Monday, June 15, 2009

The Hundred Persian Flowers

David Seaton's News Links
Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo asks
the following question:
Bill Keller (editor of the whole operation) and Michael Slackman have a piece in Times arguing that Ahmadinejad and the hard line clerical establishment emerge from Friday's selection with a stronger hand than ever before. I'm curious whether others share that impression.
In this case, the answer is probably yes.

How so?

The first thing that someone who has grown up in a democracy has to get clear is the difference between a lone dictator and a regime.

A regime, even with an unquestioned, charismatic leader such as Mao T'se Tung can live and even thrive without the charismatic leader, while when the lone dictator like Uganda's Idi Amin Dada or the Congo's Mobutu Sese Seko disappears so does his entire ruling apparatus.

Obviously Iran, whether qualified democracy or iron fisted autocracy, is a regime; one which has handily survived the death 20 years ago of its ├╝ber-charismatic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. A regime that lasts this long under successive leaders, of necessity has a complex, multi-layered, organization and a wide popular base.

In the case of Iran the regime's popular base is made up of the traditional peasants and urban poor and finds the body of its critics among the urban middle-classes: people who would have the education, money and the leisure time to enjoy freedom of speech, a more relaxed dress code and travel abroad.

How does the present situation re-enforce the regime? The easiest example would be Mao T'se Tung's "Hundred Flowers" campaign, where he encouraged criticism of the party under the slogan;
"Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land."
When the flowers had "bloomed", when the intellectuals had spoken their minds, Mao lowered the boom on them. This is how Wikipedia describes the result,
The result of the Hundred Flowers Campaign was the persecution of intellectuals, officials, students, artists and dissidents labeled "rightists" during the Anti-Rightist Movement that followed. During this time, over 550,000 people identified as "rightists" were humiliated, imprisoned, demoted or fired from their positions, sent to labor and re-education camps, tortured, or killed.
That is what I imagine is happening or going to happen in Iran right now. Iran, certainly the regime, feels itself to be threatened by the USA and Israel and has every reason to feel so threatened: even a paranoiac can have enemies.

What they have done by encouraging a free and outspoken presidential campaign is to encourage any serious opposition to the status quo which might collaborate in any way with the west in time of war, to come forward and identify themselves.

Now they will round them up or at least know exactly who to round up at a moment's notice in case Obama doesn't turn out to be quite so friendly as he'd like them to believe.

So yes, the regime is strengthened by all this dissent: all the rallies and the demonstrations have been filmed, the regime's dissenters have taken the bait and all Khomeini's successor, Khameni has to do is reel them in.


Ralph said...

This is a brutal and quite crafty assessment. You might well be right. Then again, Iranians aren't Chinese (fewer of 'em, you know, and a Shia tradition of martyr worship) and I don't think the status quo has as much to draw on -- the Chinese saw no alternative to the Chairman. There are many more active Iranian expats, communication is easier and I'm not sure Shia are as susceptible to despotic highhandedness as their Sunni brethren. Of course, democratic change won't sit well with the Zionists, who like to occupy that particular rhetorical ridge line.

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