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Iran: Four Responses to the "Wrong Questions" of the Leveretts (Lucas)

On Wednesday, I read the analysis of Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett in The New York Times of the Iranian Government and the opposition and responded: "All of the Leveretts' purported 'facts' and challenges to the Green Movement are mere props for their 'default' option that the regime (whose political, religious, economic, and ideological position is not examined beyond that claim of a million protesters on its behalf on 30 December) must not only be accepted but embraced in talks."

I did not intend to write more, for the Leveretts, rather than starting from evidence and working towards a conclusion, have started from a fixed objective and worked backwards to find or construct the desired "information". They have done so since they wrote with Tehran University's Seyed Mohammad Marandi on 24 June, "The protests that broke out in Tehran following Iran’s presidential election on June 12 are, predictably, dwindling....To this day, there is no hard evidence of electoral fraud." The Ahmadinejad Government is legitimate, and any challenge to that assertion must be minimised and/or caricatured.

Iran: “What is This Opposition?” Right Answers to Wrong Questions (Shahryar)
The Latest from Iran (8 January): Defeating the Wrong Questions

I did not intend to write more, but Kevin Sullivan of Real Clear Politics e-mailed me with his thoughtful reminder that the Leveretts' questions about the opposition (what does this opposition want? who leads it? through what process will this opposition displace the government in Tehran?) --- whatever their motives and however dubious their "facts" and argument --- still need to be addressed. Josh Shahryar has taken on this challenge in a separate entry, but I did want to put three points both as an appendix to his analysis and my original reaction.

1. It is deliberate blindness to assume that people inside Iran, as well as those outside the country with an interest in events, have not been discussing, debating, evaluating, and sometimes agonising over those three questions in the last seven months. Even in the small outpost of EA, my colleagues and our readers have had intense conversations about the evolution of the Green movement, the response of the Iranian regime, and the dynamics of political change. The role of Mousavi and Karroubi in the movement, tactics of resistance and non-violence, revolution or reform of the current system: these and many other issues have and continue to be considered and re-evaluated. I have no doubt that this discussion is taking place, despite the efforts of the Iranian regime to prevent it, in many locations beyond the limited sight of the Leveretts.

2. It is arrogance to command, "Take Me to Your Leader" and "Your Objectives, Please, in 25 Words or Less". Political change is not a simple, quick-fix process (the Leveretts, who showed courage in opposing the Bush Administration's attempt to "liberate" Iraq with a short, sharp military invasion, should know that all too well).

As soon as the issues became more than the remedy of a fair election in place of the disputed outcome of 12 June, this conflict expanded to take on wider, more complex questions over the religious and political future of the Islamic Republic. The limited vision is not that of the opposition --- with all of its different elements, groups, and factions seeking a way forward that does not divide but unites --- but of the Leveretts setting an artificial timer for Tell Me, Tell Me Now.

3. In a small way, I hope both the value and the complexity of that process of reflection, analysis, and debate comes out in Josh Shahryar's response this morning and my own comments.

For I have a different perspective from Josh when he says that the movement is beyond an individual like Mir Hossein Mousavi. I agree that many of those protesting are now beyond Mousavi's proposals for change, as expressed in the five points of his 1 January statement. Nor can the hopes and objectives of the groups inside Iran cannot be contained in the 10 Demands of the five expatriate Iranian intellectuals, which followed two days after Mousavi's declaration.

However, I think Mousavi, Karroubi, the senior clerics expressing their criticisms of the regime are all important in opening up space for the continuing challenge. Their pressure on the Government to listen and act, even and especially as the Government fails to do so, contributes to an environment for further protests. Conversely, those protests may ensure that the regime cannot carry out its ultimate sanction of removing Mousavi, Karroubi, the troublesome clerics through arrests or a complete silencing of their voices.

4. But, you know, the answer to the Leveretts does not and should not come from Josh Shahryar or me. The answer has come from inside Iran over the last seven months.

The Leveretts may be wilfullly blind to the demonstrations of far more than "2000 to 4000", but those protests occur, not only in the streets on particular days but in actions taken on every single day by those who will not surrender their concerns and hopes. They may be deaf to the discussion in Iran of what can and must be done to remedy injustices, inequalities, and denial of rights, but that discussion takes place.

It is not for me to direct that discussion. And it is not for two defenders of a "legitimate" Iranian Government to deny it.

Reader Comments (5)

Thank you. The last paragraph says it all. If the Leveretts really want answers, they need to either ask the Iranian opposition or listen to what their voices have been saying the past six months. I guess they just don't want to.

January 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNightOwl

They're obviously not honest analysts. They've put their professional and "scholarly" energy behind engagement with Iran - certainly not an ignoble impulse - and they don't want anything to stymie that.

I left a comment on their blog, asking why the regime would ban foreign and domestic reporters from reporting on an insignificant "fringe" movement, and why the gov would ban foreign coverage of the "million" plus pro gov rally last week.

They didn't publish the comment. No surprise.

January 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBozorg

A point they, along with many others, fail to mention and/or consider is the circumstances the opposition movement protestors are under. It's easy to dismiss numbers without considering the fact they risk life and limb to express their opinions. And it is very easy for them to pass judgement sitting in an office/home without fear that what they say, type may cause them their freedom and perhaps their life.

January 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBijan

Abbas Milani's response to the Manson family of Iran analysis -,0

January 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBozorg

Jan-9th- 2010

The State of the Opposition is Strong-A. Milani answering Leveretts

January 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPeace Maker

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