By Taraneh Zaman
Not surprisingly, the phrase “the dog days of summer” never translates well into Farsi. June 12, 2009 jolted the passions of [the] Iranian community and others like no other in recent memory. Across the spectrum, the election and its aftermath took the political experts by surprise, though no clear consensus [has] emerged about what the images exposed through Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook signified.
I visited Iran for the first and only time in November 2005. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had only recently been sworn into office, yet his infamous rhetoric, particularly regarding the Holocaust, had already made waves in American media. Admittedly, I am in no position to compare the situation that I observed with that of the Mohammad Khatami era. No one whom I met believed that Ahmadinejad was legitimately elected, given that he unexpectedly won in a run-off against Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Though innately skeptical, some people were willing to give the new president a chance, citing his populist rhetoric and anti-corruption platform.
With recent elections having been anything but free and fair, most people seemed simply resigned to accept the results, for better or worse. As an American, I quickly grew disheartened by the apathy that I sensed among the population. People I met wanted change, but seemed reluctant to sacrifice. Young women discussed brand-name clothes rather than political debate, much less democracy. Too many people – most painfully, many of the country’s youth – grew accustomed to the denial of freedoms, and along the way became savvy schizophrenics with expertise in bribery and authentic looking Fendi bags. As those with the ambition and the means to do so had left Iran long ago, my short time in Iran convinced me that progress there would not occur in the near future.
So what made 2009 different than 2005? Why had election fraud suddenly grown egregious? What made the Iranian people, who just four years ago appeared to me so passive, become modern day freedom fighters? The answer is a matter of opinion, but by many accounts and various measures, conditions in Iran during the past four years deteriorated in a way that few of us fully understand.
Interestingly, Iran’s presidential election was held during the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in China. The world once again bore witness to the demonstration of a permanent incumbent crushing opposition with a deadly iron fist, scornful of the public displays of outrage. For the outside world, the Tiananmen milestone also provided an opportunity to evaluate China’s progress. Since 1989, the Communist Party cleverly co-opted the rebellion’s inclinations towards increased intellectual, political, and economic freedoms by positioning them within China’s explosive economic growth, resulting in relative political stability.
In response to massive protests, the state apparatus often unifies against the reform movement, quickly restores law and order, and offers immediate social gestures and political reconstruction in the hopes of placating the people’s demands for reform. In Iran, however, the survival of now-illegitimate Ahmadinejad depends on the support of the country’s senior most religious leaders to validate his victory and blame the turmoil on the opposition and the “trouble makers”. Meanwhile, Mir Hossein Mousavi, refers to the Basij and military as “our brothers” and the “protectors of our revolution and regime”, predicted that “the system is going to the slaughterhouse”. Ultimately, intransigence is creating yet another tragic era in which democracy is cynically purported to be simply a means of legitimizing predetermined conclusions.