Thursday, June 25, 2009

Looking for their Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University and the author of, among other books, “Iran: A People Interrupted.”

From the New York Times

Though the violent events of the past week have jolted me, many aspects of the current crisis in Iran are not surprising at all. That the ruling apparatus of the Islamic Republic is out of touch with the ideals and aspirations of a new generation of Iranians has been evident at least since the presidential election of 1997 that brought the icon of the reformist movement Mohammad Khatami to power.

"I thought my generation had courage to fight against tyranny. Now I tremble with shame in the face of the bravery I see today."

The student-led uprising in the summer of 1999 further showed a sea change in the demographics of the Islamic Republic, with upward of 70 percent of its population under the age of 30. The upsurge of youthful euphoria changed during the second presidential campaign of Mr. Khatami in 2001 when he had obviously failed to deliver on his prior campaign promises.

If you were to follow youth culture in Iran at the turn of the century — from the rise of a fascinating underground music (particularly rap) to a globally celebrated cinema, an astonishing panorama of contemporary art, video installations, photography, etc. — you would have noted the oscillation of this generation between apathy and anger, frustration and hope, disillusion and euphoria. In their minds and souls, as in their blogs and chat rooms, they were wired to the globalized world, and yet in their growing bodies and narrowing social restrictions trapped inside an Islamic version of Calvinist Geneva.

To me this was a post-ideological generation, evidently cured of the most traumatic memories of its parental generation, from the C.I.A.-sponsored coup of 1953 to the Islamic revolution of 1979. The dominant political parameters of third world socialism, anticolonial nationalism, and militant Islamism that divided my generation of Iranians seem to me to have lost all validity in this generation. I see the moment we are witnessing as a civil rights movement rather than a push to topple the regime. If Rosa Parks was the American “mother of the civil rights movement,” the young woman who was killed point blank in the course of a demonstration, Neda Agha-Soltan, might very well emerge as its Iranian granddaughter.

If I am correct in this reading, we should not expect an imminent collapse of the regime. These young Iranians are not out in the streets seeking to topple the regime for they lack any military wherewithal to do so, and they are alien to any militant ideology that may push them in that direction.

It seems to me that these brave young men and women have picked up their hand-held cameras to shoot those shaky shots, looking in their streets and alleys for their Martin Luther King. They are well aware of Mir Hossein Moussavi’s flaws, past and present. But like the color of green, the very figure of Moussavi has become, it seems to me, a collective construction of their desires for a peaceful, nonviolent attainment of civil and women’s rights. They are facing an army of firearms and fanaticism with chanting poetry and waving their green bandannas. I thought my generation had courage to take up arms against tyranny. Now I tremble with shame in the face of their bravery.

Read the New York Times' full story, as Iranian-American scholars share their views about Iran's social upheaval.

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