Monday, June 15, 2009

Student Protesters in Tehran

"p.s., i don't think there will be another revolution." So writes a Persian friend of mine who I emailed to find out about the safety of her family in Tehran.

I don't think so either. I'd like to hope so. I don't think so though. As Saul Bellow once said, our blood will always run warm, but people who have lived a while know the wisdom of keeping some cold blood on reserve.

Watching what's happening in Tehran, my first thought wasn't actually of the 1979 Iranian revolution, but of 1968's Prague Spring. I didn't think of a government being toppled; I thought of a whole lot of students and young people pulling back the curtain and showing the world the fissures and cracks in their society, before being silenced by the state and its supporters. Communist Czechoslovakia lasted for two more decades before falling. Of course, it had support from the USSR.

I suppose, one could also make the comparison to China in 1989. Things have progressed quite differently there. I had a student this year, recently arrived from China, who asked me timidly what was it that happened in Tienanmen Square, which we had mentioned in class. If the regime in Iran is lucky, things could go that way in the future. I doubt it- not with their economy. But, we have no way of telling. Such is the weakness of historical analogies: history never repeats itself because the context is always different. Sometimes it does impressions.

This is something the commenting class, and their bloggy epigones might remember: the context is not our own. We know very little.

At least, I don't know much about Iran. I do know that there's a bit more impetus in Shia Islam to get rid of a lousy leader, even if he's a Muslim, than there is in Sunni Islam. This was part of the tradition that Khomeini drew upon in 1979. The reform movement is drawing strength from college students and young people in the cities, many of whom were too young to remember the revolution. I do- I remember it being a shock for Americans who were my parents' age. You have to remember that the northern part of Iran was like the French riviera back in the 70s. The jetsetters in Teheran's discos didn't quite suspect the strength of the opposition. Nor did the US. I suspect the sight of tens of thousands of "Westoxicated" protesters in the streets of Tehran will come as just as much of a shock now.

Incidentally, the best documentary I ever saw on the subject summed up the 1979 Revolution in one shot: an idiotic glamorous disco television program from the north of Iran being watched on a television set in a lean-to tent in the south of Iran. This was the home of the viewers. One could imagine their mindset.

I hope the protesters prevail. I suppose I am temperamentally biased in favor of students who are being brutalized by cops and thugs. Iran's regime might not be fascist, but they're currently doing a good impression. I also hope the US stays out of it. The business with the Shah would recommend against US intervention- most Americans don't remember that stolen election, but every single Persian does. Again, this is their context.

I don't know if this report is true:
"119 members of Tehran University faculty have resigned en-masse as a protest to the attack on Tehran University dorms last night. Among them is Dr Jabbedar-Maralani, who is known as the father of Iranian electronic engineering. They have asked for the resignation of Farhad Rahbari the appointed president of Tehran University, for his incompetence in defending the University's dignity and student lives."

If so, I am proud to share their profession. I really hope I'd do the same. I said recently that I believe academics should hang back from society and its political controversies, in order to prevent becoming a football of powerful interests. However, I think it goes without saying that, in the event that agents of the state are brutalizing your students, any lesser response would be a betrayal of those students. If we should be partisans of anyone, it's them.

The video is from the dormitories of the University of Tehran. It probably goes without saying that this chills me more than anything else I've seen from Iran today.

No comments: