Where is the line between civil rights and revolution? by mattsteinglass
June 25, 2009, 5:13 pm
Filed under: democracy, Iran

Hamid Dabashi makes an interesting point in the NYT today (via Andrew Sullivan natch): that the Iranian students seem less like revolutionaries than like civil rights protestors. But I think much the same could have been said of the crowds that brought down Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989. Dabashi:

To me this was a post-ideological generation, evidently cured of the most traumatic memories of its parental generation, from the C.I.A.-sponsored coup of 1953 to the Islamic revolution of 1979. The dominant political parameters of third world socialism, anticolonial nationalism, and militant Islamism that divided my generation of Iranians seem to me to have lost all validity in this generation. I see the moment we are witnessing as a civil rights movement rather than a push to topple the regime….If I am correct in this reading, we should not expect an imminent collapse of the regime. These young Iranians are not out in the streets seeking to topple the regime for they lack any military wherewithal to do so, and they are alien to any militant ideology that may push them in that direction. It seems to me that these brave young men and women have picked up their hand-held cameras to shoot those shaky shots, looking in their streets and alleys for their Martin Luther King.

It seems, from a distance, to be true that the Iranian protestors are motivated not by revolutionary ardor but by a demand for normalcy. But that was also precisely the case with the crowds, young and old, who tore down the Berlin Wall and swept away the Soviet Bloc regimes in ’89, and later with the nonviolent revolutions in Serbia and Ukraine. They, too, were post-ideological; what they wanted was to live in a “normal” country, where normalcy was defined as a liberal democracy with a mixed economy and guarantees of individual rights.

The problem was that the states they lived in, as they were then structured, could not accommodate the demand for normalcy. It was the abnormality of the state that made them into revolutionaries. The question is whether the Iranian state can find a way to reform itself to accommodate its people’s needs, or whether it will continue to make revolutionaries of anyone who desires a normal society.


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[…] Things in Iran will not be resolved soon, and may not be resolved at all. And no one really knows if this is a revolution or just a sort of civil rights movement, as Matt Steinglass explains: […]

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[…] a “normal” country, where normalcy was defined as a liberal democracy with a mixed economy and guarantees of individual rights.

Really? Do you think that the United States is a “normal” country? What real protections, for example, exist to guarantee individual rights such as privacy or private property? The Constitution? How much collectivism is allowed in a “mixed economy”? 99.99 percent, 0.01 percent? Your lovely sounding words are mean little. It’s mostly wishful thinking.

Comment by Mark

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