I started writing this on the 27th of September 2022 and ever since the situation, and my opinion has slightly changed.
What I intend to do here
Breezing over Iran's social media and news these days, the environment is filled with emotions. Opinions are flying by, with everyone telling what others ought to have done or said. I understand why that could be, but I want to insist that I am not here to convince anyone of anything. I am merely writing down some opinions I hold for the sake of posterity.
Moreover, I entirely agree that some of my opinions might not be exactly on-par with what fellow Iranians think, and I want to emphasize why I think that's the case before going further.
The first reason for my unorthodox opinions is perhaps my background and current living situation, which I cover in more detail in the next section.
Secondly, we are highly social animals, and the desire to be part of a tribe is deeply rooted in us. Similarly, the feeling of being ostracized is extremely discomforting. Ever since the emergence of this movement, I have found myself facing a dilemma:
- Should I also indulge in being active online, be loud and bold, be part of the movement, and feel part of the tribe.
- Or, keep my head above water, and only do something if I wholly think of it as being beneficial.
Truth is, every time I came close to choosing option number 1, I'd realize that I am not doing it because I really think it is useful. I am, instead, doing it either out of the desire to be "part of the movement", or "fear of being judged if I don't", neither of which is a correct reason to do something.
Not to be mistaken, I have tried to play more role in helping the liberation of Iran by increasing awareness about it, mostly in person, within the circle of my friends, and have participated and aided local protests where I live. I do not face the same dilemma as above while doing such acts.
This situation has led me and my opinions on the matter to be somewhat disconnected from the mainstream narrative, which contributes to my opinion being perhaps unacceptable to the majority.
Thirdly, to put it shortly, I strive to not act emotionally under any circumstance, and you should be able to see traces of this in most of my comments. I strongly think we, both individually and collectively, come to better conclusions if we think less emotional and more rational. If you think otherwise, we can agree to disagree on many things.
Where I am coming from
First, let's establish who I am and where I am coming from. I am raised in a fairly open-minded middle/upper class family in Iran. I was never highly exposed to Iran's brainwashing propaganda, Islam, or anything like that. Likewise, I never distinguished Iran's regime as a rightful one. That being said, I must also confess that I was never directly annoyed by this regime either. Even though my teenage years were the start of the decline of Iran, I was mostly capable of having a good life. This was in part due to my family's above-average financial situation (which was deteriorating at the time), and the fact that I studied compute engineering, I liked it, and put a lot of effort into it. Consequently, there were plenty of job opportunities for me as a student, earning at least some money. In some sense, while some of my friends were in a "there's nothing to achieve in this country" mentality back in e.g. 2015, I was happily swimming against the current. To some extent, I hold the same opinion today as well. In short, I am coming from a position of privilege.
Next, looking at where I am now, writing this. I have been away from Iran for almost 5 years now, and I am even more independent of it. Yes, Iran's regime has gotten ever so more brutal over the years, but I have also moved away further, and I am objectively less affected by it.
As a side note, the PS flight was taken down two days after I flew out of Iran in early 2020. Yes, that was a bit close, but I still happily consider myself very independent of Iran's politics.
Lastly, I have, over the years, never really benefited particularly from Iran's regime, or never really grown fond of it in any way either. I did believe in the reformist movement of Iran a decade ago (and perhaps even today consider it the better choice between "bad and worse"), but all in all I don't see have any reason to defend Iran's government and regime. For the remainder of this writing, if I criticize the opposition of Iran, please be aware that I do not mean to imply any sort of approval for the existing order.
All in all, I consider myself to be in a spot where I can cast an unbiased opinion on the situation of Iran, which can be unique. To recap, I am neither benefiting from nor directly harmed the current regime in Iran. I follow the news, but not enough such that I can't keep both feet on the ground. I entirely agree with the reasons that the people on the street protesting have, but I don't share the emotions with them as much. Whether an opinion coming from such a position like mine is worthy of anything or not, is up to you.
The uprising in Iran is the consequences of what the current regime has done over the last few decades. It is not the first of its kind either, and there has been periodic events such as this one ever since 2009's green movement, if not earlier. The living conditions in Iran have declines rapidly over the years, the international presence has gotten worse and worse. All of this justifies a "change", and is not anyone's wish to see it continue.
Also, Iran is being ruled by people with radical religious beliefs, and putting a stop to that is something that I hope to see both in Iran and globally. I fully hold the right for any religious person to practice what they believe, but imposing it forcefully on others is just none-sense. I insist on the forceful part, because Iran is evidently no longer majority Muslim.
Admittedly, I don't want to talk about the "Good" part much further, because it is self-evident. It is the uncontroversial part. Of course, I wish Iran would suddenly change and become a better and free and prosperous country. Of course, I wish women and men would both have equal rights and freedom. Of course, I agree that the current regime does not even show any sign of hope for the aforementioned. And a protests/revolution is seen as a "light at the end of the tunnel".
Whatever you want to do, you will do it better if you have a calm mind.
I sometimes see a narrative that is proudly and boldly spreading "look how miserable I am because of this", and is harshly criticizing anyone who dares to say "yeah, times are hard, but I am doing okay".
It is entirely understandable that certain people might have a hard(er) time coping with the ongoing events, and sharing it online is perhaps helpful. Nonetheless, I see two important facts here:
- We all deal with different situations in our own way. If someone is dealing with it with less misery, it does not have much to say about their opinion and stance on the matter.
- If we want to optimize for effectiveness, almost without a doubt, a balanced mind is more effective at making any sort of decision than an unstable one. For example, if you want to write a tweet and post it, you would probably come up with a better, more catchy, more viral tweet if you are calm.
So, while times are hard, I think we should embrace wellbeing more, and support each other to all feel better, less affected, and less unhappy about the situation, while combating it. Then, we would both feel better as individuals, and I hope we can come to a better outcome collectively.
There is nothing exciting about the violence involved.
I was recently told by a very close acquaintance of mine: "Yeah, if you feel down, I can send you this video where the people beat the shit out of that other guy (the other guy being a "basiji"), see it, and you feel better".
When I heard this, I only nodded and smiled, but I really find it disturbing. This is fucked up. My friend should not enjoy s eeing others being beaten up so much, regardless who is beating up whom. Yes, that friend of mine can say "Look, the situation has traumatized me so much that ..." but I honestly think this is an excuse. Wishing to invoke violence on others is nothing to feel happy about, and if you are in a spot where you do feel happy about it, you might have indulged too much into emotional sentiments such that it has blinded your thinking and (more importantly) morality altogether.
I am aware that the police in Iran does deploy force frequently, and it makes perfect sense for people to use force for defense. I am sorry to say this, but the harsh, sad, cold reality is that anything beyond this makes the attacker be of the same nature as the person being attacked.
Moreover, while I think this is not a strong argument anymore, every instance of violence from the people towards the government agents will be used as propaganda and and reason for more suppression. So, I think it is wise to use the minimum amount of violence.
Lastly, I think this will set a very grim precedence for what the Iran's 2022 "revolutionists" are willing to do. Do they have higher standards regarding maintaining peace? or are they the other side of the same coin?
We only seem to respond in kind, an eye for an eye only leaves us blind.
Mob Mentality. Radical Polarization
I am seeing a mirror of something that you can also see in the western world, one that I respectfully disagree with, in Iran as well. Namely, a mob mentality of loud people on social media, roaming around telling others what they should say, think, post, and hashtag, and what not. This, in effect, creates a sense of fear, where individuals feel the fear of being left out if they don't join the mob, i.e. if they also don't share the same hashtag, or buy into the same opinion. This approach is being weaponized by both the right and left-wing political movements of modern western nations as well.
And this exacerbates the personal dilemma I mentioned in the first section.
In my opinion, this is not a good approach, regardless of which ideology you are propagating. Mainly, this approach forces people to take sides based on fear and reactions, not based on thoughtful assessment. In the long term, this creates more schisms, radical mindsets not coping with one another, and deteriorates the movement, in my opinion.
For example, the current sentiment in Iran is a unified movement against the current regime, and anyone, especially if they are slightly famous, have to take sides now, and if they remain silent, they are ostracized for it. For people who have very large audiences, this is arguable, yet still incorrect (in my opinion). But seeing this mentality leak toward normal people, expecting them to also silently follow the mob is extremely worrying.
Abstention is seemingly not acceptable. There is no room for "this is a complicated situation and I have to think about it". There is no "I have a mixed background and I am confused by all of this". You are either with US NOW, or you are one of THEM.
Finishing this with quoting my humble self in a friendly discussion I had with my brother:
but if we imagine ourself in a position where we can dictate to other what to do, what to say and what to think, we are not much better than that which we are fighting against.
Consequences matter. Things could get worse.
"anything is better than this" is how most people of Iran think of the existing order. Similarly, I hear "we should first focus on abolishing the existing order and then think about what could replace it".
while I do see where it comes from, I think it is worrying and slightly short-sighted. I might be a conservative, risk averting person here, I but I cannot start a massive, fundamental process of "change" without having a plan. Imagine you want to refurbish a house, and you just start a hammer and randomly bash items into places, hoping that you eventually get the right items in the right place. Yeah, it might work, but it is quite likely that it might not, and in that case, we might be left with nothing. It is an approach, but we should be aware that it is a risky one.
Interestingly, I recently learned (through the amazing book Perspolis) how the 57 revolution of Iran was hijacked by one of the forces behind it, namely the Shia clerics, and for many people it did not have the outcome that they intended. With the short-sightedness thinking of the existing movement, I see the possibility of something like this happening being even more. Interestingly, I do recall people arguing, in tweets, that the current revolution of Iran being leaderless and short-sighted is actually a good thing, but I have not seen a convincing debate about it.
Failure to fix Iran in a peaceful way is a both way failure, not just on them.
If this revolution succeeds, it will be the win for a group of people (those who supported it), a lose for those who wanted to stop it, and a failure for all of us as a whole, because we failed to put our differences aside and collaborate in a peaceful way.
Yes, the side that currently has the power is more responsible, but this is absolutely a two-way situation. We should remember our failure just as we should remember our victories, and hopefully learn from them.
Change the game, not the team
I am worried that, if this revolution succeeds, we are removing a radical, oppressive, intolerant islamic regime, and replace it with a radical, oppressive, intolerant regime. If we are to avoid this, I strongly think that we should think differently. We should not take the same set of rules, and change verbs and nouns in them. We should change the rule itself. For if the rule is flawed, it is only a matter of time until you are again back on the side of it where you don't approve of it.
A simple example of this is being oppressive. The current regime is oppressive towards us. If we only change the subject, the nouns in this flawed rule, we are only creating a temporary bubble, where, if we are lucky, for some years, we get to to be oppressive towards others. But this is not changing anything. This is the other side of the same coin. The fundamental flaw here is "oppressiveness is allowed and acceptable", not "we are being oppressed". There is a MASSIVE difference between the two. In the former, you are eradicating a bad rule, in the second one, you only wish to not be the subject of it.
The meta-problem at hand is that we are constantly failing to come to a consensus as a society. This is a problem that exist in Iran today, and trust me, it exist in most developed countries as well. It is only the subject that is different between the two. If we play by the same rule, we are not fixing these meta-problems. People will change, and will fail to agree to one another on other topics as well. The consequences might not be severe as the total disaster that the Islamic Republic as left behind, but the issue will nonetheless be there.
Existential doubt: What justifies one opinion to be right over the other?
A brainwashed woman in Iran is willing to live a hard economic life, not taste any freedom, and she wishes for the current regime to survive, so that she can live happily in her bubble. If the regime goes away, should would certainly feel miserable.
A teenage girl, living with dreams of one day living in a free Iran, where she can have equal rights as men, walk freely in the streets without hijab, thinks very much otherwise, and sees her life as doomed for as long as the islamic state remains in Iran.
Which of these people has more justified right to enforce her desire to be happy, and cause the suffering of the other one?
I sometimes don't know, and I really think it is more nuanced than what I originally thought.
I originally thought that the young girls is simply the more justified one, because it so appeared to be. Or, because I share the same desire with and don't share the same wish with the brainwashed hypothetical woman. This is my intuitive, emotional opinion.
But is that enough?
A bit more objectively, I already answered my practical answer to this dilemma earlier in this text, that other than having more in common, I would chose to team with the young woman because I think we should live in a society where the rules (which would inevitably at times cause some people to be happier, and some to be miserable in return) to be at least based facts and reality, rather than religious and superstition. This is my rational opinion.
So, with all my heart and brain, I am with the teenage Iranian girl here.
But I think it is crucially important remind ourselves that in the mind of the brainwashed woman, what the young teenage girl is doing, is probably as bad as what the teenage girl thinks the islamic state is doing to her.
This does not change anything about the state of Iran being an absolute nightmare. But at least to me, it has given a new perspective on how I look at others, specially those who don't share the same opinion as me.
Final Thoughts: Some Hard Questions
I will finish my first draft with some questions that I think are thought provoking.
Assuming the revolution succeeds. Think about the following:
- What will our history books say? How will we depict the Islamic state that once ruled Iran. Will we be any different toward them, than how they depicted the Pahlavi kingdom?
- How many opinions and thoughts are going to be indoctrinated and become unquestionable in the post-revolution Iran?
- How many people will be executed?
Although highly questionable as well, as many studies link social media to more depression and isolation. ↩︎