The woman question

The protesting women of Iran, much celebrated on this blog for their courage and virtue, have caught the attention of American academics:Der Spiegel cover

On Monday, the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington assembled an all-star panel of analysts for perspective on the role of women in the recent Iran election and post-election upheaval.

So our brave heroines can be noted, analysed and celebrated at a beautiful conference with views over the river, coffee breaks, media coverage, glossy packs for attendees, useful networking opportunities and placement of future articles. Everybody goes home exhilarated and gratified.

The beginning of the end

There are doubters with a certain greyness of eye and dullness of purpose who say it that it is all over, that there are no more events, that Pinocchio holds all the cards (electric batons, Goon armies), that evil reigns in this world and always will. What dismays me in all this is the tone of quiet satisfaction. Is this some sort of voluntary despair? Were they ever freedom-fighters at heart?stern_cover

I am happy to view the universe through the marble eye of a believer, to see things that are invisible to others, to crown this shabby body with a pennant of bravery, to weep with those who must be tortured and who will never recover, to reach a quiet hope which comes as a blessing when no hope was ever to be expected.

It is true that I cower at what often seems the gibbering, menacing, nihilistic obscenity of the modern world. But as William Blake wrote,

We are led to believe a lie

When we see with not thro’ the eye [1]

and the spiritual eye sees that which is invisible. Certain lessons and precepts may already be observed:

1. It is imperative that green protesters not engage in any unarmed confrontation with the armed and ruthless dictatorship.

2. It is essential that we resist all temptation to take action of any kind.

3. Let us be clear: the victorious blow has already been struck, the snapshot (see below) indelibly imprinted on the retina of the whole world.

4. Ever since 1989, we have seen principled dissent rule the airwaves and bring down the crumbling regimes of dust.

5. All their clubs, batons, tanks, goons, tear gas, censorship, torture chambers, inquisitions, fantasy elections, grinning headlines, backroom paranoia and airbrushed histories are all in vain. As Solzhenitsyn said, One word of truth will overcome the whole rigmarole of the evil state.

6. Inside the dictator’s circle, there is a huddle of closed talk. “If we don’t hang together, we will hang separately.” It is the Committee of State Security, born again, the politics of the modern age.

Fairyfeller's Masterstroke - Dadd

7. But the modern age is behind us. We now live in a contemporary age of velvet information, shining flanks, green eyelids. If you touch us, we flinch. If you cut us, we bleed. The battle of information has already been won.

8. In the Committee of State Security, where unsmiling ideologues play with equations of terror and virtue, all await the knock on the door, the first bullet, as the conspirators disappear one by one and betray each other.

9. All dictatorships fall because of their internal contradictions. It is no fun dominating the world when nobody loves you. Money, power and arms are combustible, materials for the inevitable bonfire.

So take hope. Do absolutely nothing. Cock an ear for the sounds of crumbling. The Fairyfeller’s Masterstroke [2] has already been struck in the sublunar world of the leaden mirror. Keep an eye open for the cracks. An eye greets an eye. A smile recognises a smile.

You are the new rulers of Iran. On your youthful shoulders weighs an incomparable responsibility, the responsibility of being right. Government is a very dull business, thank God. In a democracy, everyone dies of boredom or old age. When you enter your palace, ride around it on a scooter like Václav Havel.

But first and last let us treasure the bright memory of the dead, the sacrifices of the innocent, whose spirits beat at our eyes and ears, our doors and windows, whose youthful promise is consumed like flowers burned to ash. Let us celebrate the doctors, the nurses, those who opened their doors, who showed pity. Let us embrace the victims of night brutality in their dormitories, those bloodied in the streets, those arrested with green paint, those who gave unlucky answers during interrogation.

Let us hold close in our hearts the victims of torture. By one of the few moral absolutes to be met with on this tarnished earth, they are the ultimate wronged ones.

Today is Bastille Day. Only seven persons were in the fortress when it was stormed and none of them was a political prisoner. A tiny guard successfully resisted a force of hundreds, killing 80 peasants with no loss of life to themselves, before the governor surrendered. This governor was then brutally decapitated and his body exhibited. The French revolution had begun. This was to be the model for the Russian and the Iranian revolutions, amongst others.

But no longer. In the contemporary age that we live in, of moral grandeur and information, the model revolutions must be those of 1989, in which ‘people power’ overwhelmed wolfish dictators without any shedding of blood, in which brutal regimes grew tired of themselves, in which bad people were no longer able to put good people in prison, and tanks which had been decorated with flowers in 1968 finally grew cobwebs. The power of the poem, the word, was listened to.

People started to form parties of the like-minded and to vote for them. We must do likewise. Nobody who lies all the time can be considered religious. A future of peaceable routine and greyish debate is to be preferred to the present black and white. Moral consciousness will not go away, but need not always be on trial. This quiet victory will have been won by the courage of the ordinary crowds, the followers without leaders, above all by those with a conscience who have recognised other human beings.


[1] ‘Auguries of Innocence,’ c. 1803.

[2] A painting by Richard Dadd (1817-1886) once owned by Siegfried Sassoon. See image.

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