Individual courage and the Green Movement in Iran. More than eight months after the fraudulent election of M. Ahmadinejad to the Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the massive protest movement against this election is still making waves.
More than eight months after the fraudulent election of M. Ahmadinejad to the Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the massive protest movement against this election is still making waves. This movement, which is unprecedented, both for its longevity and for the inventive way it has been conducted, has triggered a wide variety of sociological and political issues for debate and thought. One of the issues relates directly to the courage which the protestors of all ages and social levels, are having to show in the face of an unscrupulous and omnipresent repressive regime.
It should be noted that those who defend the hard line of Islamic power that is currently supporting M. Ahmadinejad are those same people who invented and applied the theory of “you win by spreading fear”. They back up their theory with doctrinal texts to assert that “man only develops through force. Transcendence is not in the nature of man, it is the result of the application of a coercive authority”.
From the application of this theory to stating that the only secret of survival for the Islamic revolution is in its capacity to intimidate and its ability to spread fear amongst the people of Iran, there is just a short step. They have taken this step on numerous occasions since the end of the Iran/Iraq war and for the last eight months, they have been trying to achieve victory through fear. What do the facts say about their chances of success?
The fact that hundreds of activists have been arrested, that there has been torture carried out in the prisons and dozens of protestors killed during the post election events has not cooled the ardour of the protestors. Perhaps this in itself is sufficient proof of the failure of the authorities’ project to intimidate Iranians with the use of weapons. Even so, we are clearly witnessing the emergence of a new idea of courage which has continued to rear its head in the larger cities of Iran in recent months.
If the virtue of courage is an integral virtue of the status of the epic heroes of ancient Persia, if the courage of a Réza Chah, of a Mossadegh or a Khomeini, who all defied the supreme authority of their time, is linked to their role as leader, if the courage of the armed revolutionaries from the era of the Shah is an emanation of their sacrificial idealism, the courage of the protestors and those involved (some well known but others less so) in recent events is sign of an “intelligence of citizenship” which operates well beyond the bounds of the circle of the elite.
“In the violent protests after the elections, I twice found myself with a bleeding body in my arms. At the time it did not strike me. I was running and trying to find a refuge for the injured body. But in the evening, the image of the body would not leave me in peace. In theory this experience should have kept me locked up at home, but the next day I returned to protest once again. It has not stopped me from having nightmares though”. ( Extract from the testimony of a young 23 year old girl).
” We should not be afraid, we should not be afraid, we are all in this together !” ran one of the slogans of the protestors. Is recognising fear and trying to find a way to combat it not proof in itself of an intelligent courage that is without pretension, a reply to the strategy of “victory through fear”?
Testimonies from inside the prisons tell us that that during the interrogations, some of the detainees from the recent protests repeatedly forced the inspectors to make a theoretical defence of their political positions.
In an intimidating and authoritarian jargon, there is a Persian expression which literally translated means “If you breathe, I will kill you”. The issue here is quite simply death – that of the soul or the body. Survival can only come from silence and resignation in front of the vertical power of authority. However, numerous events demonstrate that there is a process of deconsacration of authority under way in Iran. In the Universities, the students are organising debates with representatives of the Supreme Guide, the personification of the reigning ideology, and with the bassiji students who represent the political violence within the faculties. They argue with them, as equals and reject the vertical and timorous relationship that the authorities have established. In their actions we discern a desire to act, to reveal and expose oneself, which Hannah Arendt defined as the essence of a modern courage. It is that same courage that opens up to the kingdom of liberty by pitting itself against the kingdom of vital necessity which preaches conservatism and conformity.
Revealing and exposing oneself. Just as a journalist did who, in an open letter to M. Ahmadinejad, after his first election, four years ago, told him that she had not voted for him and said that she even cried when he was declared President, but nevertheless she is asking him to liberate a colleague who has been unjustly imprisoned.
Breaking unspoken laws is another act of courage. It is unthinkable for a woman in public life to speak of her private life, even more so her sentimental life, in a Muslim society. This is exactly what Mrs Rahnavard did, the wife of Mirhussein Moussavi, one of the leaders of the Iranian opposition. She complained in an interview that her “adversaries cannot tolerate the love life that the she and her husband lead and as a result they try and create intrigues against them.” Mrs Rahnavard is part of the political elite. What is to be done for those women who are active in the “Campaign for a million signatures” which is demanding the abrogation of the laws that discriminate against women? Tens of thousands of women have agreed to put their signatures to this text, to reveal and expose themselves, to act against a legislative, political and religious injustice. Some of these activists were imprisoned, but once freed, they continued collecting signatures. It is this type of act, as Paul Ricoeur said, that has the ability to transform fatalism into hope.
The will to act while dominating one’s fear and by leading the adversary to doubt what he is undertaking, is exactly what numerous protestors have expressed through their actions, the images of which have been seen throughout the world. Taking photographs is an action that requires great courage, as we know from the number of photographers who have been challenged or imprisoned and the number of cameras that have been smashed. As a result we need to remember the number of images we have lost.
Those images which have been seen, reveal a serene courage, emanating from frail bodies which nevertheless show great determination. These are not the actions of heroes, nor are they triggered by revolutionary idealism but are actions which unleash, as Paul Ricoeur said, “an ever expanding and engulfing wave that, in a secret and unorthodox way, contribute to history’s progress towards states of peace”.
1st March 2010