If anyone doubted that we are living in a revolutionary age, the events of the past few months should have eliminated all the doubts. From the Middle East to North and South America, people are demanding radical change, and are doing their damnedest to drive out their current leaders. Some of them will be content to change leaders; others insist on thoroughgoing revolutionary transformations. That vast insurrection is “the event,” and we must try to understand it that way, not country by country or movement by movement.
Yes, I said “North America.” Or did you not notice that the Tea Party is very much a part of it all? Just ask Nancy Pelosi; she has recently been taught quite a bit about the overthrow of leaders, and the power of mass movements.
While there are enormous differences from one regime to another and from one insurrectionary movement to another, the regimes now fighting for survival and the movements demanding their defeat and defenestration constitute a single coherent phenomenon. If our universities taught real history instead of political ideology in the past tense, more Americans would understand this better. The best place to start is R.R. Palmer’s wonderful two-volume study, The Age of the Democratic Revolution, 1760-1800, written in the 1950s and 60s (the paperback was printed in 1969), in which he chronicles the revolutionary movements that challenged the old regimes in virtually every modern country, from France and the United States to Poland and (yes!) Switzerland. I doubt any of our policy makers have read it, but the good news is that it seems to be still in print. Kudos to the Princeton University Press for that.
Palmer notes that democratic revolutionaries were in contact with one another, learned from each other’s experiences, and planned strategy and tactics accordingly. They managed this both by meeting, and, more commonly, mailing letters, sometimes across the Atlantic Ocean (without the “social media” that get so much credit for contemporary events). They shared a common language featuring words like “liberty,” “freedom,” and “democracy,” and most of them looked to the American Revolution for lessons learned in the struggle against the British Crown.
Faced with a global insurrection, the forces of the old order likewise shared their understanding and their assessments of how to deal with their common threat. Inevitably, they came to believe that they were under assault from a vast conspiracy, which in a way was true, but not in the way they believed. There was certainly an intellectual/political conspiracy (just as the Committees of Correspondence in pre-Revolutionary America), but not, for the most part, the well-organized subversive underground the monarchists imagined.
It is similar today. The Iranian regime clearly believes that its home-grown opponents are directed from outside the country by dark democratic forces in Washington, London and Jerusalem, and you can be sure that by now, the frightened tyrants from Damascus to Caracas (where, for three weeks now, young men and women have been on hunger strike outside the offices of the Organization of American States) are convinced that the usual subjects, whispering in English and Hebrew, are orchestrating the whole thing. They aren’t, although they should be.
The real conspiracies, today as in the 18th century, are among the democrats within the tyrannical regimes, or–little noted so far–in the hands of the tyrants. The Saudis sent help to Mubarak, and lobbied Washington to do the same. Some of this has been reported, and no doubt there is lots more flowing through classified channels. I have no doubt that the Iranians, Syrians and Turks are coordinating strategy and sharing intelligence, as are the members of the terror network. They have two objectives: preserve Islamic regimes they like, and topple their enemies by taking over the insurrection and turning it to carry out their wicked aims.
The vast insurrection is aimed at sitting rulers, but not all the insurrectionaries are fighting for freedom. Indeed, many of them are prepared for martyrdom if they can advance the cause of even more terrible tyrannies, wrapped in the glory of a new caliphate. The demonstrations in Bahrain and Jordan, like the virtual civil war in Yemen, are sponsored by the intelligence arms of the Iranian Islamic Republic, and supported by killers from Hezbollah, the Revolutionary Guards Corps, and their proxies. And we have already seen the Egyptian Islamists come front and center to lay claim to the country. Andy McCarthy is appropriately alarmed.
At the moment it is hard to sort out the democrats from the would-be creators of the caliphate, save in the most important country–important for the freedom of the peoples of the Middle East and for American security–which is Iran. All those pundits, whether in government or the press, who told their clients that the Iranian opposition had been crushed, have been discredited once again, just as they were when the Green Movement first erupted in the streets in June, 2009. More importantly, the regime, whose leaders had convinced themselves that they had won, also knows otherwise, which is why the Green leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have been sealed in their houses, and cut off–or so Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad have been told–from all contact with the outside world, above all with their followers and supporters. I doubt that seal is very hermetic; there are lots of traitors among the security forces, and a good reporter, Con Coughlin of the London Telegraph, has written that high-level Revolutionary Guards commanders have asked–in writing–their superiors not to order them to shoot demonstrators.
In a suggestion of a split within the Islamic Republic’s ruling hierarchy over its handling of protests, the letter has been circulated widely throughout the ranks of the Revolutionary Guards, the body responsible for defending the religious system. The letter, a copy of which has been seen by The Daily Telegraph, is addressed to Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the guards’ commanding officer. It calls on him to issue guidance to both the guards and the Basij paramilitary militia to use restraint when handling protests.
I have confirmed this story to my satisfaction, and in the course of confirming it I was told that similar messages have come from Basij commanders as well. If that is true, then the mechanism of the “iron fist” against the Iranian people may not work as well in the future as in the past. That question will get at least a partial answer tomorrow, Sunday, as Mousavi has called for a new demonstration.
The Iranian opposition has enormous internal support, and is also receiving encouragement from Shi’ite leaders in Iraq. Ayatollah Jamal al-Din, a follower of the Grand Ayatollah Sistani of Najaf (arguably the most esteemed figure in the Shi’ite firmament), called upon the Iranian people to overthrow their leaders and restore freedom to their ancient land. His words echoed some of Mousavi’s language and bear careful attention:
Oh, Dear brothers! There is no difference between a dictator who wears a [crown], a dictator who wears a turban and a dictator who wears the traditional Arab gear. Dictators are the same regardless of their styles and languages. Freedom and dignity are the same for every people. And you, the Noble People of Iran, you were the first people in the Middle East to revolt against the dictatorship and corruption in 1979. Today is your day to reclaim your dignity, your freedom and the treasures of your rich country from the grasp of those thieves who stole religion and state.
That’s the voice of the democratic insurrection. If it prevails, then there may yet be a chance for a real democratic revolution on a global scale. Even if the American president, who rallied to the Wisconsin trade union demonstrators a lot faster than to the Iranian freedom fighters, seems inclined to believe that class conflict is a proper response to the American democratic revolt last November.
Nobody knows how all this will play play out. As I write (Saturday evening) there are reports of a bloodbath in Libya. Tomorrow blood may flow in Iran. It is only a matter of time until at least some of the opposition conclude that they have lost enough friends and relatives to the regime’s killers, and seek revenge. And, as I have often remarked, a lot of pipelines and refineries keep “exploding” in Iran (unlikely they are all accidents), and airplanes carrying Revolutionary Guards have a very high rate of accident.
What would you do if you had been fighting this evil regime for nigh onto two years, hoping that the Western world would come to help, only to find that the West is still trying to make a deal with your oppressors?
That’s also a global question, isn’t it?