Monday, August 15, 2005

Scotched Earth and an Aimless Machine

Ayatollah Khomeini once told of a fable of a fearful people who panicked because they were terrified by the sound of a mule, fearing it was going to take over the jungle. It is because of fear that sometime things are perceived out of proportion. The moral of that story applies to certain recent events such as the announcement by Ansar-e Hizbullah to slaughter the opposition in the country, to the louder calls for a change in the Iranian constitution from a republic to an Islamic administration, and to the rebirth of threats to the world in general. All of them seem to be the unproportional reactions to the pressures that are felt because of America’s presence in Iran’s neighborhood, and its apparent readiness to attack Iran, and of course its success in bringing the Europeans on board its policies and goals vis-à-vis Iran.

It is now four years since Iran has been the focus of serious international attention. President Khatami’s presence and style kept the storm at bay internationally. But now that rightist political forces in Iran are not making headway, they are making loud noises, domestically and internationally. We understand that this is a response and a way to challenge the situation, but we are also aware of its great potential costs for the country.

Every political system in the world makes claims based on a god. Doesn’t the American constitution make reference to God, religious and faith, and that it is written in the name of its people, and that its goal is the provision of welfare and wealth to its people? Interestingly, Americans are more religious and believers, in many ways than even their European counterparts. Other governments in the world who claim a divine, a post-national or a liberation purpose with the promise of getting their people to heaven, one of which is the Islamic Republic of Iran, usually engage in threats to scare their enemies or opponents claiming that their people would not allow them to topple their government. All governments make such claims. Look at Iran’s pre-revolution governments, Saddam’s, Mobarak’s etc. The Shah had even invented its own terms “scotched earth” and said that contrary to his father who simply left the country when forced to, he would launch the scotched earth policy thus denying any utility of everything including the land to those who invade it. What he probably had in mind is not unheard of today: burn the oil fields? These words are reminiscent of some war films such as the Bridge on the River Kwai that show brave soldiers blowing up bridges in their retreat to deny access to the enemy.

These days governments and regimes that have grandeur claims and promise heavens, proclaim that that their own security is tied to that of the state and its people. A classic example is how the regime views Akbar Ganji, or at least how it wants its listeners to view him, and that is that it does not say that he is against a particular form of government but that he is against the security of the state and its people. And let’s not forget that just a few years ago there were those who claimed that the security of not only Iran and Iranians, but even that of the region, Muslims and even Islam depended on their own! And such claims were made at a time when most Muslims do not even recognize them or even us as Muslims to begin with, because of the sectarian divide in Islam. And when people’s power became overburdening, he left with tearful eyes, saying one day they (i.e. the people) would repent this. Even today his supporters argue that he should have stayed and fought for his crown. But he had his own personality and was not willing to kill thousands, scotch the country, even though heard such accusations from the leader of the 1979 revolution. It became soon clear that not only did he impose his views on these, but did let even his military to take over and impose their rule. He simply packed up and left with his life. These days Iranians are once again hearing the same kind of threats of scotched earth from their current rulers who emphasize to Iranians and the world that that they are serious and brutal and daring.

It is possible, as they surprised everyone in the recent presidential elections, that they will stay in power a bit longer. They showed this during the last twenty five years too that unlike the Shah, they would fight. But even if they should, what would really happen? The scenario will look a bit like the endings of a Western film in which a bearded thug finds refuge in the church holding a group of people hostage, while an even more thuggish cowboy awaits for him with his holster clearly visible in the town center. As to the residents of this centerville, they are hiding behind some wall, awaiting the outcome of the duel. This is story of Iran today. They are tired of these games. They are tired of those empty bold slogans too. What’s more, many are no longer willing to dance to the tune of “holy” Mesbah Yazdi either.

Once Kayhan newspaper’s appointed editor in post-Shah Iran threatened his listeners by saying that God had cut the breaks and steering wheel of their vehicle which was now on moving downhill on its own to see what would the opposition do. Today I ask him where are you going to take this vehicle in such a condition?