A reader writes:
I'm really aware of how absurd it is for me to have an opinion on this – it requires a lot of information I don't have. But my impression is that despite what we thought here in the US, the Islamic Republic had a fair amount of legitimacy among the people before the Green uprising. It was a repressive state in many ways, but it wasn't a totalitarian one, and many Iranian people were very religious and inclined to submit to the leadership of the Ayatollahs. To a certain, imperfect extent, they governed with the consent of the people.
That's finished now.
It seems to me that you can't really run a totalitarian state by half measures. The Iranian system wasn't designed to implement that kind of repression, and I don't think it will be able to do it effectively. There are way too many people in Iran – too many important clerics – who believed in the Islamic Republic in an idealistic sense for it to simply pivot into a totalitarian state after the events of last year. The only way the state can survive now is through the raw projection of power – through violence and oppression.
I don't think they can preserve the Islamic Republic that way – it has always depended too much on piety, on genuine faith, on the desire of many Iranian people to live in a godly nation. I don't think it was a cynical joke in the same way that Stalin's Russia was. It will probably take 10 years – time for the wheels to turn, for new people to cycle into positions of power. But it's not going to last. It's pretty clear in hindsight that the events in Hungary in 1956 and the Prague Spring in 1968 really damaged communism as a system. Those events were part of a process; they de-legitimized the system, and did a lot to spread the truth about it around the world. They didn't finish off communism, but they certainly nailed down some essential truths about it.
That's what the Greens have done. Beyond that, they've proved to the youth of Iran that there is a need for political planning, for strategy. The next time the opposition will be stronger.
I don't want to call it a failure. I also don't want to call it a victory, in Jahanbegloo's sense, because the movement gained the moral high ground in the international community (and of course, not all in the international community would agree it took that ground, anyway). Both views consign the movement and its goals to the past.
However, Alizadeh and Baji seem to think the movement was not beaten to death, just into temporary submission and dazedness. I'm betting on their view (and it's an informed view) as the right one. I'm betting the movement can rise again if circumstances change, and I hope our government and its allies craft their policies toward Iran with that rise as a primary goal. Defeatism would be a tragedy; a belief that if the Green Movement can't topple the regime, we must do it for them, would be a disaster.