The Starfish Revolution?

Several thoughtful people have commented on an unusual element in the Iranian revolutionary movement, aka “The Green Path of Hope.”  Although there is a troika (Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami) that inspires many of the movement’s participants, there seems to be a lack of top-down leadership.  Indeed, Mousavi has been at pains to say that the people are the true leaders, that he is not creating a political movement but a “social network,” and that the strength of the Green Path derives from the spontaneous and creative actions of millions of Iranians.

It sounds a lot like the thesis put forward in the recent book, The Starfish and the Spider, which argues that top-down organizations are less successful than those that give maximum freedom to their people.  If you decapitate a spider, it dies, but if you lop off an arm of a starfish, it regenerates.  In like manner, despite a massive crackdown from the Iranian regime–thousands of arrests (now termed “kidnappings” by Iranian Tweeters), scores of executions, mass rape and other forms of torture, show trials and stern intimidation from political and military leaders, judges and clerics, the Green Path moves on, with its next publicly announced challenge to the regime set for December 7th.  Meanwhile, demonstrations and strikes continue across the country.

In the runup to the June 12th “elections” (at which time I noted that the Islamic Republic of Iran does not have elections, it has circuses) I said that one could not imagine a less charismatic leader than Mir Hossein Mousavi.  His campaign appearances were lackluster, his debate with Ahmadinejad unimpressive, and his demeanor bespoke what he was: an architect and artist, a former bureaucrat who had left government twenty years before.  If there was a charismatic figure in the campaign against Ahmadinejad (whose charisma is well known), it was Mrs. Mousavi.  And that, I insisted, was itself a revolutionary development in a theocratic tyranny based on misogyny.  It wasn’t only her presence that shook up the Shi’ite establishment and inspired the crowds, but the things she said, notably her attitude toward head coverings.  She wears the veil, she said, and she believes that all Muslim women should.  But–and here is the revolutionary message–if a woman doesn’t want to wear it, she should be free to go without.

So it was that Mousavi, quite unexpectedly, found himself created the leader of a revolutionary mass movement.  In that sense, I entirely agree with Mehdi Khalaji when he says that if you want to understand what’s going on inside Iran today, don’t look to Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami; look at the people.  The movement came into being around the troika (in which Mousavi is first among equals).  And the movement by now has an ideology, a strategy, and a lot of momentum.  It aims to bring down the Islamic Republic–that is the clear meaning of the nightly rooftop chants against Khamenei–and replace it with a new government that will be independent of the Shi’ite elite.  It intends to do it without violence, insofar as that is possible, and it is counting on the force of numbers to accomplish its mission.