A fundamental conviction that many Iranians share and that is ingrained deep in their consciousness is that belonging to an ancient culture does not mean being hostile to progress. Few nations on earth can make similar claims. But living by this basic tenet is proving impossible in the Islamic Republic.
The country's supreme jurist and supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, preached on 17 January that the nation is now witnessing "days of God". In these "days of struggle for Allah", as the term from the Koran can arguably be more readily understood and translated, the Iranians have no choice but to stand together against the American aggressor. But only a minority of the population is taking Khamenei's call to heart, consisting largely of those who are socially provided for by the regime.
The majority, by contrast, are forced to look on as the self-assertion that is equally important to them as well – in particular against Donald Trump, his functionaries and generals – is upheld by leaders who have proven themselves to be failures and have gambled away their legitimacy.
Hostages twice over
A population of around 80 million people that is rapidly becoming impoverished is now being held hostage twice over. They have been put in this dilemma both by their own leadership with its discourse oozing with a readiness to die for the cause, and by the neo-imperialists in Washington. Meanwhile, the climatic conditions in the country are also deteriorating, requiring a completely different kind of resilience. Heat waves, sandstorms and devastating floods are becoming more and more frequent and intense. Geography is reasserting itself with a vengeance, reminding us that no culture can rise above its geographic conditions.
More and more Iranians are reacting to the confrontation by distancing themselves physically. They are emigrating – fleeing – under conditions that are becoming more and more difficult with amendments to consular and migration law. A steady stream of exiles already started up in the days of the Shah. But the stream has now swelled into a veritable exodus, especially of the academic classes.
The negligent shooting down of the passenger plane on 8 January by the "elite" troops of the Revolutionary Guard was therefore not only fatal for the 176 people on board and devastating for their relatives and friends. It also packed a depressing symbolic power. Because most of the passengers were Iranians who had chosen to go into exile or who were visiting relatives abroad. The regime is thus murdering those who seek to evade its authority. Or at least that's how it feels to many people.
What cultural connection will the many Iranians who have settled in areas ranging from Vienna to Vancouver, Stockholm to Rome, Melbourne to Tokyo still feel with their homeland in the coming years or – we should probably ask – the coming generations? Will they even feel any connection at all? It is as if a weak point is emerging that could eventually tear, one that in any case will not be easy to heal.
Iran – global capitalism's final frontier
One can hardly put any faith in the promises that are broadcast daily by Persian-language stations in the UK and America. Since Trump took power, these stations, including Voice of America and BBC Farsi, have shed any pretence of integrity and descended to the level of pure propaganda channels preaching the imminent overthrow of the regime in Tehran, which will then of course be seamlessly replaced by a liberal democracy governed by the rule of law. These Western information sources are nothing but the unpalatable flip side of the Iranian state-controlled media.
There can be no doubt that the U.S. government wants the regime to fall. Ever since investment opportunities for multinational corporations have opened up in Myanmar, ever since the agriculturally and resource-rich nations of Brazil and Ethiopia have been ruled by evangelist presidents – the Ethiopian head of state has even been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – Persia has been something like global capitalism's final frontier, conveniently located on the New Chinese Silk Road.
It is as if the value creation opportunities in Big Data's virtual expansion space were no longer to be trusted. The added value that can be achieved with fossil fuels, on the other hand, has proven to be solid and sustainable in the past. So perhaps people only want to rely once again on what is tried and tested.
In any case, the duel that is taking place under the conditions of rapid modernisation and the no less fast-paced postmodern era is lasting longer than any of the assaults and conquests of the old days. Only the naive can hope here for a happy end. But to at least avert a very bitter ending, we may hope that the principles of the classic Iranian film may rule: an open-ended, somewhat unclear outcome.
© Qantara.de 2020
Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor
Stefan Buchen works as a television journalist for the ARD magazine "Panorama".