Then there’s the Basij, a million or so amateur thugs who do what the Revolutionary guards tell them to do. When you see cop types firing into demonstrating crowds in footage from Tehran, it’s usually the Basij. The hottest hate of all right now is between the city kids, sick to death of being whacked around by Shia nuns, and the Basij, a bunch of redneck bigots with guns and clubs. That’s not to take away the amazing suicide courage they showed when they fought the Iraqis. I mean, the Pasdaran elite used the poor Basij suckers as human landmine detonators: “Here, go walk across that field for us please. You can’t lose; either Allah welcomes you to Paradise or you live and get to do it again!”.
Lots of people are brave, after all. Most young male humans are brave, when they’ve got a gang leading them on and backing them up. The Basij are brave and so are the kids marching in the Tehran streets. Like a lot of people in the same tribe who hate each other, they’ve probably got more in common than they wanna think about right now, starting with that whole martyrdom thing the Shias get off on. The Basij died like flies in the minefields, and the demonstrators are on twitter right now showing off their bloody wounds. Iranian to the core, both of them.
But they don’t feel a lot of common ground right now. There’s what you might call a culture clash between these pious thug dudes and the city people, the marchers and tweeters and bloggers. If you want an idea how snotty this kind of Iranian feels about the other kind, read that woman’s comic book (whoops, you’re supposed to call them “graphic novels”) Persepolis. There’s her and her high-school friends slipping Iron Maiden LPs under their chadors.
Kind of a sixties thing, kind of a hippie thing, if Kent State was happening ten times a day. But then Iranians are tough, brave people; you couldn’t scare them with just one Kent State. The problem is, not that many people were actually willing to die for the hippies. They all grew up and went into real estate.
That kind of divide doesn’t cut deep enough to make a war. Even those Lebanese Cedar Revolution camera hogs had a real ethnic/religious grudge, but from what I’ve been reading about Iranian election demographics, the divide between rioters and loyalists is pretty damn blurry. Here’s a link to the best of the articles I’ve found on the way the elections break down in class, ethnic, regional, and age terms. I warn you though, it’s written by a professor, and they train those bastards to write as bad as possible. It’s worth checking out, though, if you can slap yourself awake.
He takes 45 pages to say that Ahmedinajad won in 2005 because he was the ‘populist’ candidate, meaning he promised to bring the oil money home to ordinary people, instead of opening it up for a scary free-market scenario. It wasn’t an ethnic divide; it can’t be, in Iran, because the ethnic Persians are way bigger and stronger than the other groups (Kurds, Azeri, Arab) put together. Kurds barely even vote–their rate is 20% lower than Persians’, just like “minorities” here. The people who back Ahmedinajad are mostly Persian, and so are the protestors who want him gone. You can’t even call it a city/country divide, which I’ve been tempted to do, because according to this Iranian professor Ahmedinajad got a big vote in the cities as well as the villages. The only dividing lines he can find are pretty shallow ones, like hippie/straight back in the day: Ahmedinajad’s supporters have larger family sizes, and a cluster of other things that go along with conservative attitudes no matter where you are. And that’s about it; he says you can’t even claim that education levels matter much, because–and I love this bit:
The most visible impact of higher education is a sizable increase in the share of
invalid ballots, implying that the educated are more likely to display their disenchantment with the system
through invalid ballots than through non-participation.
That’s the key here, if you ask me. This isn’t a revolution, it’s a lot bummed-out, frustrated people wriing “Fuck You Goddamn Mullahs!” on their ballots in their best overeducated handwriting. They’ve got good reason to be pissed off–imagine being stuck in a giant Catholic school where girls have to wear black ghost sheets every day when you’re hitting 30–but it’s not the kind of fault-line that makes revolutions. What we’re seeing only looks big or historical for two reasons: one, it’s fuckin’ Persians, damn it, and they live large. They fight like this over whether rose-water ice cream is what Allah eats in Paradise or tastes like grandma’s cologne spilled on freezer scrapings (my vote, cuz I’ve tried the filthy stuff). Persians are like that amp in Spinal Tap: they go to eleven. And on the Persian scale, this is a two or a three, fun for a while but no biggie.
The other reason this seems big is that a lot of people on our side of the world have been waiting a long, long time to see Ahmedinajad take a big fall. They’re hyperventilating just thinking about what a great movie this is, with the people rising up to send the loud-talking shrimp back to midget wrestling. They’re so desperate they’re putting cellphone videos on the nightly news, desperate for some sign that Iran’s having its democracy rapture.
It ain’t gonna happen. Hell, for all I know Ahmedinajad actually did win the election. I admit it’s kinda weird how they counted almost 40 million paper ballots in a few hours, but who knows? Maybe they hire a better class of precinct worker there, math teachers or something.
Even if he fell, the IRI, the real system, would barely wobble. The President is a mouthpiece; the real power is purposely divided up by a half dozen creepy Islamic gangs that never talk to the BBC or CNN. All of them are seriously armed; they’re mixed up in everything from religious seminars to land deals; they’re sleazy but smart, a bunch of mean old survivors.
So the yelling will die down, the daredevils will get laid, if you can get laid in an Islamic Republic, by showing off their riot scars, and da regime, if you want to call it that, will let the pressure ease, release a little steam. If things get serious, and I doubt they will, somebody will take the big fall for Allah and the team. It might be Ahmedinajad, even. But there are about a million guys like him waiting for their chance to step up. The IRI will last a long time, whether the BBC or CNN face that fact or not.
It’s good discipline for a war nerd, facing depressing fact like that, reminding yourself that these people, whoever you’re looking at, don’t want what you want, don’t think like you do. Me, I thought the Shah was pretty cool, with those F-14s and trying to revive the great days of the real Persians, before Islam dulled them down. (And by the way, the Pagan Persia/Islamic Iran thing is still a sore point: on the government soap operas, the bad guys always have old-Persian names like Darius and the heroes are always something totally Arab/Quranic like Mohammed. Then there’s the Nowruz traditions, jumping over a crypto-Zoroastrian fire, also very cool and very frowned-on by the Islamic hicks.)
The point is, the Iranians disagreed with me: they kicked the Shah’s ass out, set him adrift with his cancer and picked Khomeini, who to us looks like Dracula’s mean uncle. To them, that freakin’ nosferatu was comfort food for the soul. I can’t see it; if there was a poster of that old demon on my bedroom wall I’d sleep with a garlic necklace and a shotgun. But they got their own world. Some of them may be pissed off with the mullahs, but what if some of them like it? I don’t know, CNN doesn’t know–and for every dissident blogger or tweeter they interview, there might be ten silent-majority types wanting those damn hippies in the streets of Tehran gassed.
Imagine the other way around; imagine Iranian Islamic tv covering, say, a classic culture-war US election like Nixon in 1972. You’d see Persians in expensive turbans blanket-covering every demonstration, every love-in (well, maybe not those so much), every draft-card burning…and then the US government announces that Nixon just stomped McGovern in the biggest landslide ever. Who’d believe it? That is, unless you knew that for every loud camera-hog hippie you saw on tv there were about a hundred fat nobodies wishing Kent State was a daily event.
Until those Ahmedinajad silent-majority hicks start tweeting, we’ll never have a clue what they think. And like Nixon’s people, or Forrest’s dragoons, they’re not really the Twitter type.
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