Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A mysterious rupture

"When an authoritarian regime approaches its final crisis, but before its actual collapse, a mysterious rupture often takes place. All of a sudden, people know the game is up: they simply cease to be afraid. It isn't just that the regime loses its legitimacy: its exercise of power is now perceived as a panic reaction, a gesture of impotence. Ryszard Kapuściński, in Shah of Shahs, his account of the Khomeini revolution, located the precise moment of this rupture: at a Tehran crossroad, a single demonstrator refused to budge when a policeman shouted at him to move, and the embarrassed policeman withdrew. Within a couple of hours, all Tehran had heard about the incident, and although the streetfighting carried on for weeks, everyone somehow knew it was all over. Is something similar happening now?"

Slavoj Žižek in the London Review of Books

In the same issue of the LRB (July 23), Ervand Abrahamian writes:

"Iran has a healthy respect for crowds – and for good reason. Crowds brought about the 1906 constitutional revolution. Crowds prevented the Iranian parliament from submitting to a tsarist ultimatum in 1911. Crowds scuttled the 1919 Anglo-Iranian Agreement, which would have in effect incorporated the country into the British Empire. Crowds prevented General Reza Khan from imitating Ataturk and establishing a republic in 1924 – as a compromise he kept the monarchy but named himself shah. Crowds gave the communist Tudeh Party political clout in the brief period of political pluralism between 1941 and 1953. Crowds in 1951-53 gave Mohammad Mossadegh, the country’s national hero, the power both to take over the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and to challenge the shah’s unconstitutional control of the armed forces. Crowds – aided by clerics – provided a backdrop to the 1953 military coup organised by the CIA and MI5. Crowds in 1963 began what soon became known as Khomeini’s Islamic Movement. And, of course, crowds played the central role in the drama of the 1979 Islamic Revolution – with the result that the new constitution enshrined the right of citizens to hold peaceful street demonstrations."