My intel, like just about everything else I purport to know, is anecdotal. Life is stories, some only last a day, while others have more legs than others.
Sometimes Arab tea talk is like that sudden flush of a covey of birds up ahead in the thicket…the last ripple in a seismic event happening further away. But my Arab friends in the Balkans, who hear from their friends in Beirut, who hear in the street from Hezbollah, who hear from Damascus, or maybe Tehran (one never knows)…all over tea and whiskey…
…that it may get very ugly this week in Iran. As you know, tomorrow is the the last day of Iran’s ten-day “celebration” of the Fall of the Shah in 1979.
Some in Hezbollah worries that the regime may actually fall. Some in Paris worry that it won’t. I worry that once again, Washington won’t really care, assuming Israel will know when to take care of business, allowing both us and the world that congregates around One UN Plaza to breathe a secret sigh of relief while condemning and vilifying the authors of that relief. same oh, same oh.
Since September, both Bernie and I have written, with admittedly some tongue in cheek about the need for a third party (France) to break this cycle, both removing the Iranian threat and Israel as the go-to bad boy in the Middle East…and also denying Ahmahdinejab his end-time dream of Armageddon.
In November, 2008 I wrote a piece about the loss of cultural memory, a portion of which is pertinent here, and Iran. I wrote:
In 1978 the people of Iran lived under a benign despot called the Shah. He was a king with near absolute power, had a secret police, an army that jumped as his command, and a cosmopolitan Islamic nation that had the highest standard of living in the Middle East. Most of the people scarcely noticed the awful power the Shah possessed, for he rarely used it against them. The Persian people have the most mellifluous language in the world, even more so than Arabic, a delightful and gregarious personality, enjoy good food and wearing colorful attire. They loved to shop, ski, hunt, and sit at cafes drinking chai or kafe…and tell stories.
But there was something in their personality that made them feel that it wasn’t enough. Indeed, it wasn’t enough, but that is a different story. While they were the most modern of Muslim states, Barbara Walters insulted the Shah by telling him on national television that he was moving too slow on liberating women. She made him look petty to the world. Many Persians traveled abroad to get educations in pursuits for which there were no jobs in Iran. There was only oil and oil-related industry in Iran. And rug-making. Underwater basket weaving in the Persian Gulf was but a dream, several generations away from ever being a reality, although southern California universities had been giving degrees in that discipline for years. So, many young Iranians became disgruntled, and being young, took their anger out on the recently-belittled head of the nation without clearly thinking about the alternatives. (This is not intended to be an allegory about the most recent election in America, but it may fit. Time will tell.)
At the same time, as with all modernizing Islamic nations, there was an underbelly of disquiet among Muslims who generally dislike anything modern, especially the clothes women wore, with all those bumps and bulges that are supposed to be left unseen under Moslem teachings (sic).
End of story. In 1979 the Persian people invited back the Ayatollah Khomeini, who had been in exile in France, and very quickly a revolution established him as supreme leader, an Islamic Republic was announced, and all of sudden, almost over night, every woman in Iran was wearing a long black, loose fitting smock that went all the way down over the ankles.
I’m not sure when the women (and most men) of Iran actually began to regret that little foot-stomping fit they threw back in ’78. But we know they did at some time shortly thereafter. Only it was too late.
That was almost thirty years ago, and while the itch to be free of those drab rags and other restrictions over their public lives grows daily, the boot of oppression on their neck grows heavier and heavier with every passing day. Why this is so is because they invoked certain natural laws of totalitarianism that take on a life of their own. Even the French and Spanish pale when up against middle Eastern bureaucrats.
The point of this little excursion into ethnic teat-fits is why that 30 year mark is so important. You see, in Iran right now, over half the population have never known life without that black garb and the religion police. To them, life, while dull, is also normal. Iran is at a crucible, for every day a little bit of the memory of how things used to be dies out, replaced with a generation who has known nothing else. In another twenty years it will almost all be lost.
What saves Iran is her stories. All they have now are the stories…the stories told by mothers to daughters inside their homes, where they can still pull out old clothes from the wardrobe and play dress up and dream just a little. But at 30 years, even these exercises can become risky, for school children are taught to snitch out their own parents, just like they are in Berkeley, or to eavesdrop other school children to find out who’s having forbidden thoughts and dreams.
Right now Iran survives on her stories and dreams. Her future rests on those stories, for they are all they have. At least that’s how my side of the coin looks at it. Socialism, of course, doesn’t see things this way. But now you understand what the anthropologists mean by “survival-enhancing.”
The great fear here, of course, as it was after the last election in Iran, is that the people will once again take to the streets, and the United Nations (expectedly) will do nothing but huff and puff and issue statements, and the United States (out of character until recently) will defer and more or less tag along behind the UN.
For reasons that are beyond me the United States seems to have detached the popular desire of the Iranian people to be free and the regime’s headlong rush to become a nuclear military power. They are two issues which stand alone! And as long as Israel can be relied upon to have equal if not superior intelligence than we do, especially as to where Iran stands in nuclear development, the US feels it doesn’t have to budge from this detached view of reality.
What we do know, and what the Arab tea talk seems to confirm, the people of Iran know, and regime of Iran knows, even if Lady Disdain and the State Department don’t, and this is about to come to a head, a win or bust situation (much like some Americans already envision and dread here)…in which, without massive shows of world support, no matter what China says, the people will lose. It will be over. And Iran will slip into an abyss of even more total totalitarianism for the most part of another generation.
We know there are back channels, but unless “the people” are getting secret messages from our government, or through Michael Ledeen, this is about to become one huge blind roll of the dice. Imagine turning everything you own to cash and hurrying off to Atlantic City, and putting the whole pile on the pass line. Double or nothing. Crap.
This is why we believe a third party needs to step forward and become a game changer.
And this time, we are serious.