Sunday 8 November 2009

November 4th / 13th Aban

‘Huh,’ snorts Masoud, ‘I’m not staying here for a load of Rafsanjani’s goats,’ and stomps off into the gloom of the early November night.
The Green Movement of London, ‘Sabz e Landan,’ formed with such verve and tenacity in response to the electoral fraud in Summer 2009, has, shall we say, hit a deciduous patch. Bits of it a tumbling off, bits being peeled back, branches we didn’t even know existed laid bare, exposed to the merciless winds of autumn, festering wounds oozing all over the place and so it goes on.

All those differences I talked about – with so much optimism- back in August, well, they’ve all risen to the surface and bubbled and spat and spouted and burst into chaotic, recriminatory rankling argument. Superficially, it’s about reformists vs. revolutionaries, but, the reformists are fighting each other as much as or more than the revolutionaries. My feeling is that this is standard issue, grass-roots-movement, jostling for power, position, visibility, clout and attention. There’s that unmistakable autumnal sound of the clunking of antlers - male antlers in this case.

I’m advised: ‘we are learning about democracy;’ ‘we have grown up in a dictatorship;’ ‘Iran has never had a democracy,’ etc. Problem is, I’ve witnessed exactly the same processes in UK grass-roots movements for as long as I can remember, and we’ve had democracy or near enough, for several centuries. Nah – these are just competitive displays of posturing, parading and intermittent punch-ups – and this is just round one. There’ll be several more bouts yet.

Meanwhile, everyone put on a brave face and behaved themselves for an evening and gathered outside the embassy on November 4th, (13th Aban – Iranian month), and got stuck into their favourite slogans and lit candles and sang and chanted and shouted some more slogans, and disapproved of each other, but it worked. For a moment I caught a glimpse of what an Iranian democracy might look like. Mottled and no mistake. The Communists were there – looking like something straight out of the British Museum, - really classy though, and they’re always so amiable and good-natured and thoroughly well behaved. The Sabz – Mousavi were out in force, which was weird because they are the ones that turn up least often. The Sabz – general-purpose-liberal-democracy-go-with-the-flow, we-don’t-really-want-an-Islamic-Republic-but-we-don’t-want-to-upset-anyone – these are the majority who come to almost all the demonstrations and who I know well, they were all there but a bit drowned out by the more pious ‘allahu akabar’ lot. And then a bunch of lefty ex-revolutionaries brought up the rear –generally in good spirits- and they too are demo regulars.

Things were very different in Iran however. The official parading of 13th Aban commemorates the storming of the American Embassy by Iranian students, so, true to recently established form, (see Qods day demonstrations, 19th September), the Iranian green protestors took to the streets in their tens of thousands in numerous cities across Iran, and called for the death of the dictator and the freeing of the political prisoners. They were beaten ferociously by Basiji for their pains but even so, the subverting of an officially sanctioned, government parade provides them with a bit more cover than they had during the days after the electoral coup d’etat. There are many more days such as these to come. I’ll try to keep posting.

My thanks as always to Iman Nabavi who takes the pictures and makes them available to all. Thanks to all who turned out to demonstrate and, above all, thanks and immense respect to the brave women and men, young and old, able-bodied and disabled who fill the streets of their cities in Iran and continue the fight for democracy against colossal and brutal odds.