It has been said that there are two kinds of states in the Middle East: those with moderate governments and radical populations, and those with radical governments and moderate populations. How accurate would it be to say that Iran has a radical government and a moderate population? What evidence do we have to assess such an assertion?

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Yes, Max, I agree with you to a degree. I think we can put in it in less inflamatory terms: "Moderate" in the above formulation means "more or less prepared to live with the status quo," while "radical" means wishing to go back to the roots, to the Arab Islamic Empire, the Caliphate, and Muslim dominance.

If we take Saudi Arabia as an example, it is unclear to me whether they bend to our will, or we bend to theirs, or, more likely, we embrace in mutual stupidity. The Saudi case is an interest one, actually: The rulers are faux moderates, supporting a stealth Islamism; the population is restless, but wants more, not less, of the same. So S.A. does not fall neatly into either category.

Some would argue that Iran does: The elite are obviously religious fanatics, with a huge lust for secular power as well. The populace is deeply fed up with the clergy; so much so, that some have stopped saying "Salam alecum" and "Khuda hafez" and replaced them with the pre-Islamic "Darood" and "Bedrood." However that, and the Zoroastrian temple that expatriots have built in California, may be, the people despise the clergy and would love to see their backs. Among the people, there are lots and lots of youngsters, who "just want to have fun," Western style. They are not throwing bombs, yet, but many, many have dropped out and turned on. You can try to make your case, but dynamics in Iran do not fall very neatly into colonialism, imperialism categories.
I would like to hear others' views on this question. Please share your understandings with us.

Max, what "something new" would you suggest?
For "something new" I suggest we speak objectively to the ideological underpinnings and uniformities--not oppositions and dualities--that characterize and hold together the network of brutal state machineries in Saudi Arabia, Israel, United States, and Egypt working together against Palestinian political and territorial interests and, by definition, for the expansion of the bloody theocracy of Israel.

Philip Carl SALZMAN said:
I would like to hear others' views on this question. Please share your understandings with us.

Max, what "something new" would you suggest?
Do the events since the election throw light on this question?
Here is a dispatch from Tehran Bureau. The passage in bold (my emphasis) indicates that, just as the Islamic Republic regime has evolved into a despotic police state, or perhaps has overtly shown itself as the despotic police state it always was, the populace has "surpassed its figurehead" and is expressing its opposition to the regime "without leadership from above."

A New Level of People Power

Dispatch from Tehran | 10 July 2009

[TEHRAN BUREAU] The city was revved up for 18 Tir. Emails had been circulating all week, outlining ten demonstration routes across Tehran. The emails called on people to “be present” on the streets, even in their cars, if they feared going on foot, expressing solidarity by honking and obstructing security maneuvers by jamming the roads. Locations in provincial capitals were included too; the day was slated for a nationwide event.

Yesterday’s protests differed from previous ones in two ways. First, they were organized entirely online, lending credence to purported theories of a “cyber-revolution.” Second, more significantly, the turnout sprung from the people themselves; it was not prompted by a call to rally by opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. In fact, an open invitation, in elegant script on an electronic invite card posted on opposition websites, bid him as well as other reformist leaders, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammad Khatami, to join the people “in peaceful marches to honor the tenth anniversary of the student martyrs of June 9, 1999.”

Clearly, the movement had effectively surpassed its figurehead; it was steering along on an organic course without leadership from above. So whether people turned out or not would be a critical measure of how far Iranians were prepared to stand up to the regime on their own.

Thursday afternoon, we headed out in a caravan of three cars for Vanak Square, armed with water bottles and green surgical masks. (Long marches have taught us to avert thirst; filming by Intelligence agents cautioned protection of identity). At 4:30 p.m., Vanak was dead. Policemen idled on four corners of the square, and a line of buses was parked to the side, apparently intended for shuttling captured “rioters.” There were no people though; even the usual pedestrian flow was absent. Our spirits flagged a bit, seeing a deserted a scene we expected to be swarming.

The consensus was to go downtown (cell phones, surprisingly, were working). “Iranians are always late,” we told one another.

End of Part 1

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau
The situation in Iran seems very interesting to me right now, and I'm following whatever news is available with a lot of intensity. I've heard Afghanistan and Iran compared like this: Iran has a repressive government and an open society, and Afghanistan has an open government and a repressive society. What does anyone here make of this? If anything?

Philip Carl SALZMAN said:
Yes, Max, I agree with you to a degree. I think we can put in it in less inflamatory terms: "Moderate" in the above formulation means "more or less prepared to live with the status quo," while "radical" means wishing to go back to the roots, to the Arab Islamic Empire, the Caliphate, and Muslim dominance.

If we take Saudi Arabia as an example, it is unclear to me whether they bend to our will, or we bend to theirs, or, more likely, we embrace in mutual stupidity. The Saudi case is an interest one, actually: The rulers are faux moderates, supporting a stealth Islamism; the population is restless, but wants more, not less, of the same. So S.A. does not fall neatly into either category.

Some would argue that Iran does: The elite are obviously religious fanatics, with a huge lust for secular power as well. The populace is deeply fed up with the clergy; so much so, that some have stopped saying "Salam alecum" and "Khuda hafez" and replaced them with the pre-Islamic "Darood" and "Bedrood." However that, and the Zoroastrian temple that expatriots have built in California, may be, the people despise the clergy and would love to see their backs. Among the people, there are lots and lots of youngsters, who "just want to have fun," Western style. They are not throwing bombs, yet, but many, many have dropped out and turned on. You can try to make your case, but dynamics in Iran do not fall very neatly into colonialism, imperialism categories.
I"ve been following things in Iran with great interest recently. It's hard to know what, exactly, to make of them, but I read the following comment(quoting from memory here), that Afghanistan has an open government and a repressive society, but Iran has a repressive government and an open society. This was quoted by an Afghan refugee in Iran. What does anybody make of this, if anything? Inquiring minds want to know.
Anne G
Certainly Persian society and Afghan society are very different: For the most part, Persians are heavily urbanized and educated, relatively sophisticated, and outward looking. Afghans are more rural and heavily tribal, particularly the majority Pathans/Pakhtuns/Pushtuns. While there are tribal societies on the peripheries of Iran (which I know well), and urban centres in Afghanistan, the overall profiles are quite distinct.

One of the problems in fighting the "Taliban" is that one ends up fighting the tribes and thus the entire society of the mountains. For their part, the Afghan tribes have taken up Islamism in a big way, which makes for a very repressive society. The urban Persians, in contrast, are reacting against the constraints imposed by the regime. For its part, the regime in Iran says that any opposition to it is opposition to God.

So the comment from your Afghan refugee seems generally accurate.
Yeah, Afghani people are "tribal" and apparently always have been. There have always been more urban centers in Iran, many of which are still regionally important. Most people there now live in cities, and most people in Iran are under 30, FWIW, but at one time, Iranians were less educated and "iurbanized" than they are now, and more like the Afghani people. Urbanization has certainly played a part, just as it has, though in different ways, no doubt, in the way societies change and adapt. Interestingly, in another book I read, Persian Pilgrimages, there is some interest in what Westerners would call "spirituality", but it takes the form of Sufism, not the "Official" Islam of the government. I also read, in the same book, that clerics often go around in public in secular garb. Most people don't, apparently, like them very much.
Anne G
Anne, why put "tribal" in quotes, as if we shouldn't really believe that many Afghans are "tribal" or that "tribes" exist? There is nothing more certain in the world than that tribes exist and are important. Folks in many parts of the world call themselves by the local term for tribe--in Persian, "il," in Baluchi "rhend," in Turkmen, "taypa"--and have names for their own and other tribes. You may recall the error made in Al Anbar province by the morons of Al Qaeda in Iraq when they pushed local people around, not realizing apparently that locals were tribesmen, and got their asses kicked when the tribes mobilized. The coalition forces were quick to understand what was going on and to join forces with the tribes. Thus the success of the surge.

The question that, ahem, arises is why anthropologists have decided that "tribe" is a four letter word (aside from illustrating anthropologists notable antipathy to any and all quantitative considerations). Is it that anthropologists today consider the label "tribe" as somehow demeaning, something less than, what?, a state, an ethnic group, a people? So is political correctness trumping reality here? Or have we jettisoned "reality" in favour of "the construction of multiple realities." If so, then why do we continue to deny that folks all over the world have constructed for themselve a tribal organization and identity?

My advice: no more quotes around tribe.
Well, okay. No more quotes around tribe. The trouble is, (and sorry for the quotes here, but I'm sort of illustrating) "tribe" is kind of a loaded word, because it seems to mean different things to different people. Afghanistan is, or appears to be, in my view, tribal in the sense that people there distinguish between various peoples who organize themselves into groups based on region, language, religious identification(to some extent; the Hazara are apparently Shiites, if I remember what someone who was in Afghanistan for a long time -- long before OBL ever heard about the place), and who also identify as collections of lineages that are, if I understand the common definition of tribe, descended from some putative common ancestor. The problem is, that tribe is a word that is used very loosely outside of rather strictly defined anthropological terminology, and I am therefore a bit hesitant to use it. But I'm only a Starving Writer, not an anthropologist, although I do have a connection of sorts with iran and am always willing to learn more than I know now.
Anne G
It's true that people use the term "tribe" in various ways, some loosely and some more precisely. But the same is true of just about every concept that anthropologists use: law ("It's the law in our house"), politics, ("office politics"), marriage, polygamy ("serial polygamy"), peasant ("He is such a peasant"), chief ("I call my father-in-law 'chief'"), race ("race relations"). Even in anthropology, some terms are hard to define: "marriage" is said to be universal, but not in the sense that a clear definition of elements is possible; rather, according to Edmund Leach, there is a "family resemblance" among the "marriage" relationships that allow us to say that they are related as similar things. So this kind of imprecise use is almost universal among anthropological concepts.

I think that the objection to "tribe" must be something else. Probably, like "primitive" (as in "primitive people"), it has been deemed by some to be pejorative, because to be "tribal" is to somehow be inferior. And we must not differentiate among peoples, if it suggests inferiority-superiority, even if peoples are different from each other. Now we must assert that everyone is equal and equally good. That is the law of political correctness. Kind of makes it difficult for anthropologists to do their jobs, eh? Many have retreated to saying little, and letting their informants "tell their stories." Anthropologists have given up description and analysis and become channelers of the voices of a few others.

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