Moussavi’s Reformist Message
After a day of horrific violence in Iran, Mir Hussein Moussavi issued this statement to the opposition and to the world. (Via Andrew.) The most compelling description of the relationship between Moussavi and fellow presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi to the opposition is that they’re the vehicles for it, rather than acting as its leaders. While they appear to be rising to the moment, it’s probably prudent not to describe the statement as a manifesto. But he wouldn’t have said what he says here if he didn’t think it captured the sentiment of the opposition.
And so it’s conspicuous how fundamentally reformist a statement Moussavi has issued. His message is one of reaffirming the promise of the 1979 Iranian Revolution — “a revolution for freedom, a revolution for reviving the dignity of men, a revolution for truth and justice.” The era of Khomeini was one of enlightenment and joint spiritual and material fulfillment. Moussavi’s career has been dedicated to proving “it was possible to live spiritually while living in a modern world.” And although the new Iranian generation stands “accused of being removed from religion,” its iconography and sloganeering — the Sea of (Islamic) Green, the chants of God is greater than the enemy — proves that it’s possible to rekindle the spirit of the Islamic Revolution. That’s what they fight and suffer and die for.
Clearly we’re in the realm of myth, and foundational myth at that. It matters very little what Westerners think about Moussavi’s description of Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution. By locating the opposition within the promises of the Revolution, Moussavi claims a clear source of legitimacy, the same that the regime claims, and seeks to denies that legitimacy to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. His rhetoric is designed to convince patriotic Iranians to join the opposition — and to reassure the millions of Ahmadinejad supports that the opposition does not seek to fundamentally do away with their way of life.
This may be the most significant aspect of the statement:
If the large volume of cheating and vote rigging, which has set fire to the hays of people’s anger, is expressed as the evidence of fairness, the republican nature of the state will be killed and in practice, the ideology that Islam and Republicanism are incompatible will be proven.
This outcome will make two groups happy: One, those who since the beginning of revolution stood against Imam and called the Islamic state a dictatorship of the elite who want to take people to heaven by force; and the other, those who in defending the human rights, consider religion and Islam against republicanism.
Several things should now be apparent. First, he’s really talking about the United States here, as we have for 30 years described the Islamic Republic in precisely the way Moussavi outlines. (And we’ve been right to have that view; or, at least, we haven’t been wrong, descriptively speaking.) Accordingly, would it really be better for the opposition if we embraced Moussavi’s neo-Khomeinist movement? Second, we in the West would not want to live under the sort of system that Moussavi envisions. But we are not the issue here.
Third, and most importantly, the West has nothing to fear from Moussavi’s restorative attempt to reconcile Islam and republicanism* in and of itself. *Obviously the Iranian government has its interests and desires and we have ours, and they can conflict. But Moussavi’s rhetoric, in this important speech at least, is not filled with the anti-Western demagoguery that marked Khomeini’s and marks Ahmadinejad’s. The opposition movement is not a movement of “liberals” in the way that some inwardly-focused American writers lazily imagine. But that doesn’t mean that the reformist syncretism that Moussavi offers adds up to an effort that Western liberals, intellectually, can’t support. What it means is that Iranians are working to redefine their Islamic Revolution, not abandon it, and do so in a way that favors openness and justice and freedom. The contours of that debate may be restricted by brute force over the coming days, but a significant proportion of the Iranian people are not going to settle for those restrictions for long. And they’re pushing their interpretations of their foundational myths in a direction that Americans — as progressives, as conservatives, and as everyone concerned about U.S.-Iranian relations — can welcome.