Iran in Crisis: 2022 Version

How can we make sense of Iran’s crisis in September 2022? Is it a women’s rights movement? Is it a civil rights movement? Is it a prelude to a revolution to topple over the Islamic Republic? Is it an outcry to change an authoritarian supreme leader? Or something else?

To add to the complexity of the issues at hand, we are faced with a multitude of other questions? What is a favorable outcome? How can we help? Is it destined to die down in the absence of clear leadership? Could the regime’s iron feast and shutting down the Internet manage the situation?

We cannot understand the undertones of Iran’s place in the world without appreciating the three driving forces of the root causes of its peril:

Dwindling Diversity & Exclusionist Approach: First and foremost, the problem lies in a misguided intent of the Islamic Regime to create a homogeneous Shia society after the Revolution of 1979. That led to the prosecution, social exclusion and out-flux of Jewish, Christian, Baha’i, Assyrian, Zoroastrian, Sufist, and many Sunni Iranian who couldn’t see a viable future for their children under that regime. The same blade pointed at intellectuals, artists, authors, LGBTQi community and simply anyone who didn’t match the strict doctrine of the supreme leader and his successor.

On the other hand, women’s exclusion has had a very paradoxical story in Iran. In a country that 60% of their college graduate are women, when it comes to their dress code, freedom of choice and ability to hold high office and leadership roles, they are treated very poorly and sometimes with utmost disrespect and humiliation. The majority of women in Iran don’t believe in a strict Islamic dress code and the majority of men affiliated with them, i.e. their fathers, brothers, partners and sons support that view. Hence, it’s no wonder that a catastrophic event like Mahsa Amini’s death ignites the entire nation (and all those in exile) as almost every Iranian soul can identify with the pain of being humiliated, excluded, harassed and even persecuted because of their inherent and natural identities.

If there is any path out of this crisis for Iran, if anyone wants to wildly-imagine a bright future for this country? Well, such bright future cannot exist without addressing the huge value that our diversity has. It cannot exist without truly including diverse voices, regardless of their gender, religious backgrounds, neuro-diversity, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Obviously, freedom of dress code and relaxing the hijab rules can be regarded as a favorable short-term outcome, but without addressing the fundamental patriarchal systems that fuels gender inequalities in Iran and similar countries, we wouldn’t see true progress.

This short blog wouldn’t be complete without addressing the other two crisis-provoking forces in Iran. They are not directly linked to the current uprising, but they have been a cause for decline in the place of Iran as a nation in the world.

Isolationist Policy: In short, Iran is currently one of the few nations that had a 180 degree turn in its originally-outwardly policy toward the globe. We missed the boat when it came to globalization two decades ago and thanks to international sanctions, Iran’s economy and markets are mostly segregated from the rest of the world. Who is here to blame? Arguably, a “no-West-no-East” doctrine introduced in 1979. As if by severing relationships, economical and political, we are motivated to become self-reliant and independent. Little we knew that this isolation led Iran that had the potential of becoming a trillion dollar non-oil-dependent economy, into a dwarf economy struggling to make ends meet. More on that in other blogs…

Paranoia and Trust Issues: Iran had a very bitter-sweet (mostly bitter) relationships with its neighbors and allies. Our history is filled with stories of being brutally invaded from the East, West, North and South over and over again. The relationship with Western powers is mixed with being betrayed and exploited over the past two centuries. If Iran was a person, people would have said it “has trust issues”. It takes a long time to rebuild that trust and to allow ourselves to be open to new relationships, especially with the US and European nations. Our relationships with our neighbors is also filled with those bitter-sweet memories. Therefore, a nation-building exercise in Iran cannot be regarded as complete without addressing those critical relationships regionally and globally.

Let’s end this with answering some of the questions posed in the second paragraph:

What is a favorable outcome? Based on the above argument, abolishing the morality police is not a favorable long-term outcome. It’s the system that fuels patriarchy, discrimination, and injustice toward women. Anything short of a system change would not address the root cause of our crisis.

How can we help? Well, it depends where you are and who you are. I am personally a fan of non-violent action and civil disobedience. That’s what Iranian women and men have been doing for decades now and they are taking it to a different level. Just simple (and extremely brave) acts of disobedience such as partially or fully removing hijab shakes the oppressors foundations to the core. More than anything, it’s the persistence over time that catalyzes the change. The victory is not by outnumbering or out-gunning the oppressors. It’s by changing their minds and hearts so they would flip and come to your side.

Is it destined to die down in the absence of clear leadership? Not necessarily. In some cultures including Iran, there is a common belief that no movement can be victorious without leadership. That’s not true. There are a multitude of movements (civil or revolutionary) that the leadership emerged as the struggles advanced toward victory. And sometimes, a leader was elected after change happened.

Could the regime’s iron feast and shutting down the Internet manage the situation? Most likely yes but for short-term. The longer it takes, the less fearful people become. No system can suppress the majority of its people and survive long. That’s why there is so much hope, so much fresh air in this unique uprising of Iranians whose wishes are beautifully summarized in one of their key slogans: women, life and liberty.

On dangers of glorification of success and winning

PedestalMost societies value success and winning, no matter how we define them. Winners and successful people receive more attention, are more popular, are generally better paid, progress in their careers faster and people would view them as role models, leaders and most importantly as being “right”.

In a capitalist society where income or net profit (in a business) is regarded as a critical metric for success, those who create more jobs, make most profit,  earn most and simply get ahead (by explicitly or implicitly beating others) along the way are generally better-respected, valued and glorified by the society. People want to follow their examples, listen to them and learn from them.

In a socialist society, it’s not that different. Success and winning are defined or measured differently, but the consequences are very similar. Those who serve the society most (such as civil servants, university professors, social entrepreneurs, job-creators, doctors or teachers) especially if they go above and beyond their call of duty become the role models and celebrities in those societies.

This trend exists even at nation levels. Those countries who are more successful or win in an international race (be it the World Cup or the World War) gain this special status. Think about the US and Soviet Union post WWII. Think about Germany and Japan in terms of their industrial might and success. Think about China, South Korea, U.A.E. and so on. Winning and success demands global respect and attention, followed by gaining more influence, power and authority over other nations.

So far so good. What is wrong with that? Why shouldn’t we celebrate success and winning? Why shouldn’t we respect and follow self-made billionaires, Gold Medalists, Nobel Prize winners and anyone who sits at the top of any organizational structure? Let’s ask the same question for successful people in our own circles. Someone we know who makes twice as much as we do? Someone who has one or two degrees more than what we have? Someone who is at the top of our class (for students)? Someone who is the boss of our boss (for employees)? Etc. Etc. Why shouldn’t we glorify them and follow their examples?

Of course, we can and sometimes we should. Sometimes a winner is “right”. Sometimes a more successful person should be a “role model” or a “leader”. But what if he or she is wrong? What if he or she sets a bad example or is a terrible leader? I would argue that our societies tend to overrate the righteousness of successful people and downplay their flaws or weaknesses. Also, our societies tend to glorify the elite and ignore the hidden moral and intellectual gems of the non-elite.

Let’s say 1 out of 100 people achieve a significant accomplishment. It’s much easier to [falsely] argue that based on this accomplishment [which is a fact], that person is superior to others. It’s such an easy [yet false] generalization, because we don’t need to evaluate the other 99 people and we don’t need to evaluate the totality of that 1 successful person.

This leaves us with a few significant implications to consider:

  1. Ideas and viewpoints of the few elite is heard and amplified more than the ideas and viewpoints of the rest 99%. Just look at a Speakers Bureau like Harry Walker and see what types of winners and successful people are listened to and get paid more to speak at corporate or professional events. Also, look at the job titles of those who write biography or career advice books. Is the story of a successful CEO or COO [who made it] more amplifiable and inspiring than the story of other executives and leaders who tried as hard but just didn’t make it to the very top?
  2. This blog is written one day after 2016 Super Tuesday. If glorification of success wasn’t a norm in our society, we might have had a different prospects and outcomes in our political system. People say “He must have done something right to be very successful”, implying that success justifies being/doing right and therefore he is a good fit to become the next US President.
  3. If success and winning were not glorified this much, children and young people wouldn’t be pressured so much to compete and beat the rest instead of partner and collaborate with others.
  4. At the global level, we might wonder why countries that are mightier or more successful economically should have a stronger voice and influence over matters such as war and peace. Or their votes matter more than the votes of other nations doing economically OK and not interested in military supremacy.

So what? Can we even change this norm? Perhaps not. Or not so quickly. But a starting point is by changing our own personal attitudes toward success and failure. By changing how we should celebrate failure and exercise humility upon our own successes. By trying to avoid an automatic extrapolation of strengths or righteousness based on one’s success or accomplishments. And by de-glorifying the elite in the eyes of our children, employees or students. To highlight that the winners are not necessarily right and the losers could be very right too.