Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel, Editors, The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future, Brooklyn, New York: Melville House Publishing, 2011, 440 pp.
Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel have produced one of the most interesting, informative and timely pieces of work on Iran that I have seen in some time. Hashemi and Postel, as co-editors, assembled the works of an impressive collection of authors to tell the story of the Green Movement of Iran, i.e., the opposition that arose out of the response to the 2009 Presidential elections. What makes this timely, though, is less about Iran, ironically, and more about the framework which is presented that helps one better understand the Arab democratic uprising that has been unfolding in North Africa and the Middle East, this despite the fact that the Iranians are not Arabs. In a word, this book forces the reader to look beneath the surface and not be swayed by the superficial analyses so common in mainstream/elite Western media.
The People Reloaded is a long book, but what makes it quite interesting is the variety of articles, in content, style and length. This ranges from very brief pieces that remind me of blog entries, to longer and more in depth analyses. As such, this is not a book to rush through; it is one that you feel you have to complete in one or two sittings. In fact, I found myself reflecting on various pieces after a good reading and was not always prepared to move to another article.
There are several features of this book that make it well worth the read. The first, of course, is that most of the authors are Iranian and all of the authors have approached the subject matter with an important degree of rigorousness that makes the entire volume authoritative. Hearing Iranian voices, and particularly ones that are not generally associated with mainstream Western institutes and media outlets, makes the book an essential instrument in critically analyzing both the Iranian capitalist-theocracy and the Iranian opposition movement.
A second feature is something that will unsettle some North American readers. Several of the articles contain a quasi-anger towards many progressives and leftists from the West who have either thrown their support to the alleged “anti-imperialist” regime of Iranian President Ahmadinejad or have taken an agnostic course because the opposition movement is not entirely a secular movement. This quasi-anger was something that I encountered several years ago in a different setting, in Zimbabwe when I addressed a leadership body of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. Although I was politely received, when I had concluded my remarks, I was asked by one of the delegates how was it that many African Americans continued to support Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe despite the repression that he had (and continues to) unleashed against opponents over the years. This quasi-anger or defiance seemed to draw from a similar source as that which I sensed in the articles in The People Reloaded: a self-confidence in the integrity of their respective struggles and a sense that many of us in the West are terribly unsophisticated and one dimensional when we view foreign phenomenon.
A third important feature, discussed in several articles, was the question of non-violence. The authors took the time to walk the readers through the complicated question as to why the opposition has relied on non-violence despite repeated provocations from the Ahmadinejad clique. For some, the question was a moral or philosophical one. For others, it was a highly practical one, specifically, that resorting to violence would not only result in even more repression but it would also likely result in the regime using this as something akin to the 1979 takeover of the US embassy: a means to inspire pro-government, nationalist consciousness against the opposition.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2009 election there were several left and progressive commentators in the USA who challenged the notion that the election had been stolen. Using various polling numbers they concluded that the election results were consistent. The authors handle this issue in some interesting ways. For some, the fact that the results were so peculiar, including in districts that were assumed to be Ahmadinejad bases, was enough to raise doubts (e.g., where Ahmadinejad won more than 100% of the vote). For others, their experience with the highly repressive Iranian capitalist-theocracy was simply enough to call into question virtually any election. And for others, the election results were themselves not the key matter; rather the election was the catalyst for an opposition movement that had been gaining steam, quietly, for some time.
There are those in the USA and other parts of the West who have become entranced by Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric. His anti-USA and anti-Israeli rants inspire some in the Western left who would rather not spend the time coming to grips with the complexity of Iranian politics. Instead we are treated to a variant of knee-jerk anti-imperialism, that is, if an international leader attacks imperialism generally, or US policies in particular, there are some progressives who believe that they should be supported, irrespective of the actual policies of the particular regime. For these friends, the facts do not matter if they get in the way of a persuasive story-line. One is reminded of how many genuine anti-imperialists in both Asia and the USA were initially fooled by the anti-imperialist/anti-Western rhetoric of Japanese imperialism in the 1930s and early 1940s.
The People Reloaded compels the reader to dig a bit deeper. One is introduced to the world of the Iranian opposition and the often contradictory politics that exist within it. One almost experiences the excitement of the 2009 protests with the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets. What also comes through in this book is the strategic dilemma faced by the opposition in a situation where the ruling elite of Iran has fractured but not split and this same regime, along similar lines to the situation in Libya with the Qaddafi regime, is quite prepared to unleash the dogs of war against its own people in order to ensure its own continuity.
The People Reloaded is a book not only to be read, but to be studied. It provides a means to better understand the nature of the struggle for justice and democracy in Iran. Through such an understanding the basis can be laid for a constructive dialogue between progressive forces in the Western World and those in the Iranian democratic opposition. That democratic opposition desperately needs foreign allies but does not need or want governments—such as that of the USA or Israel—militarily intervening. The People Reloaded leaves one with the sense that the Iranian people will, ultimately, settle accounts with their own tyrants.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is an editorial board member of BlackCommentator.com, Visiting Scholar with CUNY Graduate Center, Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the co-author of Solidarity Divided. He can be reached at email@example.com.