Iran overwhelms people with its tragedy. At night, I would go out onto a small balcony off my bedroom or onto rooftops with friends, and listen to the sounds of Allah-u-Akbar and “Death to the Dictator” echoing between the high-rises. Often, Iran’s brave women led the chants. Tehran is not beautiful, but spread out in its mountainous amphitheater, it is a noble and stirring city. Unrequited longing is a Persian condition. I’ve felt it in the Iranian diaspora—Iranians were globalized by Khomeini—and I feel it in the many Iranians I know who still quest for the freedom that their country has sought since people rose to demand a constitution from the Qajar dynasty in 1905.
A great desire and a great rage inhabited those rooftop cries. I hear them still. Iran, thanks in part to the revolution, now has many of the preconditions for democracy, including a large middle class, broad higher education, and a youthful population that is sophisticated and engaged. If Khamenei and the revolutionary establishment deny that, as they did with violence after June 12, they will in the end devour themselves. When that will be I do not know, but Iran’s government and people are marching in opposite directions. I do know that if the hard-liners maintain their current tenuous hold, the one way they will lock it in for a long time would be if bombs fell on Iran. Offers of engagement have unsettled the regime. Military confrontation would cement it.