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Revolution

A beginning with no end
We seem to believe that in one mere revolutionary moment freedom ought to happen

By Nina Farnia
May 19, 2003
The Iranian

Every once in a while, surfing the Net, I'll encounter articles calling for regime change and revolution in Iran, or labeling the recent protests the beginning of another revolution. I have never really paid much attention. I might have been unconsciously refusing to listen to what I deem a misunderstanding of history and historical processes. Or maybe those "voices" just weren't loud enough.

Recently however, there has been a wave of these articles online. Coupled with Los Angeles based "Iranian TV", one might be led to think that all Iranians abroad want the toppling of the Islamic Republic, or to take it even further, the placement of Reza Pahlavi as Prime Minister or whatever he chooses to call it in order to make it sound more "democratic."

Meanwhile, in the background there is constant talk of war, of axis of evil, of weapons of mass destruction. The current regional focus is on Iraq. While I watched CNN, looking at the only pictures of Iraq that they showed, I couldn't help but think of the million and a half Iraqi people who had died in the last decade.

Then I wonder, when will it all stop? When will violent change cease to be understood as a solution to our problems? Revolutions are destructive by nature. They are violent by nature. That is why they have been successful only three times in the history of humanity. Iran is one of those nations that can claim this magnificent feat. But no society would choose to begin a violent revolution over and over again. The loss is too overwhelming, the pain too devastating.

In his article "Philosophy and Revolution: Twenty Sheaves of Questions", Gajo Petrovic asks: "Is the meaning of revolution inside itself or in some later fruits that it is supposed to bring, in a permanent condition it should establish? Does not victory for a revolution mean its end, hence its defeat? Is not the only possible true victory of revolution its further continuation?"[1]

In France there is a common understanding amongst academics and lay people alike that the Revolution of 1789 is not over. It not only explains their history, they say it is their history. The Ancien Regime is thought to have an end, but no beginning. Conversely, the Revolution has a birth, but no end. "For the one, seen negatively and lacking chronological definition, only its death is a certainty; the other however contains a promise of such magnitude that it becomes boundlessly elastic."[2]

In fact, in consideration of the various protests and mass uprisings of 1815, 1830, 1848, 1851, 1870 and 1877, many historians say that the entire nineteenth century is the continuation of the Revolutionary struggle.[3] I recall a professor of mine calling even the uprisings of 1968 a "Revolution" -- that is to say not separate and distinct from but the continuation through history of 1789.

Much of the same could be said of our Iranian Revolution. We killed a past in order to start a future. The beginning of our Monarchical past is unclear, but its end is certain in our historical memory. Conversely, the beginning of our Revolution is unambiguous, but there is no end in sight. The essence of Revolution is just that -- a beginning with no end. For Revolution is the first call out to freedom. It is the first lucid, angry, impatient demand for emancipation.

But, that is not to say that freedom happens immediately once that initial demand is made. Our lifetimes are short, and we seem to believe that in one mere revolutionary moment freedom ought to happen, if for nothing else, so that our children can live to see it. But that is our downfall; we place time constraints on the search for freedom. And when we think time is running out, we decide to overthrow, topple, begin anew.

In discourse and practice, the French experience freedom as a continuing struggle. One needs only understand the plight of French Arabs and the internal marginalization of members of the former colonies to know that many citizens and non-citizens alike are still in chains. Nevertheless, they continue their struggle, the struggle that began over 200 years ago, because to revolt again would be to start over from the very beginning.

Unlike any other place in the world, Iran finds itself in a revolutionary moment, one that is malleable and capable of recreating itself in nonviolent forms. It is changing with the times, with the generations. Political leanings aside, to begin anew would be to destruct a moment that belongs to us, whether we live abroad or in Iran itself.

I hear the voices again, demanding overthrow, threatening violence. They come from everywhere: the leaders of our world, the newspapers, the Internet, my Diaspora. And I become scared, because we should not have to begin again the fight our former generations died for. We cannot endure that pain and suffering again.

This articles was first published on TehranAvenue.com.

Notes

[1] Gajo Petrovic, “Philosophy and Revolution: Twenty Sheaves of Questions” in Praxis, nos. 1-2, 1969.
[2] Francois Furet. Interpreting the Revolution. Cambridge: University Press, 1981.
[3] Ibid.

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