HOWARD EPSTEIN: THE HYDRA – SOMETHING NEW TO MULLAH OVER
After a lifetime contemplating The One:
The One true God is a reflection of the unique concept that Islam associates with God. To a Muslim, Allah is the Almighty, Creator and Sustainer of the universe, Who is similar to nothing and nothing is comparable to Him. … “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Say (O Muhammad) He is God the One God, the Everlasting Refuge, who has not begotten, nor has been begotten, and equal to Him is not anyone”
the mullahs of Iran now have something new over which to ruminate: a many-headed hydra.
The Tehran street protests that erupted in 2009 were a pale prelude to what we have witnessed in Iran over the past two weeks, and what is to come. The brutal slaying of Neda Agha-Soltan on 20 June 2009 by the Basij (read Schutzstaffel, the Nazi’s SS, reincarnate, Iranian style) failed to arouse loud protests (actually none at all) on the streets of London (as would have been the case had the shooters been Israeli), or from the supine president Obama, smugly luxuriating in self-righteousness, high on his professorial perch. Not a word issued from those pensively-pursed lips.
The 2009 protests, however, are as of nought compared with what is to be unleashed on Iran in the coming months and years. Back then, the anger was over the rigged re-election of that charmer, Ahmadinejad. The most famous victim, Neda, was the middle child of a middle-class family. An aspiring underground musician, she was developing her craft through private voice and music lessons. She had studied the violin, and had a piano on order even as she bled to death on a Tehran street. She worked for her family’s travel agency. She was unremarkable as a middle-class Teheranit, save for being the least-likely candidate for the most public brutal execution ever.
The smart-phone had been unavailable in Belarus in 1942, when the SS started gassing Jews locked in the backs of vans – a modest start, you understand, since Wansee and the industrialisation of death were still future delights to be partaken by Jew-baiters and -haters.
Neda’s death spasms and last words were seen and heard around the world, courtesy of the iPhone. Yet the British mobs, and Obama, were unmoved. (Trump, for all his much-celebrated oafishness and dysfunctionality, has better sensitivity in his famously small hands than Obama had in his whole elegant, serpentine body. Trump spoke immediately in support of the Iranian masses, something Natan Sharansky, who knows a thing or two about these matters, firmly endorsed.
Such was the power of the smartphone in 2009 that no-one who truly had a heart could have failed to have registered the significance of the death of that poor girl, Neda, as it was broadcast in real-time and then repeatedly on social media. Then, the Iranian population numbered 74 million and there were a mere one million smartphones. Today there are 48 million such devices amongst a population of 82 million. The Iranian people are nothing if not switched on.
This then is the modern incarnation of the great mythical beast, the many-headed hydra. As one head is lopped off, so it grows two more. Expect more real-time footage of fevered Iranian street activity.
And that is not the only difference from 2009. Back then, the focus of the protests was specific: the rigged ballot. The current iteration of rioting – of which there is a long tradition in Iran – is driven from the bottom. From dozens, scores – if not hundreds – of cities, towns and villages come the protests. Now the remonstrations are more general, more comprehensive and – worse still for the clerics – more visceral in their inspiration, for now it is about jobs and eggs. The ordinary Iranian bloke (or Joe) on the street is not interested in binary choices. He has two things in mind but they are not mutually-exclusive, like guns and butter. Both elements are wanted: work and food. And when do they want them? They want them now!
And it is not just about what they want. They also know what they don’t want; and what they don’t want is for money (especially the $105 billion that Obama released), that could be spent on their betterment and that of their families, to be diverted to Hezbollah and Syria and – yes, they even articulated this – Palestine. “Let go of Palestine,” was the cry. The sub-text was: if you do that we shall be able to work and eat and enjoy them as fundamental human rights. (Possibly, many Iranians would wish to see, also, the end of public hangings of gays, and others considered undesirable in the pure, wholesome environment of an Islamic state.)
There are, sadly for the Iranian masses, several reasons why it might take some time for things to change. (You remember change, don’t you? It is what Obama promised, and it earned him the Nobel Peace Prize, even before he took the opportunity to ditch America’s friends and allies – Israel and Saudi Arabia – in the process of appeasing her enemies – notably the Iranians.)
As the Ayatollahs understood from day one, it is much easier to rouse people to hatred than to constructive endeavour. Thus, industry, modernisation and the building of a 21st century economy died even as the mullahcracy was born. Abandonment of the very efforts that have seen Israel prosper since 1979 has caused atrophy to become the hallmark of the Iranian economy.
That is not to say that the Islamic Republic of Iran (focussed on lining the pockets of the Revolutionary Guard), has not been busy. They have been busying themselves with blowing up an American military barracks in Beirut in 1983 and two Jewish establishments in Buenos Aries the following year – cowardly acts from dastardly people – and they have developed their nuclear programme, and Hezbollah’s missile capacities, and broadcast their intention to complete Hitler’s project of dispensing with Jewish life on the planet. The problem is that these projects butter parsnips for too few Iranians. And those who cannot afford eggs, let alone parsnips, are now revealed as singularly unimpressed by, and continuingly famished despite, the bloodcurdling cries issuing from their leadership.
Guns or butter? They want jobs and food. “Let Palestine go,” they demand. Was there ever an example of a popular uprising making such a specific call on the state’s foreign policy. All that investment and posturing over the destruction of the Big Satan and the Little Satan, all that pantomime, designed to make Iranians feel big and good about themselves as Iranians can be seen running off, down the drain, empty rhetoric that does nothing tangible for the people.
That creates a massive problem for the mullahs and the ayatollahs. The Islamic establishment have as much idea as to how to go about building a modern economy starting from now, as you and I have about weaving a Persian carpet. Both take years of tradition, cultural nurturing and the flowering of a generation weaned on constructive skills – and not nihilism. Even were the clerics to have the desire, and the inspiration, to turn around their evil empire and start producing what their people want and need, let alone something that others might wish to import (save for silk carpets and fossil fuels, the latter being obtainable just about everywhere now – even from Israel), the fruit of their earnest endeavours would not make itself apparent for a decade at the very least, and possible two. The sensible time to have started all this was 1979 – but they had other fish to fry then, like American Marines and Jewish Argentinian pensioners.
There have been other tyrannically-ruled states in living memory that did not run out of affordable basic foodstuffs. North Korea, famous for its repeated famines, has not been one of them but, for the most part, Hitler was able to keep feeding the German people, courtesy of their slave labourers; and Stalin’s Soviet Union could, 40 years in, feed the Russian people from the Ukrainian breadbasket, while the Kulaks, forcibly deprived of the grain they had grown, died of famine in their millions, sacrificed on the altar of the supremacy of communism. No such solutions are available to the ayatollahs.
We saw the Soviet regime completely undermined when the food ran out in 1989. The first sign came when they had to allow Jewish emigration – and before long the whole edifice collapsed. Altogether, the Soviet Empire lasted only 70 years. It has been forty since the Shah of Persia went and already the edifice of the glorious Iranian Revolution is visibly crumbling – over eggs.
The writing, and a big Banksy-like drawing of a voracious hydra, is on the wall. For the Mullahs, it is not the end of the beginning (as Churchill said of the British victory over the Germans at El Alamein in 1942), but the beginning of the end.
© Howard Epstein, January 2018
As Israel reaches its seventieth birthday, it is timely to consider the story of its indispensable founder, Chaim Weizmann. Statesman and scientist, it was Weizmann who saved the British Empire from defeat in World War I, kindled the hope for the return of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland, after an absence of 2,000 years, and was then instrumental in securing what was needed to establish the State of Israel and its future as a technological powerhouse. Weizmann may be said to be the world’s first 20th century – even 21st century – man. If any aspects of modern life became supremely important last century, and remain so in this, they are science & technology and networking. Weizmann’s chemistry, both in the laboratory and with a wide-range of key people, led to his four great political coups, each essential to the emergence of the State of Israel. In addition, he pulled off three crucial educational feats that secured Israel’s future and ensured its success – in his image. In the case of the political achievements, only Weizmann could have wrought them. In the case of the others, only he did. Despite these signature successes, today little is known of him and what he achieved. Why this should be so is revealed in a tale of rivalry between two political giants: Weizmann, the greater talent, but the older, and his nemesis, David Ben-Gurion.
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