TitleInterview with Hamid-Reza Jalayipour - part II

“This is not ruling people’s hearts, this is controlling their bodies”

2 Mar 2010

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What do you see for the future? It seems the situation is getting more severe every day. Is it going to continue like this?
Again, we shouldn’t make a hasty judgment. There are some people who think the protesters are going to succeed and set everything right. The extremists in the government say that they have actually dealt with the problem, and it is over now. At this point, no one can predict a definite future; it’s going to be determined by all the forces in the political system and Iranian society.
There are three major forces at the moment. First, the extremists who seek a docile totalitarian system. That means a forceful government consisting of a selected few and a society of submissive citizens that is controlled by the intelligence and security forces. This group can influence about 20 percent of the whole population.

There are two other major political forces that are being supported by the Iranian people civilian movement. One is the reformist group led by people like Mr. Mousavi, Mr. Karoubi and former president Mr. Khatami. I call them the ‘’Civil Greens’’. It’s a group that is pursuing its demands within the Constitution and unlike the first group – who has the state’s power – it has social power and acceptance and has influence over about 40 percent of the population.
There is one other group, influencing about 20 percent of the population, who is aiming for a more fundamental change and believes that it’s not possible to solve the society’s present problems within the current Constitution. I call them ‘’Revolutionary Greens’’. The future is not going to be fully in any of these groups’ liking, but it will be the result of the behavior of all these groups together, rendering it pretty unpredictable.
What happened after the last election was that the rejected and shunned part of society fully faced the unyielding side of the extremists, which in itself resulted in the appearance of the Green Movement. I doubt that the potentials of such a societal and civilian movement could be discarded so easily. The best thing to do right now is to respond to their demands. Many problems could have been solved, had Mr. Mousavi’s five basic demands been met. It is now very unlikely. Right now the extremists are completely doped by their false victory, their security force and their own media.
Therefore, the question is what is going to happen if the extremists continue to resist an open political system and reforms. My guess is that the most significant development will be what that’s actually happening right now: instead of managing the country in the way of progress, the extremists are bound to reach for violence, threats, arrests and control. The situation is going to worsen everyday if it continues to stay like this. Even if the streets are calm and quiet, the only real sign that circumstances are getting better would be if they are not afraid of allowing an open rally. As long as they are afraid, it means there’s still turmoil within the society. And no amount of lying and propaganda is going to change that; it will only have use for their own supporters and wouldn’t bring back the country from this ‘’controlled’’ state.
In the short run, it is possible that they would think everything is back to normal, but the demands for change are not going to disappear so easily. These protesting people are living in this society; you cannot just chuck them into the sea. They live in Iran, in their homes. They watch TV, they surf the Internet. They talk to each other, to their friends and family and co-workers. They are here and they are going to stay. More violence and arrests is just going to deteriorate the situation. Maybe the immediate result of the state’s violence would be that the street protests are going to be less visible, but they simply can’t make them disappear. My guess is, even if this wave of protests is controlled, there’s no telling how drastic and destructive the next one will be.
Ten years ago, the extremists beat and arrested some students, they attacked some student dormitories. Then people came to the streets in protest. They thought everything was over, they thought they crushed down the reformist movement between 1999 and 2000. The problem wasn’t solved in those years. Look at the hundreds of thousands of security forces they gathered for the celebrations for the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. This is not ruling people’s hearts, this is controlling their bodies.

But some of the conservatives believe that if the 18th Tir student protests of 1999 had been completely forced down, none of this would have happened?
This is where they are wrong. The more suppression, the more turmoil. It might not show so immediately, but it’s there, within the society. And given the opportunity it will be demonstrated again, like it did after the recent elections. No telling where it would show itself next.
If the people’s voice was heard after the elections, they should have had a recount of all the votes in respect of those 14 million people who were officially announced to have voted for Mr. Mousavi. Look at Afghanistan: it took two months to finally announce the result of the elections. There should have been neutral parties overseeing the process so the people could have been convinced. This didn’t take place, so the criticism of the government grew into criticism of the entire regime. In my opinion, if this level of incompetence and inaptitude continues to stay, a problem that can be solved easier will turn into an impossible one.

The middle-ground conservatives are trying to bring society back into some sort of balance. Is this being demonstrated within the society?
Unfortunately not. There have been a lot burnt opportunities. After the Ashura events, instead of accusing people of treason and atheism, they should have taken the protesters’ rightful demands more serious. They rather chose to continue on their threats and arrests and their policy of fear.
They don’t tolerate other political fractions and opinions. An example would be last month’s half-staged political interviews on the National Television. They didn’t even tolerate that and the whole program ended abruptly. The most important reason that people turn to the foreign media for news is in fact the policies of the National Televison (‘Seda-va-Sima’). The polls show shocking results – at least two-third of people in Tehran don’t get their news from the National Television.
Every social movement has diversity. But the extremists should be thankful that the major part of the Green Movement is just reformist and it’s only pursuing civil rights. It is a civil movement, not a radical and revolutionary one. It’s more civil than the likes of Martin Luther King’s and Nelson Mandela’s movements. There are some who think this has only been a street movement, but they fail to see a very important characteristic: it exists wherever there are people, in people’s homes, gatherings, on the bus, in a taxi, etc. It’s the cultural aspect of the movement that cannot be suppressed. It should be dealt with culturally and ethically, not with force and not with violence. Gathering in a forced way thousands of people to celebrate the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution is nothing to be proud of.
I don’t agree when they say that the 3 million people who demonstrated on 25th Khordad [recent presidential election protest on June 15th ] are Tehran’s uptowners, as if the northern part of Tehran has such a population. There were middle-class people coming from everywhere. Which study or research has shown that extremists are more popular by the working class?
Looking at some of the views of different conservative political activists shows that they have very varied opinions; some would like to shun Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani from the system, some talk about ‘sedition leaders’ and some take a more balanced approach. Why do you think these opinions vary so much?
One of the characteristics of those who oppose the reformist movement is that they are very dispersed, although they have big projects at hand. They want to eliminate all reformists, reduce a national civil movement to a few anarchists and create a uniform totalitarian system. That’s impossible.
They are not all of the same opinion and you can see that in two different groups. First, the extremists who are a small ever-shrinking group, and they make most of the noise. But when they have all the six national TV channels at their disposal, you’d think they are so many. There is a bigger group among conservatives who don’t comply with such extremisms. They experienced the Revolution. They remember that even after the Revolution, after the fall of the Pahlavi government, during the war and the ethnic turmoil, ayatollah Khomeini didn’t deal with all the people using a small group. Thirty years later, with now so many educated people, with the massive growth of population in the cities, with this global world and media, they want to control the whole country with this small boastful group. Many of the conservatives think this is not the right way. Economy, culture, international relations are all in demise. Even the Revolution’s anniversary is celebrated by actually bringing people in. The wise conservatives are aware of what is happening. The psychological atmosphere is deteriorating as well…There is a huge mistrust between the government and the people. The first condition would be for people to trust the government, which is not really the case.

In 2005, a group of sociologists, including yourself, made a statement and mentioned their chosen candidate. Were the events of the past eight months predictable for you at that time?
All that has happened in this period was somehow anticipated, but no one thought it would be of this magnitude. In that statement, it was said that these extremist people don’t really help the working class, they are totalitarians who do charity work. During Mr. Khatami’s presidential period, with the political development programs, there was much more economic progress. Politics and economy always walk hand in hand.
But today there’s no political, economical or cultural progress and the number of the poor and the depressed keeps on growing. In other words, Iranian society has stopped in time and it is even going backward.

One of the reasons that the government is having problems silencing these protests is that these are not usual protesters. They are very well aware and in contact with society

What people did after the elections and the way they were suppressed by the extremists – was that expected by sociologists like you?
Everyone expected a kind of protest, but no one expected it to be so civil and to be to this extent. In the past eight months, millions of people have been insulted by an extremist few;, they have been accused of being rebels and anarchists. Their favorite politicians have been called ‘’the sedition leaders’’ and have been accused of being connected to Israel and the West. No sociologist could have predicted such political insolence.

One of the theories after these events is that the people have become more progressive than the political activists and analysts? Is that true?
In common sociology, they used to divide the population into the intellectuals and the common people. Today many people are subjective, especially in Tehran, although they are inexperienced in some fields. Therefore that old division can no longer make much sense. In today’s society, individualism has acquired great importance. Each person is not just a single man, they have grown very complex and resourceful and each of them acts as an institution. So you could say there is a growth in ‘institutionalized individualism’. One of the reasons that the government is having problems silencing these protests is that these are not usual protesters. They are very well aware and in contact with society. Dealing with such a movement is no easy task, but responding to their demands would be the first step. The bottom line is Mr. Mousavi’s five basic requests.
The protesters are not taking risks so easily. They don’t want to get themselves killed by reaching out to violence and in that way give an excuse to the government. They want to reduce the number of totalitarians and extremists in the government. They are pursuing a social change; they demand an open political and social system. Both the conservatives and the reformists and other rejected forces should form the government. The Green protesters want improvements and a better life for everyone. This extends to all provinces, cities, villages, etc. If there would be no room for reform and change, then the extremists are in big trouble and sadly the demands will get more radical and revolutionary.

What do you think of the present and future role of Mr. Mousavi and Mr. Karoubi in these developments?
Mr. Mousavi, Mr. Karoubi, Mr. Khatami, Mr. Hashemi or others are not just a person anymore. They are people who represent the demands of the masses. If the government would want to take the country from its ‘controlled’ state into an ‘administrative’ and ‘progressive’ one, these would be the key personalities and resources. These are the people who are trusted. You can’t lead a country with people who talk about killing and arresting people. Unfortunately the extremists have taken the country into an alarming state. We should all pray for the future.

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“Coming protests even more drastic”

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