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Battling alone

Iran’s civil movement does not and will not need the West....

Written by Ramin Jahanbegloo |
August 10, 2009 3:46:24 am

Despite Ahmadinejad’s formal swearing-in as president of Iran,street demonstrations against his presidency continue. After nearly two months of post-election turmoil,dozens have been killed and hundreds jailed.

Last week’s “trials” of more than a hundred reformists were a reminder of the Moscow show trials of 1936-38 where the Old Bolsheviks,like Zinoviev and Bukharin — major figures in the October Revolution — were accused of counter-revolutionary activity,sabotage,murder,and collaboration with

fascism. As in the Moscow trials,which coincided with the final climax of Stalin’s Great Purges,the Tehran trials are a public symbol of a coup against some of the architects of the revolution,accused now of promoting a “velvet revolution” in Iran. For Stalin,the Moscow trials were a means of shifting the blame for the unpopularity of his regime on to scapegoats who might otherwise have supplanted him. By accusing his opponents of espionage,terror and causing all the ills of the Soviet regime,Stalin made the lie big enough to stick. Here,the “confessions” from those on trial are designed to support the allegations by senior government officials that Iran’s post-election protests were supported by foreign powers and aimed at overthrowing the government — and to shut down disputes over the election’s legitimacy.

The confessions,almost certainly produced under harsh interrogation,beatings,sleep deprivation,and threats of torture,are also meant to frighten Iranian reformers and civil society activists — including top-ranking political figures such as opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and the two former presidents,Mohammad Khatami and Ali Akbar Rafsanjani. Among those accused and forced to “confess” are Maziar Bahari,an Iranian-Canadian journalist,and Kian Tajbakhsh,an Iranian-American scholar,charged with orchestrating the post-election protests. Tajbakhsh,who was arrested and released in 2007 on charges of seeking to foment a velvet revolution,alleged that “the main instigators of the riots” were “the government,semi-government,and intelligence services of the United States”. As for Bahari,he testified that for him “the first step was to propagate the thought of questioning religious authority and maintain that the Islamic Republic of Iran has no popular support.”

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The Obama administration has continued to voice sympathy for Iran’s opposition,while asking the Iranian government to respond to an invitation for unconditional talks with the West on its nuclear weapons programme. As for Canada,the recent speech by Prime Minister Harper makes clear its government’s critical position,one shared by most of the EU countries — which refused to send Ahmadinejad congratulatory letters. Europe,however,has decided not to enter into a political row with Tehran,fearing that it may diminish the hope of a diplomatic solution to the nuclear dispute.

It goes without saying that the US and Europe are working on

setting up a new round of talks with Iran. Obama has previously promised no additional sanctions on Iran if it freezes nuclear development work. However,by cutting off Iran’s import of gasoline and other oil products,the Obama

administration could make matters even worse and dialogue with Iran more difficult. On the one hand,the Iranian government has shrugged off US threats of gas embargoes,asserting that domestic demands would be met from alternative routes — meaning Russia and China,who have refused hard-hitting trade embargoes on Tehran. On the other hand,tough sanctions would have a terrible impact on Iranian civil society. The more such sanctions are imposed,the greater the anti-Western dynamic in Iranian politics,aiding Ahmadinejad’s repressive measures.

Until this moment,the aim of the regime’s violent response to the non-violent protests by Iran’s citizens has been to prevent the movement’s expansion and the escalation of political demands. In this unbalanced confrontation,the question is: how long can the movement remain non-violent? Ahmadinejad has interpreted the peacefulness of the civic movement as a weakness,and as an invitation to use violence on the streets and in courtrooms. And the West’s strategies,which assume that the regime can concede points on the nuclear question while continuing to violate human rights is once again a reminder of the Moscow trials — which seemed to both convince the West that Stalin was firmly in control,and reinforced its fears about the Revolution spreading to the rest of the world.

In short,there is another path for sustaining the Iranian struggle for justice and freedom in the coming months and years,which is unlikely to command the interests of the West,more focused on the Iranian nuclear issue than anything else. A path which is no top priority to any so-called lobby in Washington,but nevertheless a less costly,less dangerous,and more righteous one,one that protects against violation of rights,and aids those whose rights are violated in Iran.

The writer is a Toronto-based Iranian scholar

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