While regime thugs were brutally suppressing protesters last July, I said “this isn’t over”. Since then, opposition to Iran’s increasingly repressive theocracy has grown in scope and intensity. In the last few days, during the holy week of Ashura, millions surged into the streets in what became the largest anti-regime protests since the stolen elections last June. The waves build.
It’s the same pattern from the original Iranian revolution against the Shah in 1979. Mass demonstrations peaked, subsided, then peaked again even stronger. This stems partly from a mourning cycle among Shia, as martyrs are commemorated on the third, seventh and 40th day after their death. Each protester killed (such as Mousevi’s own nephew, shot on Sunday by security forces firing into a crowd) can perpetuate the cycle.
Popular opposition to the theocracy is deeply rooted. It has substance and organization. Watching YouTube footage (smuggled out through the Internet) you can see the massive, but disciplined, crowds. You also see regime thugs trying to disrupt and violently provoke. Their actions only underscore who the rabble are.
Behind the marchers' (mostly) non-violent tactics, are ideas espoused by an unassuming American academic. Dr. Gene Sharp, in his 80s, is a retired Harvard researcher who has spent a lifetime advocating and studying the dynamics of peaceful resistance to dictatorship. He’s written extensively on strategic, non-violent action. Some call him the “Machiavelli of non-violence”.
Two of his most influential works are “From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation”, and “198 Methods of Non-violent Action”. They’ve been translated into dozens of languages, and organizers of the “velvet revolutions” in Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics adopted Sharp’s work as the how-to manual for bringing down authoritarian regimes. I recommend a visit to his institute’s website, www.aeinstein.org to find out more.
Sharp emphasizes that resistors need to “face the hard truths” (some will die), and accept that “liberation ultimately depends on the people’s ability to liberate themselves”. His seminal concept is to treat non-violent resistance as a conscious strategy, using focus and discipline. “Resistance leaders will need to formulate a comprehensive plan of action capable of strengthening the suffering people, weakening and then destroying the dictatorship, and building a durable democracy,” he says.
The Iranian opposition movement has evidently borrowed from Sharp, especially the ideas of “selective resistance”, “symbolic challenge”, “spreading responsibility” and “aiming at the dictator’s power”. Disciplined marches are signs of this, as are thousands of downloads of his works in Farsi.
The drama of what many are calling the 2nd Iranian Revolution will probably reach a dangerous crescendo in 2010. This is a deadly, high-stakes race between a tyrannical regime hell-bent to acquire nuclear weapons, key world leaders -- including Israelis who swear never to allow another holocaust -- and the Iranian people striving to be free. Is it too much to hope that Dr. Sharp’s non-violent ideas work, and that the Iranian people come out on top before the bombs fall? I’ll be diving more into his ideas and real-world applications in future columns.
See my other columns on Iran
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