Sunday, October 11, 2009

Rise of “New Nationalism” in Iran


Rise of “New Nationalism” in Iran

Ali Asghar Kazemi

October 2009


The “Green Movement” that emerged in the midst of presidential campaign 2009 in Iran, gained momentum after the unconvinced defeat of reformist candidates and became a genuine and strong opposition front challenging the very foundation of the Islamic regime. The more the hardliners pressed upon the movement with the intention to wipe out once for all its driving force, the more it tended towards radical nationalistic slogans and acquired anti-regime propensity.

While the Islamic government does not mind the resurgence of the people’s nationalistic fervor upon which it could embark in case its survival is threatened by foreign threats, nonetheless, it seems determined to confront with all force the growing danger of the “Green Movement” to its internal security. Recent horrific clashes with masses protesting in the streets in the post-elections manifestations are vivid indication that the hard-liners would not allow the demonstrations for reform turn into a real revolution.

How far the Islamic regime is capable to contain the movement or benefit from the revival Iranian nationalism without being victim itself of this reawakening phenomenon?


Political scientists agree that high level of political participation in a developing societies where the governments lags behind people expectations for higher level of institutionalization of democratic values, accountability and truthfulness, lead to social frustration and political instability. Samuel Huntington calls this phenomenon praetorianism, or the growth of political decay which paves the way for increasing repression, societal closure and growing military involvement in politics. In other words, social mobilization in an authoritarian environment with low economic productivity and efficiency leads to social frustration. This process increases the level of participation and in the final stage it ends up to political instability. In such circumstances, increasing demands for stability and order in a society gives justification for men of arms to step in by using coercive power for the containment of the crisis. Maintaining a coercive system in power requires large scale military and secret police establishment which in turn create economic burden and hardship for people; leading to social unrest and instability and the process continues in escalating cycles.

The foremost dilemma for the community in crisis situations is to avoid its own disintegration by maintaining social unity and solidarity outside the purview of official institutions. For this purpose, the society is guided to organize around a motto, symbol or emblems that give it a new identity to cope with the oppressive forces. Growing discontent with the incumbent regime, which seeks to promote and enforce its own ideology despite the will of citizens, will instigate the nonconformists to go their own way and look for alternative ways to counter the official values. Thus, the emergence of “Green Movement” with nationalistic overtone in the post-election Iran can be characterized as a growing force in quarrel with the regime.

Historically, the Persian nationalism has been expressed and articulated through the adoption of the Shiite doctrine that fundamentally distinguishes Iranian Moslems from the other creeds in the broad spectrum of the religion of Islam. It has served as a strong unifying force against Persian enemies and rivals in the past centuries. But, with the ascendance into power of the clergies after the 1979 revolution in Iran, the political thrust of the religion gradually diminished and people became dismayed of the poor performance of politico-religious institutions.

Upon several unsuccessful democratic attempts to perform necessary changes in the system by reformist Moslems in order to make it more responsive to the needs of the modern society, the last presidential elections of June 12, 2009 brought to an end the efforts by a series of repressive actions which led the post-elections crisis. After that, the green color which was merely the identity sign for one candidate (Mir Hossein Moussavi) became the emblem of a movement which is now standing as a challenging opposition front with new goals confronting the incumbent regime.

The truth of the matter is that the new nationalistic movement in Iran stems from a different environment that is dissimilar from the past. Since: 1) it is primarily a reaction against an ideology that has become unbearable for many even among religious figures; 2) it is an antithesis of a political system that came into power in a very particular point of time and circumstances that is no longer responsive to the actual expectations of the people; 3) it is a self-propelled movement with no official platform and has no particular leadership inside or outside Iran; 4) it is a “positive nationalism,” meaning that it is not against the current trend of the international society but it strongly objects the existing domestic divergence from that trend and wants to rehabilitate the true Iranian identity and status in the present world; 5) it is omnipresent and it uses all old patriotic and revolutionary slogans of the past as a tactical challenge against the ruling system; 6) It is a secular, forward-looking and peace-loving movement that denies all sorts of segregation, subjugation, arms races and interventions in the internal affairs of other countries and wants to live in peace with all people and nations.

While the new movement is against foreign interventions of all kinds and sanctions that are aimed at the well-being of ordinary people, it has been accused by the regime for collaborating with the enemies of Islam and Iran in order to discredit its efforts. It is also against all government policies that entail such actions against the nation. Supporters of the movement have already paid a dire price for their endeavor and seem to be prepared to keep on their lawful and democratic attempts for changes. Most enlightened people, academics, intellectuals as well as average citizens of all walks seem to support their cause.

The “new nationalism,” manifested in the form of “Green Movement,” can become a constructive democratic force in Iran if properly managed by their leaders and followers. They should be given the opportunity to exercise their lawful citizen rights in expressing themselves towards a democratic, united, developed, peaceful, and prestigious Iran. /


Ali Asghar Kazemi is professor of Law and International Relations in Tehran, Iran. See:

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