In a recent blog by Behrouz, some very interesting points were raised about optimism versus realism when it comes to what we (by ‘we’, I understand that the author meant ‘Iranian expats’) should expect or hope for.
One could sense deep frustrations gathered over three decades since a revolution that in one way or another made exiles of many of us. While the main message was to stop being over-optimistic, the big (or core) question that was raised in the above article was: ‘When and how is Iran going to change?’
The underlying tone of the piece was that such a change is practically impossible because of the legal set up. Reform of such a theocratic system was not seen as plausible, especially due to Constitutional changes made in 1989.
We would all love to see some ‘change’ in Iran. And the intentions of the author and most if not all the comments that followed were golden in spirit.
Several questions were put to me in the debate that followed, which led to this blog. One statement described my views as “acting like you actually think there is some magical procedure that will magically turn Iran slowly towards reform”.
We are in a bit of a pickle, no doubt about it! Iran has defied all expectations, especially external ones emanating from the West.
To a Western mindset, the big question on Iran’s historical trajectory is: why don’t we understand it?
Eastern and Southern mindsets understand or appreciate Iran better. Western ones don’t. And one of the big reasons why many of us Iranian expats residing in the West don’t quite understand Iran and keep getting disappointed or frustrated by ‘lack of progress’ is that we live in the West and are subject to its propaganda.
Here’s an attempt at analyzing what is wrong with Behrouz’ approach and the frustrations that this approach leads to:
In the first instance, the opposite of optimism is pessimism, not realism.
Most (or at least many) Iranians in the West are pessimists, not realists. And they get frustrated by optimists.
However, both optimists and pessimists are driven by emotions. So the pessimist who denies the plausibility of reforms in Iran is just as emotional and ‘unbalanced’ as the optimists.
Realists don’t get frustrated so easily. Their aim is to understand and learn how and why things work, and to base their value-laden actions on steering the possible or plausible.
I would like to make an attempt at describing Iran from a realist’s position. This exercise is useful especially in taking us out of our own shells, and to focus instead on the bigger picture.
Human conflict is usually about control over resources within households and among nations alike.
The most important global commodity today is energy, and the greatest source of energy is oil. Without it you cannot produce at the required level for increasing human prosperity.
The greatest concentration of energy resources in the world are in and around Iran. Iran is a gateway and/or a bridge for the region in all directions with easy access to the open seas.
In this situation, it would be unrealistic to expect Iran to be left alone by foreign powers. The same would be true for Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and the Central Asian republics.
The most energy-hungry and the most brutal of the foreign powers meddling in the region is USA, which started messing with Iran back in the 1940s, leading to an outright ouster of Iran’s first experiment with democracy in the 1950s, albeit imposed under foreign control, and perhaps because of it.
Iranians did not know much about democracy in the 1950s, but they did know that the oil belonged to Iran and could not be allowed to be controlled by foreigners. In a sense, for Iran to exercise freedom, it had to first and foremost grab hold of its own natural resources. But it was precisely the West that destroyed Iran’s economic and democratic aspirations while screaming Western propaganda against ‘communists’ etc.
The same Western propaganda supported a violent ouster of an elected president in Ukraine recently, while condemning a Crimean referendum with a 97% rate of local support as ‘anti-democratic’.
So the West has not changed one iota since the days of Mossadegh, and it remains a deadly colonial leech as it has for around 2 centuries.
The only way the West can maintain its global power position is by reducing or blocking the growth in power of other nations, and this is the First priority in all its foreign policy drives.
For example, Taiwan and South Korea were helped to grow in order to check both Japan and China. But no power in the Middle East has been allowed to grow, including Israel that is stuck itself and the region in perpetual crisis.
The project against Iran has always been the same, regardless of who rules the country.
Internally, Iran has never known participatory governance. On the contrary, Iran has been fractious, vast and diverse, and it has generally made economic progress in periods under highly centralized (even despotic) rule imposed by various tribes in a cyclical manner.
The internal dynamics of tribes are highly egalitarian in a patriarchal fashion, with every individual going through similar stages in life. The most important distinction is in the age (wisdom) of a person. Young people are juniors because they are young. This system bows to the wisdom of male elders, philosophers and the learned. It is also relatively static, highly communal and anti-individualistic.
The shock of modern capitalism with its emphasis on individualism, private property, innovation, and ‘worshipping’ the youth cannot be over-emphasised in the case of Iran, especially as it is one of the oldest and proudest cultures on earth.
It is no accident that the greatest ancient powers such as China, Egypt and Iran have the hardest time embracing ‘democracy’, while the weakest of nations that were fully colonized (like Malaysia or India) accepted it much more easily.
Put differently: countries and areas that did not have strong systems of governance established over wide areas were overrun and changed to the liking of the invaders.
Iran did play with ‘democracy’ and got its just deserts in the 1950s. After all, what good is ‘democracy’ when your whole country is under alien rule at the point of a gun?
And what good is a ‘free’ media when the CIA has the cash to buy 70% of your top journalists and media outlets, as it did during the 1950s?
How do you ‘attract’ foreign ‘investors’ when these same corporations are the owners of Western governments and the driving force behind brutal colonialism and war in the world?
Of course the answer is not in isolationism. Whatever the realities of the world, it is expected that Iran and Iranians must find a clever way to thwart such foreign conspiracies, and at the same time strive to improve the lives of Iranians in general.
The modern history of Iran has been one big long struggle for striking a balance between national interests, Russian and Ottoman power, and insatiable Western greed that constantly strives for world domination.
What makes Iran rather special is the fact that it had a revolution that stood up against the dominant system in the world. The only realistic consequences of such action are hardship and struggle, at least in the short to medium terms. Sabotage, misinformation, war, sanctions, boycotts etc. would be expected for Iran in the post-revolution era. Luckily, there was no civil war.
Regardless of its ‘human rights’ issues (that are equally shared by Western warmongers with their not-so-secret torture chambers and psychotic propensity to bomb the hell out of countries all across the world), the Islamic Republic has withstood the test of time and grown in power. Western rapprochement with Iran is today a necessity for the West, otherwise the West’s decline would be accelerated.
Western rapprochement is not designed to help Iran. The desire to hold Iran and all other emerging powers back is there and in full swing, and this will continue. However, the decline of the West has made it essential to take a more conciliatory approach toward Iran.
Democratic reforms and greater economic prosperity would make Iran stronger, and therefore, they would be anathema to Western designs. The West would absolutely oppose such developments unless they come with strong benefits for the West.
Those Iranians who pin their hopes on the West or any other power to ‘help’ Iran are simply unrealistic and destined to be disappointed.
In such a context, what can genuinely concerned and caring Iranian expats usefully do to help Iran?