Professor’s perspective on turmoil in Iran

Mass protests and punishing reprisals in the wake of Iran’s June 12 presidential elections strike a chord worldwide. Kamran Dadkhah, associate professor of economics at Northeastern University, fled his native Iran for the United States 29 years ago. He believes that decades of oppression led to the current unrest, and that the opposition is directed not only at the election, but at the government. Dadkhah shares his perspective on the conflict and on what is to come for Iran.

What is your reaction to what is going on there now?

It’s as if I am reliving an bad dream. I feel for the Iranian youth, who are deprived of many joys that people in the West take for granted. But I also remember that after the revolution, an eight-year war that left so many dead and caused so much damage, Iranians ended up worse off. I hope I am wrong, but I am afraid that this dream doesn’t have a happy ending.

How does the 1979 revolution compare with what is happening now?

In 1979, people—especially the youth—wanted freedom in Iran. The difference is that neither the Shah of Iran nor the army was as brutal as the present regime and the Revolutionary Guard. In addition, the revolution of 1978–79 was based on the ideology of Shiism, a branch of Islam, and was led by Ayatollah Khomeini, who promised a democratic society based on the principles of Shiite Islam. No one has articulated any ideology or set of objectives for the present-day movement. People today need to articulate the changes they want to see happen and not just oppose the status quo.

Why is there so much opposition to the election results?

As President Obama noted, there isn’t that much difference between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his opponent Mir Hussein Moussavi. People are protesting 30 years of oppression, and discrimination against women and religious minorities. Moreover, populist policies of Ahmadinejad have resulted in 25 percent inflation and more than 12 percent unemployment (these are official figures; many economists in Iran believe the true figures are much higher). Finally, many believe that Ahmadinejad’s belligerence toward the world, his denial of the Holocaust, and his irrational animosity toward Israel have isolated Iran and discredited the nation.

Protesters are organizing via e-mail, text message and Twitter. Has technology fueled the conflict, or would these protests still occur without the use of these technologies?

Each revolution uses the latest technology available. In the constitutional revolution of 1906, Iranians used Shabnameh (printed leaflets distributed during the night). In the 1978–79 revolution, followers of Khomeini used tape recordings to spread the message. We are in the age of Twitter, YouTube, and the iPhone.

What does the death of Neda Agha-Soltan represent to those seeking freedom in Iran?

Revolutions thrive on symbols, particularly in Shiite Iran, which emphasizes the martyrdom of the Third Imam more than 1300 years ago. The image of this young woman dying would haunt every decent Iranian. It is unfortunate that many have to die to get rid of a corrupt and despotic regime.

Americans have taken an interest in the protests in Iran. Are Iranians aware of the American support, and are American actions doing anything to further the cause?

Yes. Iranians can access the BBC, Fox News, CNN, Voice of America, and Radio Farda (the Persian section of Radio Free Europe). The U.S. government reaction at the beginning was timid and disappointing. Fortunately, in Tuesday’s press conference, President Obama came out forcefully in favor of “people power.” Despite years of propaganda by the Communists and now Islamic fundamentalists, many around the world look up to the United States as the beacon of hope for freedom.

Lastly, what are the possible outcomes in Iran?

Iran has been a place where, within certain limits, ideas could be discussed openly. However, given what has ensued since the election, the most likely outcome will be a harsh military and intelligence dominance of the country. Another possibility is the eruption of chaos; people are afraid that will cause disintegration of their country.