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Ajay Singh Chaudhary Headshot

Taking the Long View on Iran

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Current political developments in Iran have fallen off the radar of the mainstream American news networks and off the front pages of major American newspapers. While it was certainly an admirable and heartening phenomenon to see so many Americans so engaged with a distant crisis -- and engaged with a welcome and sometimes rare open minded intellectual curiosity -- there was simply no way the chain of events and the demands of the 24 hour news cycle could keep pace. By the time Michael Jackson's untimely death knocked Iran out of the news, the story had become the lack of story; a narrative which was already being spun into a new causus belli by ubiquitous policy experts seeing in a period of little to no public activity in Iran proof-positive that internal movements for change and reform were ultimately doomed.

Over the course of the last two months we have seen periods of great activity and periods of relative quiet. This should not be surprising. Even in the course of an event as widespread and momentous as the Islamic Revolution in 1978/79, periods of intense conflict, protest and action were not constant and events followed a pattern more sporadic and cyclic than constant (and, no, I am not suggesting any kind of one-to-one similarity between the current movement and the Islamic Revolution, merely citing it illustratively.) These periods of quiet should not be interpreted as meaning that this movement has died off or that aspirations have folded. If anything the past many weeks have shown a simultaneous institutionalization of the movement alongside an emboldening of its leaders -- with Khatami, Karroubi and Mousavi all releasing statements, loudly and publicly, condemning undemocratic practices, torture and the show trials currently playing out on Iranian state television. Former president Khatami even called for a public referendum on the legitimacy of the government (frankly showing a great deal more backbone than he did when actually president of Iran.) There have also been more public protests, mourning rites for martyrs of this crisis and countless other visible and obvious events which have, appropriately, returned the media spotlight to Iran at times.

However, for those who would read periods of quiet as an ending or failure of a movement, I would suggest taking a much longer view than that of the 24 hour news cycle or even recent history; longer, as in about a century and a half or more. What we have been witnessing in Iran is merely the latest chapter in a struggle for independence and freedom that stretches at least from the Tobacco Revolt in the 19th century, through the Constitutional Revolution of the early 20th, through the Mossadeq period and the Islamic Revolution itself. I had originally intended to write something of a brief historical primer for newly interested parties but perhaps hyperlinks and multimedia a better blog entry make. During the current crisis a friend forwarded me this video (originally from www.mowj.ir) that in under 20 minutes shows many of the events and figures who have been shaping and moving the Iranian struggle over the last century and a half. The title of the video translates to "From the Past to the Future."