The N.Y. Times features riveting coverage of today’s protests and blood running in the streets of Teheran and Tabriz. As I always say in commenting on developments there, one never knows what the future will bring and I could be wrong in what I’m about to write. But we seem to have entered a strange, very dangerous twilight zone in which either the best or the worst could happen. This is eastern Europe just before the Wall fell. It is South African just before Botha decided that he must cede power to avoid a civil war and national bloodbath. It is 1992 and Yeltsin facing down the tanks prepared to overthrow the regime.
But it could also be China just before the Tianamen Square crackdown. The only difference being that China had a relatively unified government under Deng Xiaoping while Iran’s power is much more fragmented and chaotic. I don’t believe there is a unified Iranian command which can overwhelm the opposition as the Chinese government did after the massacre.
The assassination of Mir Hossein Moussavi’s nephew by regime thugs indicates that even the regime loyalists have begun to lose their bearings. It is precisely these types of lunatic gestures by those in nominal power which will drive the few remaining Iranians who support them, away in disgust. Further, the government’s theft of the body and its chutzpahdik warning to the family not to mourn his death is far beyond cruel, and will redound to the shame of the thuggish operatives who performed this vile deed.
Also, the mullahs’ eager embrace of violence against their fellow countrymen during the nation’s foremost religious holiday, when any form of violence is normally eschewed in commemoration of the violence committed against the founder of Shiism, also indicates the regime is becoming unmoored.
There were some very moving passages in the Times’ coverage which also begin to indicate the kinds of defections from the ranks that one sees when power is devolving from the incumbents to the insurgents:
There were scattered reports of police officers surrendering, or refusing to fight. Several videos posted on the Internet show officers holding up their helmets and walking away from the melee, as protesters pat them on the back in appreciation. In one photograph, a police officer can be seen holding his arms up and wearing a bright green headband, the signature color of the opposition movement…
I am also impressed with the opposition’s bold appropriation of Shiite religious imagery in order to destroy the government’s claim to religious authenticity and coopt the Shiite faithful into its movement:
“This is the month of blood, Yazid will fall,” the protesters shouted, equating Ayatollah Khamenei with Yazid, the ruler who ordered Imam Hussein’s killing.
While I have not seen the opposition thus far proving able to mount a knockout blow to the regime; with tactics like this they are definitely proving sophisticated in their ability to undermine its credibility with the faithful who maintain its power and legitimacy.
I want to return to an important theme that may not appear relevant at first to this post. It is simply ridiculous at a time like this for the U.S. and its western allies to be contemplating punitive actions against Iran. The situation there is simply far too volatile and it would be exploited by the regime to denounce its opponents and thereby preserve power.
We need to do one thing and one thing only: support the overall concept of human rights and denounce violations of the sort that occurred today. This will speak louder than anything else about what are our true priorities. If we muck about with sanctions or God forbid play with fire by calling for armed force against Iran regarding its nuclear program, we are simply playing into the hands of those we hate and undermining those we support.
There are those in the Israeli government and among the neocons here who don’t believe there is any difference between radical mullahs and reformers in Iran. As far as they’re concerned it’s foolish to make a distinction or to modulate policy to benefit one side or another. But this attitude is a deeply pernicious and wrong-headed one which we must rebut strenuously. That is why the Times’ editorial decision to publish Alan Kuperman’s op ed calling for blood against Iran as the only way to solve the nuclear crisis is so troubling. This is precisely what the policy debate does NOT need to entertain as it will prove disastrous to our own interests and to Iran’s as well.