Sunday, June 21, 2009

Could Moussavi be Gorbachev?

One reason I've been skeptical about much of the reportage about Iran is that it wasn't clear to me the extent to which what was happening was truly revolutionary, and how much it was an internal family squabble between differing factions of an ugly regime. (That, and not knowing Persian, not trusting 99% of the Western media to know any more than I about what was going on, and assuming that even many Iranians themselves may not fully understand what they're doing, as is usually the case in dramatic historical upheavals).

Moussavi, after all, comes from deep inside the Ayatollah's regime, not outside it; if you look at the numbers of people, first and foremost Iranians, in whose deaths he can be implicated, it's much larger than whatever can be attributed to Ahmedinejad. Ahmedinejad speaks repugnantly; Moussavi was part of the regime itself in its bloody 1980s.

As the days go on, however, these considerations have lost validity. I still don't know Persian, still don't trust the Western media to get it right, and according to this transcript of Moussavi's most recent speech he's still anything but a disciple of the Enlightenment of the 18th century, that blemished but magnificent age of thinkers who formulated the principles of freedom enjoyed by the citizens of democracies these past 200-some years. (Link via Andrew Sullivan).

Gorbachev never intended to go where he ended up going, either. Never ever. He wanted to fix Communism and the Soviet Union, not kill them. Yet the logic of the events was such that by questioning the regime, he unleashed the forces that demolished it. One of the profound differences between Enlightenment-informed democracies and all the rest is that ability to change course without changing everything. Fascism didn't have it, Communism didn't (though as I've noted, Chinese autocracy is proving surprisingly resilient).

So whatever the Iranian movement was a month ago, or even only a week ago, I think it's something admirable now. When their Supreme Leader took sides and threatened the demonstrators to desist, and they didn't, not even in the face of death, this isn't a squabble, it's large numbers of people demanding freedom. Are they a majority of Iranians? Perhaps. I have no way of knowing. The beauty of democracy, however, if they ever attain it, is that it shouldn't matter. If a majority of Iranians - or even only a minority - wish to continue to live in a religious society, no-one will tell them otherwise. Enlightened democracy doesn't mean they must all become silly Guardian-style heathens. Though it would, of course, grant Iranians the choice to be silly Guardian-style heathens alongside their fellow citizens who wish to be fundamentalist clerical-types. That's freedom.

We should wish it on all people; this week, we should be praying for our Iranian fellow men and women that they achieve it.

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