The writer Jason Elliot called his recent and resonant Iranian travelogue Mirrors of the Unseen; and I am aware of the usual dangers associated with writing about the future. But what we seem to be witnessing in Iran is the first spasm of the death agony of the Islamic Republic. In this process, which will be very long and very ugly, Mir Hossein Mousavi is likely to play a lesser role than Neda Agha Soltan, whose transformation (from youth, hope, and beauty, in a matter of seconds, to muddy death) unforgettably crystallised the core Iranian idea – the Shia tragedy and passion – of martyrdom in the face of barbaric injustice. Neda Soltan personified something else, too: the modern.
Elliot’s title should again be borne in mind as we consider the June Events, which are open to two interpretations. Quite possibly, things are more or less as they appear: the results of a fraudulent election were presented to the people with indecent haste and laughable incompetence (with, in other words, implicit contempt for democracy); civil unrest was then followed by the application of state violence. Now consider. If, after the usual interval, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had soberly announced a 51% win for President Ahmadinejad, then Iran, and the world, might well have bowed its head and moved on. Just as possibly (the Islamic Republic being what it is), the landslide was rigged, and ostentatiously vaunted, to bring on the terror and the crackdown.