Tehran, Tiananmen, Taiwan?

There was a post up, briefly, At Edge of the American West Dana captured some of the emerging themes of the discussion [link added] on Iranian democracy, including the fact that Mousavi, from whom the election seems to have been stolen, isn’t really all that nice, liberal or different from Ahmedinajad, especially since the presidency isn’t really the seat of greatest power in Iran.1 There’s a growing call for tough talk and possibly action in support of the protesters, some of which is identifiable as neo-conservatives taking a consistent pro-interventionist line. The post then took that to the next step, noting that we have conflicts with the Iranian regime — nuclear development, Iraq influence, etc. — and that some neo-conservatives have supported military attacks on Iran as a way to force a favorable solution. Near the end of the post was the line that inspired me to respond:

The same groups rending their garments over the murder of Neda will be calling for the bombing of her relatives.2

I don’t think this is entirely true, unless “rending their garments” is supposed to indicate excessive strategic displays of grief. The fact is that the choices in the Iranian election were not all that diverse — the system limits candidates to those who have not, in any way, offended existing powers, at least not without sufficiently powerful allies to pull it off. Nonetheless many of us believe that process matters. Just as the Tiananmen protests were actually about a more open socialism, not democracy, these protests are about an honest Islamic Republic, not democracy. Still, though their rights won’t be all that much greater under Mousawi, it’s clear that their rights have been abridged radically through election fraud and violent suppression of peaceful protests.

Neda, and the others who died, were injured or arrested, deserve better than an Islamic Republic, but at the very least they deserves the preservation of an Islamic Republic.

The literature on democracy development is thin, at least in terms of convincing arguments, but the most likely precursor to actual democracy is faux democracy. It’s the habits of elections and candidates and constitutions and rights that develop under authoritarian populism that can blossom into something like real liberal (in the classical sense) democracy. This is where the example of Taiwan and South Korea is instructive, as well as the transition made by Japan in the mid-20th century. Protests rarely seem to result directly in regime change — though the Romanian and earlier Iranian examples did — but they do express the degree to which the people take their rights seriously.


  1. My apologies if I’m mis-representing the post, but I only read it once before it disappeared. I’m fairly sure I’m close, though. Some blogger more interested in metablogging can discuss the ethics of deleting a post, or of commenting on deleted posts. I didn’t see anything particularly controversial there, or obviously wrong.  

  2. I had copied this into the comment box before the post disappeared, so I’m sure this is correct  

2 Comments

  1. We had a couple of posts go up nearly simultaneously (the perils of group blogging). As far as I know, dana’s holding off for a few hours before putting it back up.

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