they’re no better than the shah.”

I think the ayatollahs know this. They know that if they are seen as cheats and liars, the political situation is Iran will change swiftly, and not in their favor. The soldiers and the officers of the Iranian army will see that, too. This is why the Guardian Council is recounting some ballots.

Although the success of Mr. Mousavi’s supporters depends on keeping pressure on the streets, it’s ultimately about an idea. Right now the general idea in Iran is: 2) I think my government is not acting in my best interest. People are acting accordingly.

Change may not come to Iran this week or this year, but unless the ayatollahs can get people closer to 1) than 2), then change will come to Iran and soon.

© Mark Floegel, 2009

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *