Now for the best reads of the week – all Iran-related:
Iran’s Social Bargain. Mark LeVine for Al Jazeera describes “Iran on the Brink” – with a “?” His piece offered insights none of the mountains of commentary seemed to have touched on. As an added bonus, he comments on questions of how a state legitimizes itself and how China’s response to its democracy movement in 1989 is not open to Iran today:
Cultural liberalisation became the safety valve that allowed the emerging generation of Chinese citizens to accept the continued power of the Communist party.
Needless to say, no such safety valve exists in the Islamic Republic, where a cultural perestroika is precisely what Ahmadinejad and his supporters in the leadership and among the people want to prevent…
In China the government struck a bargain with the people, telling them: “You can do whatever you want as long as you don’t challenge the power of the state.”
The Iranian government has over the last two decades negotiated a very different and more narrow bargain with its citizens: “You can do what you want behind closed doors, as long as you keep the music down. But we own the street and the public sphere. So put your headscarf on before you leave the house, and don’t think about challenging cultural or political limits publicly.”
That bargain has now collapsed as hundreds of thousands of Iranians have, at least for the moment, reclaimed the streets…
Iran long ago lost the singular, collective will that enabled the revolution; the protesters are no longer imbued with the idea of bi-kodi, or self-annihilation, martyrdom and complete self-sacrifice that toppled the Shah and helped the country withstand eight years of brutal war with Iraq.
A maximally uncertain future. David Brooks’s column this morning tries to look at the past week’s events in Iran from an historical perspective:
At these moments — like the one in Iran right now — change is not generated incrementally from the top. Instead, power is radically dispersed. The real action is out on the streets. The future course of events is maximally uncertain.
The fate of nations is determined by glances and chance encounters: by the looks policemen give one another as a protesting crowd approaches down a boulevard; by the presence of a spontaneous leader who sets off a chant or a song and with it an emotional contagion; by a captain who either decides to kill his countrymen or not; by a shy woman who emerges from a throng to throw herself on the thugs who are pummeling a kid prone on the sidewalk.
Brooks quotes on of Obama’s advisers commenting years ago:
In retrospect, all revolutions seem inevitable. Beforehand, all revolutions seem impossible.