To start with, the BBC, long considered a shill for the regime by most Iranian dissidents, estimates between one and two million Tehranis demonstrated against the regime on Monday. That’s a big number. So we can say that, at least for the moment, there is a revolutionary mass in the streets of Tehran. There are similar reports from places like Tabriz and Isfahan, so it’s nationwide.
For its part, the regime ordered its (Basij and imported Hezbollah) thugs to open fire on the demonstrators. The Guardian, whose reporting from Iran has always been very good (three correspondents expelled in the last ten years, they tell me), thinks that a dozen or so were killed on Monday. And the reports of brutal assaults against student dormitories in several cities are horrifying, even by the mullahs’ low standards.
Western governments have expressed dismay at the violence, and Obama, in his eternally narcissistic way, said that he was deeply disturbed by it, and went on to add that freedom of speech, etc., were universal values and should be respected by the mullahs. I would have preferred a strong statement of condemnation–stressing the evil of killing peaceful demonstrators–but he finally said something.
He probably thinks he’s in a bind (he isn’t, actually). He probably thinks that if he condemns the violence, and the regime wins, that will lessen his chances to strike the Grand Bargain he so avidly desires. Somebody might remind him that Ronald Reagan was unstinting in his criticism of the Soviet Union (“The Evil Empire”), but negotiated no end of bargains with them, including quite dramatic arms reductions.
It’s always better to assert American values, both because he’s our president and he should be speaking for all of us, and because catering to the tender sensibilities of the murders in Iran won’t gain anything. It will only increase their contempt.
What’s going to happen?, you ask. Nobody knows, even the major actors. The regime has the guns, and the opposition has the numbers. The question is whether the numbers can be successfully organized into a disciplined force that demands the downfall of the regime. Yes, I know that there have been calls for a new election, or a runoff between Mousavi and Ahmadinezhad. But I don’t think that’s very likely now. The tens of millions of Iranians whose pent-up rage has driven them to risk life and limb against their oppressors are not likely to settle for a mere change in personnel at this point. And the mullahs surely know that if they lose, many of them will face a very nasty and very brief future.
If the disciplined force comes into being, the regime will fall. If not, the regime will survive. Can Mousavi lead such a force? If anyone had said, even a few days ago, that Mousavi would lead a nation-wide insurrection, he’d have been laughed out of the room. Very few foresaw anything like the current situation, although I will claim credit for predicting that neither side in the electoral circus would accept the official verdict.
Does Mousavi even want to change the system? I think he does, and in any event, I think that’s the wrong question. He is not a revolutionary leader, he is a leader who has been made into a revolutionary by a movement that grew up around him. The real revolutionary is his wife, Zahra Rahnavard. And the real question, the key question in all of this, is: why did Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei permit her to become such a charismatic figure? How could he have made such a colossal blunder? It should have been obvious that the very existence of such a woman threatened the dark heart of the Islamic Republic, based as it is on the disgusting misogyny of its founder, the Ayatollah Khomeini.