Winning Over Those With The Guns

Laura Secor has another must-read on yesterday's events:

I think there is still a battle being waged for the hearts and minds of the Revolutionary Guard and Basij. Successful nonviolent movements in other countries have depended on the cooptation of the rank and file in the armed forces; one remembers the moving scenes of Serbian riot police embracing demonstrators. Of course, the Serbian opposition spent months working up to that. In the summer of 2000, when Slobodan Milosevic’s government issued a statement to the army saying that the student activists were terrorists, an activist told me that he and his friends retaliated by sending care packages to soldiers in the hope that “in the key moment when he orders them to shoot on us, they won’t listen.” The success of Serbia’s democratic movement was not only that it deposed a rancid dictator but that it united, at least momentarily, a divided and scarred society.

Iran is not Serbia. The relationship between the people and the revolutionary shock troops is far older and deeper than anything that took root during Milosevic’s relatively brief tenure. By 2000, Milosevic’s fiefdom was rotten to the core; it survived on corruption, the fear of exposure on the part of many criminals and war profiteers, and hostility toward the world. The Islamic Republic, by contrast, was born in a people’s revolution and built on faith in a religion that is deeply held by most Iranians. The state’s ideology is not the hollow construct of political elites, as communism was by the time it collapsed in much of Eastern Europe. Rather, Iranian Islamism was forged over decades, in long struggle with the despotic regime of Mohammad Reza Shah, and from the potent raw materials of Iranian nationalism and Islam. Although the country’s constituency for democracy is vast and growing, the regime has a constituency, too, and it is passionately loyal and heavily armed.