The minds, words and sense of action among Iranians.
Pictures (combined and modified): František Kupka, 1871 – 1957
Toxic Political Cleavages
In the Iranian diasporas, the oppositions to the Islamic Republic of Iran and its hard core, the Velayat-e Faqih, have never been structured into credible political movements to end the Supreme Theocracy. This is very similar to the street protests in Iran raging with “Death to the dictator”. However, what is the replacement for it? What would replace the dots in “Viva …”?
Any time the protesters in Iran clash with the governmental brutish forces and people are killed, a few Iranians in the West get together for a street demonstration. They wave a few flags with the lion and the sun, chanting: درد من درد ایران است/My pain is Iran’s pain [sic?!?] before the strong fissiparous tendencies innate in the Iranian tribalism take over. The protest ends in a street brawl and a few bloody noses.
Political Splits in the Bud
The losers of the revolution were the monarchists who left the country and settled in the West, especially in California, as early as 1978. Wealthy and educated Tehranis, they had made their fortune under the Shah and never did they contemplate the idea that by their own exaggerations in flattering the monarch and turning a blind eye to the realities of the social fabric, they had politically ruined the country. Their dogmatism in advocating a bygone ideology was unpalatable to the political refugees that followed them. Nostalgic, they are still prone to an impossible dream: reel back the time to 1977-78 by trumpeting the son of the late Shah as a new leader. Despite his unpopularity, they still slobber over him, incapable of proffering new ideas.
The monarchists have responded to the regime’s brutalities at home with a dollop of wistful regret, followed by the promotion of the celebration of Persian holidays, some of them fictional, من در آوردی, but attributed to pre-Islamic era, and still practise the social mannerisms of the 1970s under the Pahlavi regime.
NB: Among these early refugees, there were men of honour who could have made a change to the course of events but their fellow refugees rejected them. Many were killed by the Islamic Republic’s hit-men, and the crimes covered up by the Western governments. Sadly, their memories were buried with them and many are now forgotten.
The earliest victims to Velayat-e Faqih were the Islamic Marxists, called terrorists by the monarchists in the 1970s. They were utopians who fought for equality, social transformations and democracy in a narrow ideological framework. They were persecuted, tortured and jailed during the Shah’s regime. Radical activists in fissiparous groups, some fervently did the dirty work for the mullahs during the Islamic Revolution, before being persecuted and totally eliminated from the domestic political scene by the Islamists in line with Khomeini’s ideology.The hatred among these two poles, A and B, monarchists and radical left-wingers, has not diminished over the years. Both were bathing in nostalgia, without ever questioning their approach or changing their vocabulary, legacies of the 1960-70 era: the monarchists for the fallen regime, left-wingers for a utopian dream, believed to be a dystopian nightmare and rejected by many Iranians.
Members of each divide would not be seen crossing the same pavement together in Geneva, London or elsewhere, let alone exchanging a few civilised words.
Today, two relics, the monarchists and the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (MEK, PMOI or MKO), call themselves the spearhead of the Iranian opposition for the benefit of Western inexperienced journalists and other scribblers. Their credit among the Iranians nears zero.
- Reza Pahlavi, the son of the late Shah, now in his 60s, is an armchair politician by birth. He sends messages to the nation from Washington, DC.
Occasionally, his statements fill social media targeting the people of Iran in support of their legitimate quest for freedom denied to them by Iran’s ruling theocratic regime [sic]. Things that his father denied to the very same people. But, he and the other monarchists are unable to admit and analyse his father’s faults. Reza Pahlavi’s messages are largely ignored unless backed by commercial algorithms serving targeted audiences.
- The so-called National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) claims to protect the Iranian people in the future by a democratic structure similar to the perverted democratic structures of Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain, and has a self-appointed president-elect, after suppressing the previous in shady circumstances. The obsolete discourses of the NCRI are for the consumption of their diehard followers, robots endowed with a basic software of blind obedience.
Sectarian, MEK hardly attracts engaged sympathisers, let alone free-willed militants.The NCRI generously butters the bread of has-been US and European politicians from the chests filled in Iraq, trafficking as any marauding smugglers with the blessing of the rulers of the Arabian peninsula.
The Western politicos give sweet talks in rallies only populated by indoctrinated supporters, drill sergeants, and pom-pom girls wearing hijab.
In the 1980s, an overwhelming majority of the political refugees had participated in the turmoil of 1978-79, chanting pro-Khomeini slogans with fervour. Many were both the artefact and the recipient of the Shah’s reforms and had assimilated Western values, but they nursed an unwavering resentment toward the West. Political opportunists, they had strong views and were united with the revolutionary mullahs in wanting a regime change. Made of various right-wing groupuscules, some relics of Mossadegh’s National front, unconvinced Trotskyist and assorted reactionary ranters, they were void of political skills to back their ideas, unable to think about their consequences or even wanting to do so.
They were joined in the emigration journey by the people running away from the Iran–Iraq war: families, single men refusing to be drafted, single women rejecting the implications of hijab in their lives. They were the front runners of a self-deceiving apolitical generation.
Since the mid 1990s up to the present day, most emigrants have been looking for a better life abroad, away from home’s social interdicts and deprivations. Except for a minority, they call themselves apolitical.
Some plan their escape carefully: learn English, French or German, get a bachelor’s degree or higher, and travel legally on a student visa. Scrupulously and with extreme care, they sidestep open political debates on Iranian politics. They toil to be part of the middle class, the professional bodies, and are eager to be flag bearers of the assimilated exiled.
Others, what the Europeans call illegal immigrants, join the waves of refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and pay the traffickers for bus or boat rides. They end up in insalubrious camps at the gates of Europe or a hellish Australian Island, languishing for months, if not years. Lucky ones reach a safe destination: others die during the journey.
The Upshots of the Political Splits
The core tenet of the abyssal cleavage between these groups is expressed in a blame game: the young born in the early days of the revolution hold responsible those having taken an active part in it.
As the decades have succeeded, the elders have judged the younger uncultured and flippant, albeit never questioning the nature of the education they have conveyed to them. Moreover, the bitter experiences and deep rooted nostalgia of the elders repulsed the younger generation seeking a dynamic life as far as possible from the force-fed traditionalism at home.
Today, the experiences in migrating legally or illegally are very different and are hardly shared and discussed among the diasporas. In a nutshell, those who arrive with a visa and travel on scheduled flights consider themselves to be la crème de la crème. For them, the political refugees – whom they view as beggars and bundle in with the illegal migrants – are troublemakers, parasites that blemish the good reputation of the educated middle-class Iranians.
In the view of the illegal migrants and the political refugees, the legally admitted are no less than insensitive fat cats and regime apologists.
Naturally, no human being wishes to be demeaned, especially by their own fellow citizen. Bitter feelings are fed by the injustice inflicted from personal views and the rising waters of mutual incomprehension.
The human experiences are never black and white. The adamant prejudices shroud and conceal from view the main body of human society and the grey nuances: all that exist between the king and the pauper.
Sadly, over the years, the political splits have not been bridged. In the second generation of migrants, as the experiences and ideologies of their parents have faded away, and the family’s conceptual paradoxes and illogical rites are brought into light, the children have taken a few steps toward each other for a better understanding. Yet, the efforts are too little to be of any use in contracting a common consensus.
Presently, most political debates on Iranian issues among the diaspora end up with insults and defamatory slogans, unless moderated within a Western institutional framework, such as the EU commissions or academic circles. In the meetings among unalloyed Iranians, mistrust and the lack of empathy, together with a habit of making provocative remarks, offend the susceptibilities of all parties concerned.
Therefore, in order to keep up appearances by wearing a mask of hollow unity, people get together in closed circles and avoid admitting strangers (Iranians that they do not know) among themselves. Conformity to their specific social norms and ideology triggers an avalanche of Ta’arofs and pleasantries.
To the contrary, expressing one’s deviating ideas from the group, even in the softest terms to open a debate and exchange ideas, is viewed as troublemaking. Often, the newcomer must conform to the conservative social game, else, one is out never to be readmitted or even spoken to elsewhere.
Regardless of their political splits on the Iranian issues, the tendency of the majority in the Iranian diasporas in their harbouring country is to be to the right of the political spectrum and economic liberalism, with only a handful of central-right or pinkish-left tendencies.
As the debates on migration to Europe have inflated, many members of the diasporas favour the limitation to the number of asylum seekers as expressed by the populist movements. By repeating bits from discourses by a Le Pen, a Salvini, a Farage, a Trump, they are papering over their own experiences. But not only that. Paradoxically, in these disreputable characters, they find a cynical comfort from the familiar figures of liars, as there exist in Iranian politics by the baker’s dozen uttering simplistic slogans to brush off the complexities of the society.
In the period called the Iranian modern era, say 1925 onward, the Iranians have constantly complained of the lack of oppositions to the central regime worthy of the name. The culprit to blame has always been the regime that would not allow protesters to hold their ground by crushing them. Today’s discourse is no different: If there is no credible opposing force to the theocracy, the fault is with the clerics who would not allow it to exist.
In any battlefield of politics, the aim is to weaken or suppress one’s opponent. Hardly ever would an established force help the opponent to dislodge itself.
Not my fault! He did it! are the words of the perpetual victims, whining and holding liable anyone for their miseries.
In the harbouring home, the Iranians are on neutral ground. They can sow the seeds and help to grow opposing credible leaderships to the theocracy in the homeland. They have leeway to provide help to the protesters in the country, but they have wasted their time by being sceptical and mistrustful toward each other, as the Iranian identity demands it. Thus, they have given a blank check to any dictator who runs the country, or will run it in the future … plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
“Divide and reign” can be rewritten as: we divide ourselves to be reigned by the dictator.
The toxic political cleavages among the diasporas are the faults of each and every exiled Iranian.