Newspaper Article 10/11/2022
Muzzling the egalitarian-minded people under the presumption that they are anti-state or a threat to the revolution is unwarranted
Muzaffar Warsi, a Pakistani poet, lyricist and a scholar of repute, wrote:
“AAB TOU BANDE BHI KHUDA BANDOON KI TAQDEER LIKHAIN; DEY WOH TAQAT MUJHE INN SABB KA LIKHA MEIN KATOON. PAWOON HOTE HUYE, KAB TAK CHALOON BESAKHIYOON PAR; KAB TALAK DOOSRON KA BOYA HUA MEIN KATOON.”
(Now even humans are deciding the fate of fellow-beings as divine men; wish we can negate their judgment. How long should I depend on crutches; and how long should I harvest what others had sowed for me.)
Sounds so true for the upheavals and revulsion underway in the Khomeini’s republic, pitched in an unending struggle between cult and statehood.
Iran is at the cusp of a counter-revolution. The revolutionary zeal is losing its stride, and there is immense unrest that is domestically originated. Notwithstanding foreign interference, which is there and will stay on, the point is that the custodians of the Islamic Republic since 1979 had blinked time and again, and been unresponsive to the genuine evolution of socio-economic realities.
A draconian hard-pressed system in the form of mandatory obligation to the tenets of the revolution, and its so-called sacrosanct nature, has bred contempt. The uprisings witnessed time and again are not merely political in essence, rather one that strives for a more egalitarian and free society, shunning the straight-jacket conditionalities of the regime in vogue.
This is a serious problem and cannot be shied away by pointing a finger of accusation at the West or by dubbing the indigenous voices of Iranians as anti-state or anti-Islamic. Iranians are proud of their history, culture and civilization, and faith too, and are aware that they are nationalist to the core when it comes to making a choice on variables of societal evolution.
For the last many weeks, Iran is boiling and on the edges. Its traditional social cohesion stands battered, and state-centric repression has registered many horrifying stories. An instant spark for uprising, however, seems to be the arrest of a Kurd woman, Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for allegedly not wearing proper hijab.
It led to a storm as reports started pouring in that she has been tortured in police custody, and beaten to death. The cause of death is brain haemorrhage which is quite possible as she was held in detention without any recourse to law and fundamental relief. The revolutionary cult-driven Virtue and Vice police force is responsible for implementing moral ethics that are opposed by the majority of Iranians as they pertain to encroaching privacy of life and livelihood.
The societal equation is that people openly differ with many of the policies of the government, and are sick of its playing to the gallery its fervour of an unaccomplished revolution. The economic downslide over decades and marginalization of opportunities for social mobility are quite toiling, and Iranians are on the edges. Moreover, the highhandedness of the clergy-backed administration, and the final say that the ‘Men of God’ proclaim is now being contested publicly. This is the flip side of the revolution, which is unravelling with each passing year.
Though Iran is the only practising democracy in the Middle East, its modus operandi of vetting candidates at the whims and wishes of the grand leadership is taken with a pinch of salt. It is another story that all those who are allowed to contest are two sides of the same coin, pleading allegiance to the impugned Wilayat-e-Faqih, which renders the system shabby and unreal.
This time around the protests have surprised even the intelligence sleuths of Iran. The snowball reaction has taken the country by storm and uprising and vandalism was reported in more than 50 cities. If media reports are any criterion, around 100 people were killed in clashes and pitched battles, and the agitators were under the trauma of midnight knocks and undocumented detentions.
These fissures have a history and an agenda. The point is that there is inherent disparity in the nexus of governance, and Iran despite being a law-abiding and institutions-driven system has somehow been overwhelmed by power indoctrination from the top.
This has corrupted the entire edifice and alleged stories of rags to riches in the Revolutionary Guards and the power-wielding clergy, and the estimate of their soaring assets is shocking. It’s an Inc., of disgusting proportions, and amassed wealth to the tune of $93 billion was reported by the international media years ago, and is yet to be libelled by Iran!
The unrest scenario at the moment has a new dangerous dimension. The restive south, Sistan-Balochistan, stands irked once again and it is in an uprising mode. The region is partially Sunni-populated in an overwhelming Shia Iran, and has been a battleground for years as it houses fugitive militant outfits and tribes that are an antithesis to the post-1979 order. The Taliban leadership on the run as well as Jundullah and other proxies find themselves conveniently housed. The province is theatre of counter-terrorism operations, and last month’s shootout has left scores dead and injured.
One more problem in Iran is the media blackout which has scuttled its public opinion outlet. This is why the country’s intelligentsia and youngsters rely on social media. With very little foreign Press presence in the revolutionary state, WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram are prime tools of dissemination of information, and are constantly under the crackdown by state authorities. Moreover, poor Internet services and a weak broadband makes it a communication deficit society, with television, radio and newspapers sitting pretty cool in the lap of the ruling establishment.
A flashback from the 2019 unrest reminds us of the worst-ever bloodiest clashes that led to the killing and extermination of around 1,500 people. It is regrettable that there is no dialogue or social emancipation forum where people can vent their anger and feelings. Those who speak up are dubbed traitors and arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances are modus operandi of the regime.
The republic has a serious socio-economic problem. It has not been able to translate the narrative of revolution into populism. The wrecked power-strata are not delivering and, thus, dissent thrives on. Thousands have been persecuted and prosecuted for their belief and ideologue, and this is where the West manages to influence the Iranian diaspora, as well as their linkages inside Iran, and the so-called regime change policy finds a breeding ground.
In other words, the failure of the regime to opt for adaptability in its policies and lessen the vigilance guard on civil liberties elicits a flak from the international community. Thus, it is no surprise that the Republic has been under constant sanctions for the last four decades.
It’s high time the political leadership and the clergy, which wields immense influence must indulge in some deep introspection and honestly make some rectifications. Iran is in need of political-correction, and that entails taking along the masses in a comprehensive open-ended debate on foreign and economic policies, and last but not least, the allegiance doctrine by shunning prejudice.
Tehran, the cathedral of Persian civilization, must exhibit a big heart. It is one of the most delicate and sophisticated societies with hundreds of years of rich architecture, culture, literature and religious pluralism. It should not be penalized at the hands of monolithic state-centrism. It’s high time to revive domestic policies, and see to it as to why there is a hue and cry over fundamental rights.
There is no point in segregating society on the lines of adhering to revolution or not. The Islamic Revolution is fait accompli, and it is there to stay. England, France and Russia too had experienced their respective revolutions, and after briefs of consolidation had opted to move on to the phase of adaptability and openness. Even Mao Zedong’s China embraced finer points of Karl Marxism as it struggled to implement Deng Xiaoping’s resoluteness, and now a decade of Xi Jinping’s modified successes has uplifted 700 million people from abject poverty to become one of the most performing economies in the world.
The million-dollar question is as to why Iranians are still rationed for oil, and growth strangulates to this day? Despite being an OPEC member, with third largest crude oil reserves, it is a sanctioned economy. Its industry and agriculture have immense potential but is cordoned to the territorial space of the republic. No major exports, per se. The enterprising nation is rightly questioning the writ of unelected strata calling the shots in power, and as to why their elected men are no more versatile than sitting ducks in the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament).
The compromised premise of the duly elected President before the office of Grand Marjiyat (Wilayat-e-Faqih as ordained in Constitution) makes a laughing stock of power-sharing. Iraq too is a Shia majority state and has the clout of clergy in public-and-state affairs, but does not go on dictating the day to day affairs! This necessitates a debate on the very fundamentals of the revolutionary zeal and its practicability and application to the reason and rationale of Iranians.
Iranians have stood the thick and thin of revolution, and rendered unprecedented sacrifices in its aftermath, so there is no wisdom in shunning sections of society that are demanding more civil and political liberties. Think of it, time to share the bounties of freedom and the collectivity of revolution’s success. It wasn’t a clergy-led revolution, rather the Marxists and Mujahedin-e-Khalq were in it too, and were later shown the door as mullahs clinched on to power.
Muzzling the egalitarian-minded people under the presumption that they are anti-state or a threat to the revolution is unwarranted. Time to usher in a new social contract by embracing the heterogeneous strata and opening up the society in larger interests of peace and prosperity.
Is someone listening in the fiefdoms of Tehran and Qom? The wisdom of clergy under a righteously guided religion demands instant introspection and remedial measures. Their humble intervention will certainly save a civilization and buoy a hard-fought revolution. It is time to look inwardly.
Note: This article appeared in Defence Journal, dated 10 November 2022.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.