Is the crisis provoked by the capture of the British hostages part of a smokescreen for a crackdown on dissidents in Iran?
The question is posed in Tehran as the establishment debates the future course of the regime’s foreign and domestic policies.
The crackdown is beginning to gather pace.
Several publications critical of aspects of government policy have been closed down, and numerous officials regarded as “not revolutionary enough” elbowed out, especially in the provinces.
And now the regime seems to be setting the stage for show-trials that recall the worst days of Stalinism in the Soviet Union.
Last month a member of the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis), the regime’s ersatz parliament, was sent to prison for six years on trumped up charges. The real guilt of Salaheddin Ala’i, however, was that he had criticized the brutal repression of dissidents in Iran’s Kurdistan province.
Next week, it would be the turn of Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former Deputy Interior Minister to stand trial on charges of undermining the security of the Khomeinist state.
Tajzadeh is one of the most interesting figures of the establishment. A man with impeccable revolutionary credentials he has always insisted that the regime cannot ensure its future by silencing or murdering critics.
Tajzadeh is expected to be followed by Muhammad-Reza Khatami, a brother of former President Muhammad Khatami.
The younger Khatami also has an impressive revolutionary CV.
In 1979, he was one of the two dozen or so “students” who raided the United States’ Embassy in Tehran and seized its diplomats hostage.
Later, he built a career with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and solidified his revolutionary credentials by marrying a granddaughter of Ruhallah Khomeini, the ayatollah who created the Islamic Republic. During his brother’s presidency, Muhammad Reza acted as Deputy Speaker of the Majlis.
And, yet, he too, is targeted by the new radical administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and charged with “activities that undermine the Islamic system.”
Ahmadinejad believes that people like Ala’i, Tajzadeh and Muhammad-Reza Khatami represent clear dangers for the regime if only because they insist that the authorities should obey the laws set by the regime itself. In Ahmadinejad’s worldview, however, a revolutionary regime cannot be bound by any law simply because it stands outside the normal framework of history.
According to dissent sources in Tehran, the regime’s security apparatus is preparing show trials for scores of others. The principal targets of the looming purge are the many thousands of educated middle class elements who joined the Khomeinist revolution because of a misunderstanding.
Ahmadinejad calls them “the half-pregnant ones”, people who pretend to be revolutionaries but crave for a comfortable, Western-style bourgeois life.
Ahmadinejad’s supporters speak of a “third revolution” which, in practice, would amount to a purge of dissidents within the establishment.
Many actual or would-be dissidents have already left Iran for what they hope would be temporary exile in Europe or the United States. They include a dozen former ministers and hundreds of lesser functionaries and apologists. If the looming crackdown gathers pace, they may be joined by thousands more.
To prepare the ground for his “third revolution”, Ahmadinejad has worked on three schemes.
First, he has radicalized the political discourse.
Under his two predecessors, Hashemi Rafsanjani and Muhammad Khatami, the regime had gradually changed its vocabulary by abandoning the revolutionary terminology and borrowing terms of ordinary politics.
The two mullah-presidents often spoke of economic development, the rule of law, civil society, and a dialogue of civilizations. Worse still, they allowed some space for non-revolutionary, not to say overtly counter-revolutionary, expression in such fields as art, cinema and literature.
Both mullahs did close hundreds of newspapers and magazines and did imprisoned scores of critics. They also presided over the murder of numerous real or imagined opponents.
What they never did, however, was to target the regime’s own children. They divided Iranians into two categories: “khodi” (our own) and “biganeh” (outsider).
The “khodi” were allowed great latitude to criticize the regime. Rafsanjani and Khatami also used some” khodi” critics as safety valves to reduce tension in society.
The “biganeh”, however, were allowed no space for expression. Their writings were black listed by the Ministry of Islamic Guidance and Culture, and their names banned from the media or used only in vilification campaigns. When they were perceived as too much of a threat, they “biganeh” be murdered, their corpses thrown in the streets, as was the case under President Khatami.
The radicalization of discourse under Ahmadinejad makes it hard for the “half-pregnant” to speak with a forked tongue. They are no longer able to pretend that one could have a revolution without oppressing opponents or becoming involved in a confrontation with non-revolutionary, not to say counter-revolutionary powers.
Khatami was able to tour the world, speaking of a dialogue of civilizations while allowing no dialogue inside Iran. Ahmadinejad recognizes the fact that a revolution is, primarily, a monologue, not to say a soliloquy addressed to itself.
Ahmadinejad’s second scheme is aimed at linking criticism of the system with foreign powers. In the decisions to close newspapers or put “khodi” figures on trial, the authorities drop hints about illicit relations with “foreign enemies of Islam.” This amounts to a return to classical revolutionary lore in which no one can be an honest critic of a revolutionary regime. Anyone who criticizes a revolutionary regime must be a lackey or agent of a foreign enemy.
Perhaps the most important scheme of Ahmadinejad is to revive the regime’s pretension of sacredness. He has restored the concept of the “Hidden Imam” to its central position within the Khomeinist doctrine.
The concept was pure fiction from the start, and virtually all leaders of the Islamic Republic quickly realized that retaining it posed insurmountable theo-political problems. This is why the “Hidden Imam” was given a back seat under Rafsanjani and Khatami, despite the fact that both are Shi’ite clerics.
By restoring the “Hidden Imam”, Ahmadinejad makes it impossible for anyone to claim that Shi’ism, let alone Islam as a whole, admits of a wide range of interpretations. In this version of the Khomeinist doctrine, Islam is equated with Shi’ism, Shi’ism with the “Hidden Imam”, and the
“Hidden Imam” with the Khomeinist regime.
The “half pregnant” had hoped that the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenehi might, at some point, step in to restrain Ahmadinejad and allow some of the ” khodi” to play dissident for the benefit of the regime. Earlier this month, however, Khamenehi, in his Iranian New Year message, paid glowing tribute to Ahmadinejad, and endorsed his strategy.
The ” half-pregnant” are forced to choose between becoming full-blown revolutionaries and joining the counter-revolution.