December 30th, 2017

Iran: the police and protestors

There have been large anti-government protests in Iran for several days—and, unlike in this country, the “resistance” in Iran runs the real risk of being shot for its pains. Until today, that hadn’t happened in the current round of protests, but recently news was reported by the Saudis that three protestors had been killed by the Revolutionary Guards. The news hasn’t been confirmed yet, however, so I’m not sure the account of their deaths can be trusted.


Reuters reported that footage on social media showed riot police clubbing and arresting the demonstrators, and said protesters were also arrested elsewhere in Tehran.

It also reported anti-Khamenei marches in the western towns of Dorud and Shahr-e Kord, and quoted reports that Iranian forces used tear gas against protesters.

There were also counter-demonstrations “held on Saturday to mark the defeat of the last major protest movement in 2009.” You may remember those 2009 demonstrations; President Obama was criticized for not supporting the protestors, and the mullahs were successful in cracking down on the movement. That might have happened anyway, of course, but Obama’s actions (or inactions) certainly didn’t hurt the mullahs. He was already courting the government of Iran in hopes that they’d ultimately make a deal, which of course they did.

Here’s an article I wrote for PJ back in 2009 about Obama’s cutting off funding for the Human Rights Documentation Center:

It’s a shock because, according to the Boston Globe, the group has been “widely seen as the most comprehensive clearing house of documents related to human rights abuses in Iran,” and it would appear that such work is needed now more than ever. It’s a mystery because no explanation for the denial of the center’s funding request has been given by Harry Edwards, spokesman for the agency responsible for the decision (USAID).

What are we to make of this? Glenn Reynolds writes: “They’re planning a sellout, and data on what the Iranians are doing to their protesters would make it more embarrassing.”…

…The Obama administration might be following Takeyh’s prescription, with the cutoff of center funding (and the mildness of Obama’s earlier remarks after the travesty of the Iranian elections and the regime’s harsh treatment of demonstrators) being analogous to Nixon’s third tactic, the easing of rhetoric and criticism. This entire approach, however, depends on some huge unknowns: What do the Iranian leaders really want? How serious are their threats, and are they rational actors who can be negotiated with?

Obama bet on the latter, and the infamous Iran Deal was the result.

Why did I lead this post with the story about the possible death of demonstrators at the hands of police? Historically speaking, in Iran and elsewhere, it has been a game-changer and turning point when police and/or the army refuse to fire on demonstrators. Police and the army are the enforcers of any tyrannical regime, and without them it’s a lot harder to contain a population sick of its leaders.

I wrote at length about this phenomenon here and here (both written in 2009):

However, the real questions are (1) how far the demonstrators are willing to go, and how much violence against them are they willing to absorb; (2) how far the mullahs are willing to go, and how much violence they are willing to perpetrate; and (3) will the police, the Guards, and other forces called in by the mullahs to quell the crowds be willing to fire on them, or will they stay their hands?

That last question may be the most important of all. Like all tyrants, the mullahs can do little without the help of the vast numbers of henchmen they employ, and without the exercise of fear. Sometimes there is a great deal of opposition and unrest under the radar screen even within the groups assisting tyrants, and once dissatisfaction as a whole reaches a critical mass and events transpire to release it, there can be a sudden change and a refusal to defend the regime.

That’s why this tweet by Amir Taheri yesterday caught my eye:

Another tweet of interest from Taheri, this one posted today:

I have no idea whether he’s correct or not, but it’s certainly of interest. Trump has a chance to react in a way that’s different than Obama, but I’m not sure what approach would be both effective and realistic. At any rate, this has been the response so far:

[NOTE: “The world is watching” conjures up this moment for those of us old enough to remember.]

12 Responses to “Iran: the police and protestors”

  1. Brian Swisher Says:

    I seem to recall that in 2009, the Iranian government sent the police units composed of native Iranians back to their barracks, and allowed the mostly foreign-born Basij to commit the necessary atrocities.

  2. FOAF Says:

    Trump doing exactly what the President of the United States is supposed to do – stand up proudly for American values and interests. And exactly what Obama disgracefully refused to do for eight long years.

  3. Cornhead Says:

    I would love to see the mullahs kicked out in Iran. We then find out the full depth of Obama’s corruption on the Iran deal. Val and Barack making plans for Cuba now.

  4. parker Says:

    “The whole world is watching.” Indeed we see the disaster of obama/jarret Iranian kissy face with the tyrants of Persia.

  5. Shepherd Says:

    I am praying for their deliverance, but I’ve seen evil triumph too many times in my life to get my hopes up that this is Iran’s turn for deliverance.

  6. Philip Says:

    For me, the point of reference is becoming a choice between a Berlin Wall moment or a Romania moment. Or I suppose the mullahs could win.

    But what about these questions I’m hearing about in some quarters concerning who really the demonstrators are or might be? That is to say, is there some force behind the scenes? Communists or something? I suppose we can’t look on these developments with too much rose tint on the specs. Maybe it’s possible that the demonstrators are not just mere freedom-seeking patriots, though I’d prefer them to be that.

  7. J.J. Says:

    Philip: “Maybe it’s possible that the demonstrators are not just mere freedom-seeking patriots, though I’d prefer them to be that.”

    Some years back I read a book (Can’t recall the title off the top of my head.) by a travel author who traveled around Iran in about 2000. His impression was that few people supported the theocracy, but he also found that most truly hated the U.S. The average Iranian does not have a thirst for Jeffersonian democracy. His opinion was that they wanted something more like Communism with Islam as the state religion. Contradictory? Oh yeah. Realism and good sense have little to do with tyrannized people’s desires. I don’t expect anything pro-West to emerge from a failed Iranian theocracy. Maybe a little less “Death to America,” but not very friendly either.

  8. neo-neocon Says:

    J.J. (and Philip):

    If he wrote in in 2000, that book is already outdated in terms of what the younger generation wants today. Perhaps it’s still what he described, but perhaps something quite different.

    By the way, in the original Iranian Revolution, the left was fully on board and thought it would win out over the mullahs. Didn’t happen that way, of course.

  9. Yankee Says:

    Quite the contrast between Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump, with the former’s silence during previous protests, and his general attitude of Islamophilia, and his apparent desire to set up Iran as a regional hegemon in the Middle East, with his executive agreement with them and so on.

    Iran has natural geographic advantages anyway, dating back to ancient times, and modern industrial advantages with its oil and gas fields.

    The clerics have been successful in maintaining their power since 1979, coming up on 40 years since the unique events of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. But to maintain that, they have to deliver on some general level of prosperity to the population, and based on what we know of how the Iranian people live, they are finding it harder to do that in recent years.

  10. J.J. Says:

    Philip and Neo, I did some looking and found the book – “Shadow of the Silk Road” by Colin Thubron, published July 3, 2007. More recent than I believed, but a lot has transpired in the ME since then. Maybe social media has driven the young further towards democratic ideas. Maybe not. We’ll see.

  11. Gringo Says:

    Definitely the tweets of a “psychopath.” 🙂

  12. Philip Says:

    Hi, J.J. Thanks for that. If I can remember that name long enough to look for it, I may. I’m a little sad about the idea of people there having such dislike for us even so long after the Shah – Iran is one of the few places in the whole Muslim world that I’d actually like to visit sometime, but I’d rather do it without running too many risks.

    Colin Thubron, hmmm… reading a precis of his writing career makes him sound interesting. Hopefully not as much of a jerk as Theroux, I think it was, appeared to me to be from time to time as it came across in the latter’s own writing.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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