Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of deceased heavyweight politician, Aliakbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has asserted that the IRI government is “content-wise” on the verge of collapse. Despite the vagueness that accompanies the adverbial component of Ms. Hashemi’s assertion, the possibility of an impending collapse of the IRI in any form or shape is not to be taken lightly. What Faezeh, as she is somewhat endearingly referred to within reformist circles, seems to be hinting at is that although the government has been withstanding growing discontent, the concepts it is based upon are showing signs of decline. In a part of her interview conducted by the daily “Mostagehl” on Thursday, December 27th, she has referred to tactics of “fear” and “intimidation” as the main strategies that have enabled the pillars of the government to stay firmly in place. Within this context, she mentions how unlike the heavy-handed tactics that had been used to suppress Iran’s 2010 post-electoral unrest, intimidation has taken on more nuanced forms including the possibility of the loss of jobs. The move from intensely physical forms of punishment to more nuanced methods mirrors the argument made by Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish (1975). Foucault sets the tone for his ponderous arguments on the emergence of the prison system with a graphic description of the public torture of Robert-Francois Damiens who was convicted of attempted regicide in 1757 moving on to the progression of a form of punishment which could be internalized to the point that the mere thought of rebellion would be suppressed in the mind.
What more do people have to lose in the face of the loss of their hard-earned wages, at times, their cherished shelters and above all, the lives of their loved ones…
George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four (1949) provides examples as to how a repressive regime picks up on a man’s most innate fear to manipulate it against him in the chambers of torture; ultimately, moving on towards mashing up the contents of the prisoner’s mind to the point that he comes to adore the very image that had formerly been odious to him (in this case, that of the “Big Brother”). Yet, even Orwell ends his dystopian novel by highlighting the precedence of physical pain over psychological anguish as he posits the following: “Nothing in the world was so bad as physical pain. In the face of pain there are no heroes, no heroes, he thought over and over as he writhed on the floor.” The prevailing circumstances in Iran, especially, since Trump’s withdrawal from the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA) are tantamount to a struggle for survival as the prices of staple commodities spike and people find themselves denied basic necessities of life. Under such circumstances, there are no heroes, as Orwell puts it, nor is there a desire for heroism: people are primarily motivated by the exigencies of life. The myriad of protests that have taken place across the country are rooted in a desire for a better life and not so much in politics. As can be seen, various segments of society including teachers and factory workers have taken their dissatisfaction to the streets to demand a relatively decent form of existence. What more do people have to lose in the face of the loss of their hard-earned wages, at times, their cherished shelters and above all, the lives of their loved ones as is the case in the recent bus crash on the campus of Azad University that led to the death of ten students?
The myriad of protests that have taken place across the country are rooted in a desire for a better life and not so much in politics.
Media scholar, Clay Shirky, specifically, in an analysis of the role of the social media in making history points out that the untethered reaction of the Chinese people to the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 was rooted in a combination of the power of social media to spread the word from “many to many” and the fact that “someone who has seen the loss of a single child has nothing to lose.” The dynamics that are impacting the Iranian citizens and their modus operandi of social media usage are not an exact replica of what occurred in China in the face of their learning of the fact that the high casualty rate among school children had more to do with the construction of schools that were not up to the code than the natural disaster itself, just as how Iranians learnt that, unlike what had been suggested earlier, the crash that led to the death and injury of a considerable number of students had more to do with the use of sub-standard buses than the alleged stroke of the bus driver that had been voiced as the reason for the crash in earlier reports. Yet, similar to how correspondents were relying on on-the-ground reports of the average citizens to garner further information regarding the Sichuan earthquake, social media have been allowing the Iranians to take matters into their own hands and report on the ongoing events including the astronomical hike in prices, the queues that ensue from the sale of discounted basic commodities and above all, the unacceptable response of the Iranian officials to the people’s growing discontent to certain matters including the recent bus crash.
Going back to what Faezeh has stated concerning a “content-wise” weakening of the government, if not an “actual” enfeeblement —interestingly, Seyyed Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini, has expressed a similar opinion in a recent speech where he said that “there is no guarantee that we will stay in place while others depart”— one is reminded of how at the heart of certain systems lies the attempt to rid of the individual of the concrete contents of the mind . As noted by Hannah Arendt, “Totalitarian movements […] have done their utmost to get rid of party programs with specified concrete content” in line with enhancing the identity of individuals in terms of their affiliation to a party rather than within the context of familial or emotional ties. That perspective begs the question as to what becomes of a system whose own contents are undergoing disintegration as the descendents of its founding members have pointed out.
Cover photo: Faezeh Rafsanjani, the daughter of former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is pictured at a protest at the Ghoba mosque in northern Tehran in 2009.