The day that a crackdown on Iranian academics was reported was as a good time as any for a discussion featuring Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Mary Kaldor and Danny Postel of what is at stake.
Ziba Mir-Hosseini has described Iran as 'a state at war with itself', with the tension inherent in the junction of the two words 'Islamic' and 'Republic'. She said the economic situation in Iran is deteriorating, that Ahmadinejad's project is running into trouble as (according to Mir-Hosseini) he loses the support of the supreme leader and many of the senior clerics, and that Iranian extremists like him share with U.S. extremists such as the neo-cons an enthusiasm for military action from which they believe they would be the beneficiaries.
Mary Kaldor, who reminded us she had never been to Iran, said that the fate of, and the importance of dissidents in Iran reminded her very much of the East European intellectuals who she met in the 1980s when she was as co-chair of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly: people who were really serious about philosophical and political thought, going back to Plato and Aristotle in the original Greek, and who helped develop ideas about civil society that are now so influential. Encounters by Kaldor and her Western colleagues with East European dissidents came about following their realisation that not talking to dissidents behind the Iron curtain was tantamount to apology for the Soviet Union and was actually embedding the Cold War.
Danny Postel highlighted some key points from his new-ish (Autumn 2006) book 'Reading Legitimation Crisis in Tehran' (not, alas, available as a download from Prickly Paradigm Press, but this interview gives a jist).
The paramount issue, perhaps, is the future of progressive thought itself, (and the epigraph in Danny's book is from Edward Said: '...even in the midst of a battle in which one side is unmistakably against another, there should be criticism, because there must be critcal consciousness if there are to be issues, problems, values, even lives to be fought for...').
Among some highlights from the introduction (not new to many of us, but worth repeating for some who may be less familiar with the issue):
- the neoconservatives, who claim to be concerned about liberty and democracy in Iran, ardently support a 'Stalinist-Islamist cult group once funded by Saddam Hussein and officially deemed a terrorist organisation by the State Department, called the Mujahedin-e Khalg [MEK]'.
- Iranian democrats will not take a cent of funds made available by the US government for 'democracy' in Iran.
- to his 'great credit', Noam Chomsky ignored admonitions from self-styled radicals not to meet with Akbar Ganji, an eminent Iranian dissident who spent half a decade in the Evin prison. Instead Chomsky engaged in what Fred Halliday calls 'critical solidarity', asking what western supporters of the democratic struggle in Iran could do to help.
- Shirin Ebadi reprimanded a western antiwar activist who told her that she should not denounce Iran's human rights record. She made plain that any antiwar movement that advocates silence in the face of tyranny, for whatever reason, could count her out.
My own thoughts, such as they are, include two:
Obviously Iran, a theocratic police state (albeit with elements of real democracy and challenge to authoritarian rule), is very different from the USSR. The Iranian state may or may not be fragile as some say. Perhaps high oil and gas prices (assuming they endure) put it in a different position from the crumbling USSR in the 1980s - so long as Iran receives (among other things) sufficient capital investment for exploitation of its massive resources. In such a scenario (and maybe with or without a war with US-Israel), the Islamic Republic could well endure, albeit with a swing to more moderate conservatism - unless the weaknesses of a crony-rentier petro-state become insupportable.
Habermass's 'Legitimation crisis' has been translated in English as 'what happens when the organising principle of a society does not permit the resolution of problems that are critical for its continued existence'. It may be trite coming from self-described evironmentalists like me, but it looks as if as the global political economic system may face this crisis with regard to ecological constraints (such as how much greenhouse gas the atmosphere can 'safely' take), with attempts to resolve the problems fundamentally threatened by powerful interests.