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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 20-Jun-2009
Iran's government panics, as Supreme Leader hints at violence against protesters

Web Log - June, 2009

Iran's government panics, as Supreme Leader hints at violence against protesters

Friday's speech by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was a significant escalation in the war of words, and may be signaling a major confrontation in the streets in the next few days. Tehran's streets have been filled with literally hundreds of thousands of protesters and demonstrators every day this past week, and Khamenei's speech provides the justification for taking very drastic counter-measures.

In his speech, Khamenei focused on themes that related the current crisis to Iran's last generational Crisis war, which began with the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and continued with the Iran/Iraq war. (Recall that President John Kennedy's inauguration speech related back to World War II.)

It's worth remembering that the Iranian people, including government officials, believe first and foremost that Iran's Persian civilization is perhaps the greatest that the world has known. To Khamenei and to many other Iranians, the "religious democracy" that was instituted in 1979 is the best and freeest government in the world today.

Thus, among the major points in Khamenei's speech, he emphasized that the high turnout in the election, with over 40 million voters, showed the people's solidarity with the Islamic government.

Thus, Khamenei's implied threats were particularly ominous. He said that the illegal street protests must stop, since they were aimed at reversing the result of a legitimate election. Thus, the leaders of the protests would be responsible for the consequences (implying violence and bloodshed) if they did not stop.

He returned to a commonly used theme of the Islamic regime by blaming the protests on western governments and media, especially Britain and the BBC.

According to an informal translation from the Farsi, Khamenei continued:

"Remember God, Iran has gone through a lot since the revolution. [Many] have put us in turmoil, even our neighbors.

Our youth are in a materialistic world, in a time of turmoil. They don't know what to do. They need to understand spirituality. They need to get back to spirituality, but they don't know how.

It's been two centuries since the west has been destroying cultures. But our nation wants to regain that spirituality back, so that the revolution can be regained."

I want to mention here that that although Khamenei's speech has received almost universal scorn in the west, these are not the typical sleazy words of a politician (such as would be spoken by Ahmadinejad). These are spiritual words by a man who has devoted his life to Iran and the Islamic revolution, and who is very worried that the country is being threatened -- both from within and from outsiders.

He continued by calling for the support of today's youth, just as the previous generation of youth fought in the Iran/Iraq war:

"This is the largest number of people that have taken part in an election in Iran since the founding of the republic and the passing of the constitution. I would like to deeply thank you. The youngsters in our country showed especially, that they are partaking in the political process since the beginning of the revolution.

Now we'll see the same responsibilities from them that we saw during the Iraqi Aggression War. ... We saw everyone, men women, the young and the old, people participating from all over the country to make this [election] a success.

This election is a political defeat for your enemies, and for your friends all over the world a celebration, a historic one. People are showing love and loyalty for their Imam and martyrs, and for the system.

This election was a religious democratic event. Everyone saw it. It was a showing against the dictators and oppressive regime, and FOR a show of support for the religion and system. ...

Also another point about the election. The election of June 12 showed that people with beliefs and hopes and joys is living in this country."

Khamenei came down very hard on the west.

"The enemies are trying [to harm Iran] through their media - which is controlled by dirty Zionists. The Zionist, American and British radio are all trying to say that there was a competition between those who support and those who didn't support the state.

Everyone supported the state. I know everything about these candidates. I have worked with them. I know all of them."

His point was that all four of the candidates, including the reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, are all working within the system, and are all supporting the Islamic religious democracy. Those who claim that some candidates are trying bring down the Islamic regime are, well, "dirty Zionists."

He says that the youth "need to get back to spirituality, but they don't know how." In expressing the bafflement of the youth, he's really expressing his own bafflement. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Iran's government is in a state of panic.

The fear of Khamenei and the hard line mullahs is a reversal of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which also began with massive street demonstrations. Once again, this isn't just political overstatement by Khamenei, but a deeply held belief by a very religious cleric.

Khamenei promised some unnamed "consequences" if the demonstrations continue, but for outsiders, the question is whether those "consequences" would include a Tiananmen-square type massacre, as happened in China in 1989, when the army turned its tanks and guns on unarmed demonstrators, killing hundreds or thousands of them.

It's worthwhile briefly looking back at the last week, since the June 12 elections. Up until now, Khamenei has been advising restraint on all sides, and has been approving only limited counter-measures, including the following:

It's clear that Khamenei and other government clerics are baffled by what's going on, not understand what a generational Awakening era is, and have been trying anything and everything, hoping to stop it.

(For information about generational eras, see "Basics of Generational Dynamics." For information about America's Awakening era in the 1960s, see "Boomers commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love.")

Iran's governmental structure makes Khamenei the most powerful government official, but he doesn't have absolute powerful. His decisions can be overriden by other clerics, and they're not all unified in Khamenei's strategy.

The leader of the internal government faction opposing Khamenei is former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who supported Mousavi in the election, and who is now opposing government violence. If "something" happens to Rafsanjani, then that may be the signal that the hardline Khamenei-led faction has won within the government, and will move ahead with the feared Tiananmen-style massacre.

The most familiar historical analogy we can look at is what happened following America's 1967 Summer of Love, and then the violence at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. This violence did not quell the demonstrations, or end the "long, hot summers." The Summer of Love launched almost a decade of these protests and demonstrations, culminating in the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974.

Following that analogy, we can expect the demonstrations in Tehran to continue this summer, and then continue for several years.

Like the Summer of Love and the Boomer demonstrations in the 1960s, the demonstrations in Tehran have a high erotic component, as young people free themselves from the austere restrictions that followed the last crisis war (the 1979 Islamic Revolution, followed by the Iran/Iraq war).

One thing that's fun to watch is how young women are moving their headscarfs back, exposing more and more of their hair, just like American young women in the 1960s adopted miniskirts and hot pants, exposing more and more of their legs, and freaking out their parents.

One act that will really signal the younger generation's rejection of the clerics' rules will be when young women remove their head scarves entirely. It's not entirely frivolous to mention this, because the removal of headscarves seems to be a minor thing, but it would actually be a major act of defiance, striking at the heart of the Islamic religous regime. This act alone would be considered justification by the mullahs for violent countermeasures.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's Friday speech appears to provide sufficient justification for increased violence by the security forces against the protestors, but even now, increased violence is not a certainty. Iran's clerics can read the newspapers as well as we can, and they're well aware of how an overreaction would destroy whatever moral high ground they believe they have. They are also well aware of the continuing worldwide revulsion at the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, and they would be loathe to risk bring similar opprobrium to their own Islamic regime.

On the other hand, the protests are going to continue and get worse, as they do in every country's Awakening eras. It would require a great deal of perserverance for the clerics to suffer through the unending protests without overreacting. If the protests get significantly worse, Khamenei may have to give in to the hard liners and strike back. This is still a possibility, but not a certainty.

The next test will apparently come on Saturday, and it may provide a guide to the future. Khamenei has said, "the protests must stop." However, it is believed that there will be more large protests on Saturday. How Iran's security forces act on Saturday may indicate how they're going to continue to act throughout this long, hot summer, and into the future.

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the Iran thread of the Generational Dynamics forum.) (20-Jun-2009) Permanent Link
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