BY BRIAN DONOHUE
At the panel discussion regarding the crisis in Iran last week, Professor Mehdi Aminrazavi took the floor saying, “When I heard the panel discussion would be called ‘the crisis in Iran’ I asked myself, which crisis?”
The University of Mary Washington’s Middle Eastern Studies concentration held the panel discussion on Monday, March 29. Professor of Arabic Shukri Abed moderated the discussion. The panel consisted of professors Aminrazavi of the religion department, Ranjit Singh of the political science department and Farhang Rouhani of the geography department.
“Iran is an important player militarily, economically, and politically in the Middle East,” Abed said.
Singh, who admitted he is not an expert on Iran, was the first panel member to speak. He began by explaining most authoritarian Middle Eastern regimes are alike in a number of ways. He claimed it is likely that Iran will look to these other regimes to see how they have dealt with their own national dissent. Instead of discussing Iran explicitly, he explained two components typical among similar regimes: hard-liners and soft-liners.
Hard-liners, Singh explained, are the political elites most heavily invested in the status quo and the ones to whom change is most dangerous. Soft-liners represent the other end of the spectrum. They are part of the establishment, but unlike hard-liners, they see the benefits of compromise.
In addition, he explained that all authoritarian Middle Eastern regimes face a universal expectation for democracy and are having trouble with new media technology like Twitter and Facebook, hence the nickname for the latest political movement in Iran, “The Twitter Revolution.”
“There has been a long history of Iranians using new media techniques,” Rouhani said.
The Iranian people exploited newspapers to spread information in 1953 when Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh was overthrown in a coup staged by the United States. They also utilized new technologies of Xeroxing and tape recording during the Islamic revolution of 1979, which overthrew the Shah that had been previously put in place.
Rouhani claimed that the media history in Iran boils down to a struggle between the big state-run media that represents the ruling party and the small media that represents the voice of the people.
This smaller, new media is a form of amateur citizen journalism. This small media is able to capture things the big media cannot. However, Iranian internet capability is not what it is in the United States. It is “easily overwhelmed and undermined,” Rouhani said.
This easy corruption of internet infrastructure has brought about a new form of activism called “hactivism.” Its goal is to bypass government monitors and establish safe and simple means of communication among dissidents.
Aminrazavi opened by questioning which crisis the panel would be referring. Aminrazavi’s goal was to illustrate what exactly went wrong following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Most importantly, he claimed, there was a rift between what had been fought for leading up to the Iranian revolution and the direction of the post revolution regime. Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, having made a number of promises he was unable to keep, began systematically reneging on what many demonstrators believed they had fought for.
The Shah in power leading up to the revolution, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, forced Khomeini into exile. According to Aminrazavi, “While [Khomeini] was in exile he relied on “Taqiyyah”, which is essentially lying for a good cause” to gain power and popularity.
The revolution was organized into three broad groups: The constitutionalists, Marxists, and Islamists. In the end it would only the Islamists left standing in Iran.
“Khomeini, by process of elimination peeled away first western women, then Marxists, liberal Muslims, and proponents of moral democracy,” Aminrazavi said.
One problem with the revolution, claimed Aminrazavi, was that it didn’t take enough time. Inner factions of the revolutionary movement didn’t emerge until after the Islamic Revolution was over. He also called the idea of an Islamic republic an “oxymoron.”
Khomeini died in 1989 and his indirect ideological mentor and former Iranian President Ali Khamenei took his place as the Supreme Leader of Iran. The question becomes, according to Aminrazavi, what will happen when Khamenei dies?
Aminrazavi’s best guess is that there will be massive reforms and the less religiously minded youth will take over, which according to the panel accounts for 70 percent of the total population. Or the military will take over and Iran will be left with a “Saddam Hussein or South Korea like military regime.”
Following Aminrazavi was a short question and answer session.
First to speak was Amir Abbas Fakhravar, who is the CEO of the Iranian Enterprise Institute and the secretary general of the Confederation of Iranian Students in Washington D.C. He told his story of being held in an Iranian prison.
According to his Web site, www.Fakhravar.com, he spent five years in Evin, an Iranian prison reserved for political dissidents, where he “…suffered brutal torture,” and was “…forbidden to talk to anyone.”
In May 2006, Fakhravar moved to the U.S. According to the Web site, “He met with President Bush, prominent members of congress, scholars, and policy makers to discuss the atrocities of the Islamic Republic.” A year later Fakhravar would go on to testify before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee in Congress.
The other questions had more to do with the U.S.
“What should the U.S. do?” one student asked. The panel’s answer was unanimous that the U.S. should offer verbal support for revolutionaries, but for the most part they should stay out of it.
“The worst thing the U.S. could do is listen to Israel or take military action against Iran,” Aminrazavi said.