“We want to be like Janus, the Greek god because we wish to combine different values. We want to be able to mourn our own Neda Agha-Sultan and be sad about people dying in Gaza.”
This is how Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the principal challenger to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad describes his “green movement” at a meeting with the families of political prisoners in Tehran earlier this month.
The statement reveals much about a leader who, despite having spent almost a decade as Foreign Minster and Prime Minister under the late Ayatollah Khomeini, remains an enigma to most Iranians.
Mousavi’s statement is problematic, not only because Janus was a Roman, not a Greek Idol. In Roman Mythology, Janus is the two-faced “god” of doors and gates, watching both those gone and those yet to arrive. The idol symbolizes division between the past and the future and, as a result, is denied the gift of movement. In some versions, a broad smile adorns one face of the idol while the other depicts a grimace of pain. Janus makes no choice between the past and the future, and between pleasure and pain. It just observes things, making no value judgment.
Mousavi’s equation of Neda Agha-Sultan, the young girl shot dead by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards in Tehran during a pro-democracy demonstration last June, and people dying in Gaza during the recent war against Israel, is telling for a number of reasons. Mousavi makes no distinction between an unarmed girl peacefully calling for free elections in her country and armed combatants fighting a foreign army. If Neda is the same as anyone dying in Gaza, we must assume that her killers are also like those who kill Gazans.
By trying to expose too many different values, one risks ending up with no values. Mousavi made his statement in response to criticism from the Khomeinist elite about a popular slogan of the Iranian demonstrators: “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, I give my life to Iran!”
Mousavi seems to believe that such a slogan indicates Iranian indifference to the situation in Lebanon and Gaza, thus undermining the Khomeinist ideology’s bogus claim of leading the entire Muslim “ummah” in a global jihad. To most Iranians, however, the slogan is a roundabout way of expressing dissatisfaction with the regime’s policies.
However, feigned sympathy for Gazans is not the only problem with Mousavi’s “Janus” strategy. Iranian folklore is full of observations about smart cookies who want everything, and its opposite. They are called “zerang” (sharp) or “rend” which means a manoeuvrer who always manages to get on the right side of events. While achieving their own tactical objectives, the “zerang” and the “rend”, however, always end up harming the broader interests of society.
Mousavi’s perplexing position is a result of his erroneous analysis of the situation in Iran today. The question is whether Iran is facing a movement for regime change or a mere settling of scores within the ruling establishment. If the former is the case, Mousavi and his “green movement” cannot take Janus as their model. They would need to close the chapter of Khomeinism and look ahead to a modern, pluralist and, ultimately, democratic Iran. However, if Iran needs is a settling of scores within the Khomeinist establishment, Mousavi should recognize President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election and start preparing for the next parliamentary and presidential contests within the framework of the existing constitution.
For the past 30 years, Iran has suffered from a split personality. Its ruling elite have treated it as a vehicle for a cause while its people have looked at it as a country. Today, what Iran needs is an end to that duality. This means closing the chapter of the revolution and allowing Iran to re-emerge as a country rather then a cause.
Iran’s experience is not unique in history. All countries that have passed through the turmoil of a major revolution have been tested in that crucible. However, none succeeded in its transition with a Janus-like strategy. In every case, the successful strategy started with the rejection of the past in favor of the future.
The Janus-like indecision of the current leadership of the opposition is certain to prolong the Iranian crisis, with unpredictable consequences for the nation as a whole. President
Ahmadinejad and the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei have managed to float of the surface of events. However, six months after the June uprising, there are no signs that the Ahmadinejad- Khamenei tandem is capable of developing a strategy to contain, let alone defeat, the anti-regime movement. At the same time, the movement’s known leadership is manifestly unable to offer a credible strategy for victory. It, too, is floating on the surface of events.
The result is a steady weakening of moderate forces on both sides and the strengthening of radical elements with rival maximalist agendas. On the government’s side, we now witness the rise of elements whose extremism makes even Ahmadinejad look sweet and moderate. These are the people who dream of a one-party system in which the machinery of oppression doubles as the government of the country. On the opposition’s side, advocates of armed struggle, secessionists, revanchists and other extremists are trying to fill the leadership gap.
Regardless of his individual merits or demerits, Ahmadinejad is manifestly unable to cope with the current situation and risks being marginalized even within the regime. A similar fate may befall Mousavi on the opposition side, unless he drops his Janus-like posture, closes the chapter of Khomeinism, and looks to the future.