Present Future in Iran

As punditry flares up and revolution falters in Iran, we look back to look into not forward.

If there is one thing that political scientists and analysts fear, it is unpredictability. It is like a Himalayan mountaineer fearing a blizzard—merely a job hazard. However, since we had tried so hard to present our field as a branch of science (with all these professional looking charts, pies and equilibrium diagrams), we try to predict obstinately in the face of political vicissitudes.

To ‘predict’ the unpredictable, we usually set up tree diagrams and probability charts to see the likelihood and ramifications of an event. We just don’t want to get off-guard. Last weeks’ events in Iran were interpreted thus—with analysts from left, right and centre unfolding the future of the Iranian people and pulling off that old phrase ‘domino effect’ from the dusty shelves.

The scene was highly reminiscent of the collapse of the Soviet Empire twenty years ago. The cataclysmic event was so unexpected that the political scientists had to resort to analyzing predictions of a Russian filmmaker. In the film, released in 1989, Gorbachev was overthrown in 1992. The Russian heartland is ruled by an ultra-nationalist military dictatorship, the Baltic republics by Catholic radicals, and Central Asia by fundamentalist emirates. Tanks patrol the streets of Moscow, and throughout the country a fearful, starving populace wreaks revenge on former Communist Party members, Jews and intellectuals. The film also predicted ethnic anarchy between 15 newly independent republics.

The implosion of the Soviet Union finally arrived, but the most dramatic of predictions didn’t materialize. Ethnic anarchy and fanatical nationalism never solidified. Although regional tyrants did seize power in Central Asian republics, religious radicalism also turned out to be a false prediction. The names of former Communist Party members were protected, once again showing the triumphant of common sense over wild imaginary predictions.

In the 1960s and the 1970s, the United States fought in Vietnam under the shadow of this ‘domino effect’. Analysts feared dominoes from Indonesia and the Philippines to Bangladesh and Burma would fall into the Soviet sphere of influence if the United States were to falter in Vietnam. And eventually falter it did, but dominoes did not fall. True, Laos and Cambodia were lost to the communists but interpreting Communism as a monolith, we didn’t see the killing fields of Pol Pot nor Chinese wars in Indochina in our crystal balls.

That is why last week’s predictions by neocons and liberals alike of Iran’s future may or may not hold. Neocons are gleeful that their bête noir, President Ahmedinajed is still there. Liberals want the cracks in the system to become chasms that could potentially become the regime’s doom. But are we missing the point? Are we missing any other possibilities?

That is why we need to take Iran’s new revolution at its face value. It is as big as the revolution that brought the ayatollahs to power and is a clarion call not only to the West but also to the ayatollahs and other regional leaders. Apart from that there is very little we can predict for the future. The action is now when it comes to Iran.

A window has opened briefly in Iran and in waiting for a better opportunity, we might be missing our chance. After all, future unfolds in mysterious ways. We could either be spectators in the future or the leaders and guides of the current situation. But in the world where mass hysteria sometimes trumps rational predictions, we should be acting now. Now more than ever.


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