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<nettime> Zizek on Iran
geert lovink on Fri, 26 Jun 2009 20:46:38 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Zizek on Iran

(fwd. from lbo-talk. /geert)

Here's an article by Zizek that was turned down by the NY Times and is  
now making the rounds:


Slavoj Zizek

When an authoritarian regime approaches its final crisis, its  dissolution
as a rule follows two steps. Before its actual collapse, a mysterious
rupture takes place: all of a sudden people know that the game is over,
they are simply no longer afraid. It is not only that the regime loses its
legitimacy, its exercise of power itself is perceived as an impotent  panic
reaction. We all know the classic scene from cartoons: the cat reaches a
precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no
ground under its feet; it starts to fall only when it looks down and
notices  the abyss. When it loses its authority, the regime is like a cat
above the precipice: in order to fall, it only has to be reminded to look
down?  In Shah of Shahs, a classic account of the Khomeini revolution,
Ryszard Kapuscinski 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 simply withdrew; in a  couple
of hours, all Tehran knew about this incident, and although there were
street fights going on for weeks, everyone somehow knew the game is  over.
Is something similar going on now?

There are many versions of the events in Tehran. Some see in the  protests
the culmination of the pro-Western 'reform movement' along the lines  of
the ?orange? revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, etc. ? a secular reaction to
the Khomeini revolution. They support the protests as the first step
towards a new liberal-democratic secular Iran freed of Muslim
fundamentalism.  They are counteracted by skeptics who think that
Ahmadinejad really won: he is  the voice of the majority, while the support
of Mousavi comes from the  middle classes and their gilded youth. In short:
let?s drop the illusions and  face the fact that, in Ahmadinejad, Iran has
a president it deserves. Then  there are those who dismiss Mousavi as a
member of the cleric establishment  with merely cosmetic differences from
Ahmadinejad: Mousavi also wants to  continue the atomic energy program, he
is against recognizing Israel, plus he  enjoyed the full support of
Khomeini as a prime minister in the years of the war with Iraq.

Finally, the saddest of them all are the Leftist supporters of
Ahmadinejad: what is really at stake for them is Iranian independence.
Ahmadinejad  won because he stood up for the country?s independence,
exposed elite  corruption and used oil wealth to boost the incomes of the
poor majority ? this  is, so we are told, the true Ahmadinejad beneath the
Western-media image of a holocaust-denying fanatic. According to this view,
what is effectively  going on now in Iran is a repetition of the 1953
overthrow of Mossadegh ? a West-financed coup against the legitimate
president. This view not only ignores facts: the high electoral
participation ? up from the usual  55% to 85% - can only be explained as a
protest vote. It also displays its blindness for a genuine demonstration of
popular will, patronizingly assuming that, for the backward Iranians,
Ahmadinejad is good enough -  they are not yet sufficiently mature to be
ruled by a secular Left.

Opposed as they are, all these versions read the Iranian protests  along
the axis of Islamic hardliners versus pro-Western liberal reformists,
which is why they find it so difficult to locate Mousavi: is he a
Western-backed reformer who wants more personal freedom and market economy,
or a  member of the cleric establishment whose eventual victory would not
affect in any serious way the nature of the regime? Such extreme
oscillations  demonstrate that they all miss the true nature of the

The green color adopted by the Mousavi supporters, the cries of 'Allah
akbar!' that resonate from the roofs of Tehran in the evening darkness,
clearly indicate that they see their activity as the repetition of the
1979 Khomeini revolution, as the return to its roots, the undoing of the
revolution?s later corruption. This return to the roots is not only
programmatic; it concerns even more the mode of activity of the  crowds:
the emphatic unity of the people, their all-encompassing solidarity,
creative self-organization, improvising of the ways to articulate protest,
the  unique mixture of spontaneity and discipline, like the ominous march
of  thousands in complete silence. We are dealing with a genuine popular
uprising of  the deceived partisans of the Khomeini revolution.

There are a couple of crucial consequences to be drawn from this insight.
First, Ahmadinejad is not the hero of the Islamist poor, but a genuine
corrupted Islamo-Fascist populist, a kind of Iranian Berlusconi whose
mixture of clownish posturing and ruthless power politics is  causing
unease even among the majority of ayatollahs. His demagogic  distributing
of crumbs to the poor should not deceive us: behind him are not only
organs of police repression and a very Westernized PR apparatus, but also a
strong new rich class, the result of the regime?s corruption (Iran?s
Revolutionary Guard is not a working class militia, but a mega-corporation,
the  strongest center of wealth in the country).

Second, one should draw a clear difference between the two main candidates
opposed to Ahmadinejad, Mehdi Karroubi and Mousavi. Karroubi effectively is
a reformist, basically proposing the Iranian version of identity politics,
promising favors to all particular groups. Mousavi is something entirely
different: his name stands for the genuine  resuscitation of the popular
dream which sustained the Khomeini revolution. Even if  this dream was a
utopia, one should recognize in it the genuine utopia of the revolution
itself. What this means is that the 1979 Khomeini revolution cannot be
reduced to a hard line Islamist takeover -- it was much  more. Now is the
time to remember the incredible effervescence of the first year  after the
revolution, with the breath-taking explosion of political and social
creativity, organizational experiments and debates among students and
ordinary people. The very fact that this explosion had to be stifled
demonstrates that the Khomeini revolution was an authentic political
event, a momentary opening that unleashed unheard-of forces of social
transformation, a moment in which ?everything seemed possible? What
followed was a gradual closing through the take-over of political  control
by the Islam establishment. To put it in Freudian terms, today?s protest
movement is the ?return of the repressed? of the Khomeini revolution.

And, last but not least, what this means is that there is a genuine
liberating potential in Islam ? to find a ?good? Islam, one doesn?t  have
to go back to the 10th century, we have it right here, in front of our

The future is uncertain, in all probability, those in power will contain
the popular explosion, and the cat will not fall into the  precipice, but
regain ground. However, it will no longer be the same regime, but  just one
corrupted authoritarian rule among others. Whatever the outcome,  it is
vitally important to keep in mind that we are witnessing a great
emancipatory event which doesn?t fit the frame of the struggle between
pro-Western liberals and anti-Western fundamentalists. If our cynical
pragmatism will make us lose the capacity to recognize this emancipatory
dimension, then we in the West are effectively entering a post- democratic
era, getting ready for our own Ahmadinejads. Italians already know his
name: Berlusconi. Others are waiting in line.

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