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Need for Discipline and Self-restraint in Iran's Green Movement

By Nader Habibi

It appears that after more than six weeks Iran's Green movement is moving from an initial unorganized emotional stage into a higher level of maturity and sophistication. Massive show of force by the government has reduced the opportunities for large scale street demonstrations but the movement has gained the support of several influential politicians within the Islamic regime and it has managed to remain influential in domestic political scene. As the movement continues its struggle for fair elections and human rights, its supporters and followers must exercise restraint in a number of fronts while remaining energized and dedicated to their core objectives. Self-restraint and discipline are needed on a number of issues not only to preserve the unity of the Green movement but also to be mindful of Iran's national interest and international relations. In this article I point to three areas where the supporters of the green movement should exercise self-restraint.

1) Overt expressions of anti-Islamic and Anti-religious sentiments: It is not difficult to find Iranians who, after the Islamic revolution, have developed a hostile attitude toward Islam and religion in general. The secular supporters of the Green Movement must abstain from open expression of hostility toward Islam and the cleric community in public demonstrations and in communication with Media. Open hostility toward Islam will harm the Green movement by alienating the religious supporters of the movement. Furthermore, the government might use such hostile expressions to claim that the hidden agenda of Green movement is to replace the Islamic regime with a secular anti-Islamic regime. Such a perception will make the hard-liner supporters of the regime more intransigent and less willing to negotiate a political compromise.

Anti-Islamic hate speech is also fundamentally wrong as it is no different from anti-Christian or anti-Jewish hate speech. A realistic goal for secular Iranians should be to create a social environment that allows for religious freedom where each individual can practice his/her religion without facing harassment by the government or other individuals. Secular Iranians must also realize that a large segment of Iran's population is still very religious and under any political structure that emerges in the future, religious and secular individuals will have to learn to tolerate each other and respect each others rights.

2) Anti-Arab sentiments: There is also a parallel tendency among some Iranians (particularly seculars and some nationalists) to associate the Islamic regime with Arabs and express anti-Arab sentiments. There is no association between modern Arab world and the Islamic regime in Iran. This anti-Arab mindset is a residual of another mistaken belief among some Iranians who resent modern day Arabs for the Arab/Muslim invasion of Iran in seventh century. Whatever the motive might be the expressions of anti-Arab slogans can be exploited by some opportunist elements to cause tension between Iran and its Arab neighbors. It can also provoke anti-Iranian sentiments in the Arab world. Iran is surrounded on two sides by Arab neighbors and it is in its national interest to promote peaceful coexistence with Arab countries.

Supporters of the Green movement must also be mindful of expressions of anti-Palestinian sentiments. The Islamic regime's financial and material support for some Palestinian factions such as Hamas has led to domestic resentment. Some Iranians believe that the resources given to Palestinians can be better spent on poverty relief at home. Such concerns should not lead to expressions of hostility toward the Palestinian desire for an independent homeland. Instead they should focus on criticizing the government's policy and offering more pragmatic policies which support the Palestinians without putting Iran on a confrontation path with moderate Arab countries and the Western world.

3) Focusing on constitutional reform rather than any specific ideology.  One of the positive signs of political maturity in Iran's Green movement is that so far many people of diverse ideological and political orientation have cooperated with one another towards a set of limited common goals, namely a new presidential election and respect for human rights. This focus on a common cause was also visible during the 1979 Islamic revolution but soon after the collapse of the Pahlavi regime ideological intolerance led to factionalism and power struggle among various groups. Leaders and supporters of the Green movement must be mindful of ideological factionalism. It is often said that a stable democratic system has three important pillars: tolerance, cooperation and compromise.

When people have equal political rights and the society is governed according to democratic principles, citizens must be humble and accept the fact that sometimes they have to tolerate the political demands of others and compromise on their own demands. Members of the Green movement should educate themselves to these facts and encourage a sense of political tolerance within the movement. Desire for unity inside the Green movement should not lead to false promises of a utopia in accordance to any group's ideology. To the contrary, the supporters and leaders of the movement should convey realistic expectations about the limits that a fair and free political system will put on each citizen. People of various political and ideological orientations (religious, secular, left and right) must understand that under such a system they will have to compromise on their social and political demands and tolerate other political groups.

About the author: Nader Habibi is an affiliate of the Crown Centre for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University

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