FAREED ZAKARIA GPS
Aired June 21, 2009 – 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I’m Fareed Zakaria.
It’s 1:00 in the afternoon here in New York. And it is 9:30 at night in Iran. Every night now in Tehran, people take to their rooftops, communicating house-to-house, even as they witness the violence that continues on the streets below.
I want you to listen for a moment. This is a tape we received of what it’s like in the dark in the Tehran. Listen to this.
(BRIEF VIDEO TAPE)
It makes you wonder what is really going on there.
It’s been another day of protests and some violence, a lot of it hard to watch. Of course, all of it has been hard to watch. But unlike yesterday’s bloody crackdown, we haven’t heard that anyone was killed today — at least not yet.
But I saw something yesterday that I think is surely the starkest reminder yet of the human lives that hang in the balance. A warning: this is tough to watch.
This teenage girl, known only as Neda, was reportedly shot through the heart by the Basij militia, those pro-regime paramilitary types who are so feared in the streets.
Neda was killed while protesting side-by-side with her father. She is seen here as bystanders try to keep her alive. This video has gone virile, and now her death has become a rallying cry for sympathizers around the world.
And on a personal note, I’ve just received word that a distinguished journalist, a friend of mine, has been arrested in Tehran. Maziar Bahari is a terrific journalist and independent filmmaker, who was a guest on this show just two weeks ago. He’s done some great reporting, worked for Newsweek magazine. He has been inexplicably detained this morning, and has not been heard from since.
I hope the regime sees the error it has made and releases this good and honorable man immediately. He is one of at least 23 journalists we know of who have been arrested.
Now, it’s hard to turn away from all of this, but I want to look at the bigger picture, too, the meaning behind the events unfolding.
My first thought about all of this is that we are seeing everything, from the election to the violence — all of it marks the end of Iran’s theocracy. I don’t mean by that the end of this regime. Governments with armies, militias and jails can often stay in power for a long time. What I mean is the end of the Iranian system — rule by clerics, government by divine sanction.
In this recent election, the two main candidates were both laypeople. The supreme leader was supposed to be infallible. He called the election results a divine blessing. Then he backtracked and endorsed a review. In his most recent remarks at Friday prayers, he took a harder line and called it a definite victory for Ahmadinejad.
The Council of Guardians was supposed to require no input from the people. It had divinity on its side. But we, too, have seen them responding to the street, and within the ranks of the establishment cracks are appearing. Even the very powerful speaker of the parliament, Ali Larijani, has reportedly questioned the election results.
So, the basic idea of Iran’s revolution — that a group of clerics with special access to divine revelations are the final legitimate authority — that idea has cracked. The final authority, it appears, comes from the people.
The second observation I would make is that this election really was about Iran’s relations with the rest of the world, and even with America. The large group of people who voted against Ahmadinejad, what were they voting against? Not Ahmadinejad’s economic policies. Iran has been mismanaged for 30 years. His challenger could not really portray himself as being that much different.
The entire regime — Mousavi was prime minister during the repressive period in its history. But here’s the difference. Mousavi did keep denouncing Ahmadinejad’s aggressive and confrontational foreign policy. And he offered the prospects of better relations with the world.
In other words, it is clear now that a large number of Iranians passionately want their country to be more connected with the modern world, more open to it. And that means, in particular, good relations with the United States.
This is a proud nation and a proud people, and I think they don’t see themselves as a rogue state or as pariahs. Now, whether Iran will rejoin the modern world will depend on the decisions of this regime and the level of its brutality. But now we know that millions of people in Iran want integration and not isolation.
Today on the show, I’ll talk to people who really know and understand what is going on, in the streets and in the halls of power — fascinating people you will not want to miss. Let’s get started.
(BREAK) ZAKARIA: So, what does all of this mean for Iran? And how should the outside world deal with it?
Few people have a keener understanding of geopolitics and of Iran than Zbigniew Brzezinski. He is a scholar of the world, a student of history, and he was also America’s national security adviser during the 1979 Iranian revolution, 30 years ago this week.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It’s good to be with you, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: My first question, Zbig. You are a great student of ideological regimes. That was, in a way, your scholarly training.
Does this strike you as the beginning of the end of Iran’s governing ideology?
BRZEZINSKI: Yes, I agree with you. It is the beginning of the end, but the beginning could be prolonged. And this is why we have to be very careful in how we handle it. And we have to be very careful in trying to understand it.
You said that I was in the White House when the theocratic Iranian revolution took place. That is true. But I was also in the White House when the Solidarity movement appeared in Poland, which then eventually became victorious.
And there are some interesting analogies, but also some very important contrasts between the two. And it is important particularly to understand the contrasts.
ZAKARIA: Tell us what the difference is. Why is this not going to look like 1989 in Europe, or the flowering of freedom in the former Soviet Union?
BRZEZINSKI: One very important reason. And I was up to my ears in dealing with it, and trying to steer it and to manipulate it.
The revolution in Eastern Europe, the Solidarity movement in Poland, or the other movements in the Czech Republic and Hungary, and so forth, were for democracy. And there are aspects to what is happening in Iran which are similar for democracy.
But the movements in Eastern Europe were also intensely nationalistic. That is to say, they were opposing foreign domination, foreign imperialism, direct control from another capital, namely from Moscow. That element is not there in Iran.
We’re dealing with a country which is very nationalistic. Parts of that country may not be as hostile to us as the ayatollahs have been over the last 30 years. But they’re not struggling against a foreign domination. And that makes the movement somewhat weaker. It isn’t quite as united as in Eastern Europe. And thus, in Iran, we have two different forces at work. You have those who are for more democracy, but who are also nationalistic. And there are those who are supporting the regime, who in many respects are like our neocons — very similar to our neocons.
They’re Manichean. They look at the world as divided into good and evil, and many of them see America as the personification of evil. So, that makes it much more complicated, and makes our role much more sensitive.
ZAKARIA: And, Zbig, does that mean — you point out that we need to be sensitive here, because Iran is a nationalist country.
Do you think that President Obama has struck the right tone, trying to offer some support, but being very clear to say this is an internal Iranian affair? We are not trying to pick sides. We are not trying to — you know, we don’t have a dog in this fight, in that sense.
BRZEZINSKI: Fareed, I never hesitate to criticize presidents when I have a different point of view.
But I think on this, he has struck absolutely the right note. He’s offering moral sympathy. He’s identifying himself morally, historically with what is happening in Iran.
But he’s not engaging himself politically. He’s not interfering, because that would turn badly. And it could be exploited by the neocons in Iran to crush the revolution, to wipe it out.
I don’t know if the revolution will prevail. It may take time. The longer it lasts, the better are its chances. But we don’t want it to escalate into a total showdown, because if there’s a total showdown now, the chances are that the worst elements — the Iranian neocons — will prevail.
ZAKARIA: Is it fair to say, Zbig, that this was the concern that George H.W. Bush had during the revolutions of ’89, which is why he was cautious about, as he put it, going to Berlin and dancing on the Wall? His fear was that either the communist regimes in Eastern Europe would crack down, or that the Soviet Union would crack down, and therefore was trying to play this balancing game of offering some support, but not so much that you insert America into the process.
BRZEZINSKI: Absolutely. And I was a private citizen at the time, but he called me in a couple of times to discuss this with him. And he was prudent and intelligent — and, ultimately, masterful — because things worked out the way we wanted them to work out.
I think Obama has redefined America’s relationship with Islam. And thereby, he has weakened the capacity of the ayatollahs to present us as a satanic force.
But we should have no illusions that Iranian nationalism is going to be easy to deal with. And even if Mousavi wins, for example, we’ll still have a complicated problem in the nuclear area. But hopefully, the nature of the dialogue, the atmosphere will change for the better.
ZAKARIA: Finally, Zbig, how does one ensure that this works its way out to be something more like Eastern Europe, and not something like Tiananmen Square? How do you think the — you know, what’s the trajectory here?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, I think it will not work out the way Eastern Europe worked out. And hopefully, it will not end the way Tiananmen Square ended. Eastern Europe became intensely pro-Western, pro- American, and so forth.
I think we should have no illusions about this. The Iranians have a long historical memory. They look at the West, and particularly at America and Britain, with somewhat critical eyes. They have grievances against us, and they feel that we have done things to them which they weren’t entitled to have happened.
So, I think the accommodation will not be easy. But once we no longer have a Manichean, black-and-white, good-and-evil type of a regime confronting us in a hostile fashion, it will be easier to deal with the specific problems that we confront.
One of the paradoxes here domestically is that many of the people who call for the most energetic involvement by Obama in the process, they simply would prefer to have an American-Iranian showdown.
Whereas, in fact, if there is a change of regime in Iran, there’s a greater chance of accommodation. And I think that is to be fervently wished for.
But that requires patience, intelligent manipulation, moral support, but no political interference.
ZAKARIA: Final question. If Ahmadinejad does in fact stay the president, would you advise President Obama to pursue the negotiating strategy, or are all bets off now?
BRZEZINSKI: No, of course, I would support negotiating strategy, because it seems to me that, if the regime is there, we still have a stake in some outcome better than the one that otherwise is probable.
We negotiated with Mao Zedong, who said that if there are nuclear weapons and the Chinese have them, there may be 300 million dead in a war, but so what. We negotiated with Stalin. I see no reason why we shouldn’t negotiate with Ahmadinejad, if he comes out on top. But clearly, it would be a more difficult process.
ZAKARIA: Zbigniew Brzezinski, very valuable. Thank you so much. We are very grateful to you.
BRZEZINSKI: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: And we will be back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAKARIA: And to discuss what is going on in Iran, I am joined by Hooman Majd, Parag Khanna and Afshin Molavi. Very distinguished. All of them have written books. We’ll have that all on our Web site and on the screen. For now, I just want to get into the conversation.
Hooman, you’re a writer and author of a wonderful book. And you are also related to the former president, Khatami, who has publicly sided with Mousavi, the challenger, and against Ahmadinejad. He is a pillar of the establishment. He’s now, in effect, broken the establishment — he and some others.
Have you talked to him? What does he say is going on in Iran right now?
HOOMAN MAJD, AUTHOR, “THE AYATOLLAH BEGS TO DIFFER”: Well, he’s — I haven’t talked to him in the last few days. And I’ve talked to some family members who are related to him, as well, cousins who are related to him. I don’t want to mention their names. It’s a very, very dangerous situation in Iran right now. People are being arrested left and right, as you know.
What he has been saying publicly, and what’s been say publicly, and what he’s been saying privately to people that I have spoken to is that, obviously, this is something that is a vote that needs to be challenged, legally needs to be challenged. And he’s supporting Mousavi’s stand at this point.
ZAKARIA: He’s not backing down.
MAJD: He’s not backing down. As of today, he’s still not backing down. On his Web site, even today, he had a letter that he’s not backing down.
ZAKARIA: So, take me through this option. You have Khatami, the former president, two-term president, not backing down. Rafsanjani, a former president, the very important leader of the Assembly of Experts not backing down. Larijani, the speaker of the parliament, not backing down.
Can the regime really crack down? I mean, it can arrest people on the street, and it can arrest journalists like Maziar. But what does it do with these very powerful people who have now defied it?
AFSHIN MOLAVI, AUTHOR, “THE SOUL OF IRAN”: That’s what’s so different about what we’re seeing in Iran today compared to the 1999 student protests or 2003 protests. Not only do you have the street versus the regime, but you have the regime versus the regime.
And what we’re witnessing is kind of an old guard-new guard divide. The old guard, some of the figures you mentioned — Rafsanjani, Mousavi, Khatami. But there’s a new guard of Revolutionary Guard elite, members of the paramilitary Basij command. And they are around Ahmadinejad. And Ahmadinejad…
ZAKARIA: Just so people understand, this is sort of — it’s almost like the old clerical establishment and these new, more military, laypeople often, who are associated with Ahmadinejad. Those are the two camps.
MOLAVI: Absolutely. And what we’ve witnessed in the past four years is the militarization of Iranian politics. And what we saw in these elections, I think, was the ultimate military action in this fraudulent election, taking over this election on behalf of this new guard.
ZAKARIA: Parag, can they do it? I mean, can this regime just shut this all down?
PARAG KHANNA, AUTHOR, “THE SECOND WORLD”: I don’t believe so. I think that what we’re seeing here is an inter-generational conflict, despite what Afshin said about even the next generation of clerical elites and Basij, and so forth, having members from the younger generation. Still, the masses that you are seeing out there are not going to go away.
The parallel that we never hear is to Ukraine — Ukraine in 2004, the Orange Revolution — masses of young people out in the streets. Ultimately, the security forces refused to open fire. And that led to the Orange Revolution. You had a changing of the guard.
Of course, you have a system, or it led to a system where you replaced one set of elites with another. And you still have a lot of corruption, a lot of unpredictability in the politics, but there was a definite change. And I don’t think that they are going to be able to shut that down now.
ZAKARIA: And you can hear in some of the videos I’ve seen, the people calling out to the police and to the military saying, “Join us.”
ZAKARIA: “Join us.” So, they are trying to get a — or remind the police that they reflect society, as well.
MAJD: Yes, exactly.
ZAKARIA: Do you think that will work?
MAJD: Well, it’ll work to some extent. But I think we have to be careful in terms of comparing it to other revolutions, or even comparing it to the 1979 revolution.
Even if you assume that Mousavi won, as he has claimed, by the same margin that Ahmadinejad actually won, that still means that Ahmadinejad got 35 percent of the vote. Even Mousavi would admit that. That’s a lot of people. Thirty-five percent of the people of Iran would have at least voted for Ahmadinejad. I have always said that.
Plus, they have the military. Plus, they have the security establishment. And they’ve got the guns.
So, it’s not going to be easy. ZAKARIA: And all the money that flows from the oil.
MAJD: All the money that flows.
So, it’s not yet — it’s certainly not yet at this stage — any kind of revolution. Plus, Mousavi and Khatami and Rafsanjani are not making it a revolution. They’re not saying this is a revolution to overthrow the system, to even overthrow Khamenei. They haven’t even suggested that yet.
MOLAVI: But one of the things that we’re witnessing, though, on the streets of Iran is, as Hooman noted, you know, first people went out onto the streets because they were protesting what they felt was their vote denied.
But as events have transpired, we’re starting to see things that we’ve never seen before — chants of “Death to the dictator,” referring to Ayatollah Khamenei. We are starting to see a seriously brutal crackdown, which, as you know, Fareed, these kind of things can spiral out of control, the way it did in 1978 through ’79.
Let’s not forget that the demonstrations that led to the overthrow of the shah took place over a one-year period.
And the next thing to look out for in Iran is, will we see strikes? Will the bazaars strike? Will the oil workers strike? That’s when things will start to get serious.
KHANNA: I would add that, even if this is not about the election anymore — and I think we probably all agree about that — when will we see someone step forward and say, this is what the new system should look like, the new relationship between the supreme leader, between the Guardian Council, between other aspects of the clerical regime? Obviously, then, the secular authority, the presidency — not just does Mousavi replace Ahmadinejad as president. That still won’t satisfy either majority or many of the people.
Who is going to map out the new structure of what the Iranian government looks like? Its complexity has come back to haunt it, obviously.
MAJD: No, I think that has been mapped out in the past. I mean, Rafsanjani has made statements in the past, way before this election, about what the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) should look like, whether the supreme leader should be a council of more than one person. Khatami has always talked about what the supreme leader’s office should be. It should be more of a guide. It shouldn’t be an executive position.
ZAKARIA: But can we all agree that, in order for the regime to succeed at what it’s doing now, it’s going to have to do a lot more than just shut down a few protests. It’s going to have to do purges. It’s going to have to somehow — because otherwise, all these guys are still in office, and they could plotting — I mean, mostly, when you have these kind of ideological dictatorships, they’ve got to make sure that Khatami’s people are taken out, Rafsanjani’s people are taken out. And these guys are all very powerful. This is beginning to look like…
MAJD: That’s why I think there’ll be negotiations. That’s why…
ZAKARIA: Which means that…
MAJD: It’s my opinion that there’ll be negotiations.
I think the supreme leader has actually let himself some wiggle room. By leaving it in the hands of the Guardian — he has come out forcefully for Ahmadinejad — there’s no question about that — at the Friday prayers. But he’s left himself some wiggle room.
First of all, for him to say that you can’t possibly stuff 11 million ballots. I mean, that’s true. You can’t. He’s right about that.
But he didn’t address the question of whether the votes were counted in the first place or not. So, if that becomes something that comes back, maybe he — maybe. This is speculation. And it’s all speculation. Everything we’re all talking about is all a speculation.
But I think he will want — rather see negotiations with the Khatamis, Rafsanjanis, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the various ayatollahs, and even the military — people like Rezai (ph), Larijani, who you mentioned.
So, I think he’d rather see negotiations.
ZAKARIA: A quick though.
MOLAVI: Sure. I think, whatever happens, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been diminished by this. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has been diminished by this. Ahmadinejad swaggers on the world stage. One of the reasons is, he thinks he has this popular legitimacy. The streets are saying otherwise.
ZAKARIA: And we will be right back with these three distinguished experts.
ZAKARIA: And we are back with Afshin Molavi, Hooman Majd and Parag Khanna.
You said something, Hooman, about this being — no, sorry — Afshin said something about this being the — Ahmadinejad, one way or the other, is substantially diminished. Would you agree with that?
MAJD: Yes. I would actually go further than that and say, he’s over. As far as I’m concerned, he’s over.
I think as far as the people of Iran are concerned, he’s no longer the legitimate president of Iran, and he will not have that legitimacy with the people of Iran. He may still have it on the Arab street, outside on the Muslim street. I think he’s recognizing that he’s diminished greatly.
But I think in the long-term future, whether he stays president or not, the era of Ahmadinejad is over. I think his influence on the supreme leader, his influence on parliament, his influence in Iranian society is going to be so diminished, that it’s essentially over.
ZAKARIA: Now, what does this say, Afshin, about Iran’s liberals? You know, they have chosen Mousavi as their representative, even though he’s not the most liberal of people.
Are they going to be satisfied? Are there enough of them for this to matter?
MOLAVI: You know, I think that it’s important to distinguish between pre-election Mousavi and post-election Mousavi. Pre-election Mousavi was kind of the anybody-but-Ahmadinejad candidate in a very limited election that many democratic-minded Iranians embraced him.
Post-election Mousavi has become a political martyr, you know, a symbol of a man unjustly treated. And I think that’s important to note right now. And in many ways, the crowd is driving Mousavi just as much as he is driving the crowds.
And, you know, Iranians have been struggling…
ZAKARIA: And he’s now said this, “I’m ready for martyrdom.”
ZAKARIA: He’s become more and more heroic with every day.
MOLAVI: No, absolutely. You know, this is a 100-year-long struggle for Iranians. This is not new.
The 1979 revolution was a struggle for freedom, which got them an authoritarian Islamic republic. They’ve been struggling for freedom for more than 100 years. And what we’re seeing on the streets of Iran today are the heirs to those many seekers of freedom.
ZAKARIA: And not just on the streets of Iran. I will point out to our viewers that we have two Iranian Americans sitting at this table. And both of you I notice are wearing green ties.
MOLAVI: Right, right.
ZAKARIA: Green being the color of the Mousavi revolution.
MOLAVI: And the color of justice, it became now, that has become…
MAJD: And the color of Islam.
MOLAVI: And the color of Islam, yes.
ZAKARIA: Parag, what do you think are the larger implications?
Thirty years ago this week, this is the Islamic Republic of Iran, which was the first in the kind of wave of Islamic radicalism, Islamic fundamentalism. It shook governments all over the world. It radicalized the Saudi government. You know, a lot of what we now see as the problem of violent Islam begins with Iran.
Iran is faltering. Will it have an effect?
KHANNA: Absolutely. I think we should extend what Hooman said about Ahmadinejad to the international level. If Ahmadinejad’s credibility is finished within Iran, and potentially on the Arab street in places where he was popular, this also means the end potentially — at least for a while — of this Iranian geopolitical adventurism.
For the last two years we’ve seen books and articles about Iran, the regional hegemon, the Shia superpower, all of these things, the Iranian threat. I don’t think that that has as much weight or credibility right now.
I once said that Iran will have the Persian Gulf only in name. And I think that becomes particularly true at a moment like this, when people look at Iran and they see just what this regime has wrought, and just how weak and lacking in credibility it has become.
ZAKARIA: Hooman, you’ve traveled around Iran a lot recently. Is it fair to say — you know, some people say — I think many of us hope — that, you know, they’re fed up with Islamic government. They’re fed up with political Islam. They’re fed up with the mullahs.
Or is it true that there is still — you know, it’s still a very religious society?
MAJD: It’s still a very religious society, particularly outside of the northern Tehran enclaves and the people that we tend to associate with when we go there. In the hotels we go to, the people we talk to, it’s people who speak English.
It’s still a religious society. I think overall, people are fed up with the government, not so much about the Islamic aspect of it, about the way the government operates.
People have been fed up about the economy — something you mentioned earlier on. And one interesting thing about foreign policy is, people are concerned about foreign policy as it relates to the economy. They understand. They’re very sophisticated.
Even in rural areas, people understand that American sanctions, European sanctions, banking sanctions have affected the economy. And they understand that’s because of a belligerent attitude.
ZAKARIA: And I think one of the reasons is Iran is a great trading nation, and it has been a great trading nation.
MAJD: A trading nation, yes. ZAKARIA: So, the idea that Iran is cut off from world trade is almost unnatural.
MAJD: Absolutely. Absolutely.
But I think the idea that — I think it’s kind of wishful thinking to think that all the people that are out on the streets, all the people who are demonstrating for this kind of democracy are doing it because they hate the Islamic Republic, or hate an Islamic government the way it is, I don’t think that’s the case. Certainly not yet.
ZAKARIA: What’s the broader message of these events to the Muslim world?
MOLAVI: Well, I think the broader message of these events is in fact that, in many ways, this idea of political Islam that Ayatollah Khomeini wrought with this thundering 1979 revolution, Iranians in many ways don’t have romantic, foggy notions of what an Islamic republic would look like.
They’ve lived through it. And it actually hasn’t delivered the goods. The price of meat is too high. There’s high unemployment and underemployment.
And so, I don’t think that message will get across, because if these protests were taking place in Egypt or in Jordan, or other parts of the Middle East, they would be led by political Islamists. Whereas, in Iran, we are seeing more secular demands while maintaining that Iran still is a religious society.
ZAKARIA: The interesting thing about the effect in the Arab world can be seen in watching the coverage. So, the Arabs, it seems to me, are tentative. On the one hand, they don’t like Iran, and they want to undermine it. And so, they like the idea of instability in Iran.
On the other hand, they do not like the idea of people power and people. So, apparently, Arab regimes are very careful in how their state media is covering all of this.
KHANNA: Absolutely. The common denominator across the entire Muslim world — most certainly, the entire Middle East — is this youth bulge. We talk about it all the time. We’re always saying the regimes are fearful of these masses of young people — in every country in the Middle East where the majority of the people are under the age of 30.
They want change of some kind. Whether it’s led by political Islamists, as Afshin said, or by young, educated (ph) or (UNINTELLIGIBLE), just the unemployed — the bored, even, literally. Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, these places are obviously, from the popular point of view, they’re seeing the media. They’re seeing this. They’re saying, maybe we can do it, too.
And I have no doubt that, if it didn’t happen in Iran just now, Egypt would be the next place.
ZAKARIA: Parag Khanna, Hooman Majd, Afshin Molavi, thank you all for a fascinating discussion. And we will be right back.
ZAKARIA: Now, let’s get an update on what’s going on in Iran from Ivan Watson at CNN’s world headquarters.
IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN WORLD HEADQUARTERS: … eye witnesses we’ve been talking to. Scattered attempts at protest, very difficult to find out what is going on on the ground, because there’s been a media blackout in Tehran, in Iran. The BBC bureau being shut down, the BBC correspondent being expelled, as well as the El Arabiya Tehran office, as well.
Startling news for the power struggle going on behind the scenes. Five relatives of the former president, a very wealthy Iranian, Hashemi Rafsanjani — his daughter, who is pictured here on Iranian state television, attending one of the opposition demonstrations — they were arrested according to Iranian state media, and that is likely to ratchet tensions between rival camps among Iran’s ruling elite right now.
Moving on, another former president, Mohammad Khatami, he published an open letter on his Web site. And that includes information in this open Web site that he was criticizing assault and intimidation and the wave of arrests. He said the people had a right to peaceful protest.
Now, moving on, once more, we had a rare interview with one of the demonstrators who attended those rallies yesterday. This is a young woman who will remain anonymous, who contributed photos to iReport. I asked her, after she informed me that she was clubbed taking these photos yesterday, I asked her, “What do you want from the Iranian government?”
(BEGIN VIDEO IREPORT)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want our freedom. When our leader says that the election was fair, we understand that he is lying, too.
We want — it’s not a matter of Ahmadinejad or Mousavi. It’s now, I think, the regime and our country. We don’t care who is the president now. We would rather Mousavi. But now, when our leader says it was fair, and we know that it’s not, I think it’s about our country.
We want to — we want the truth.
(END VIDEO IREPORT)
WATSON: And what that signifies is that the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the man who has liked to position himself above politics, when he took sides on Friday, when he declared that the results of these very controversial elections last week, that they were fair and gained (ph), despite criticism and complaints from all three of the opposition candidates, when he took sides, he lost the support of at least some of the Iranian population. And they are now challenging the taboo of his legitimacy and authority.
That’s this hour’s update from the Iran desk. Fareed Zakaria, GPS, will return in a moment.
ZAKARIA: With journalists barred from covering what’s going on in the streets of Iran, the Internet has become the world’s only link to this almost existential struggle. It’s been called the Internet revolution or the Twitter revolution.
Here to help me explore it, Sree Sreenivasan likes to say that, in terms of technology, he is both an evangelist and skeptic. Hopefully, he’ll play both roles here today. His day job is professor and dean at Columbia University’s School of Journalism.
Clay Shirky is a thinker, writer, professor, programmer, designer. He has long believed that, thanks to the Internet, there is an enormous shift occurring in the amount of leverage that the many have over the few.
So Clay, is this a kind of poster child for your theory, the power of all these Iranians against the enormous police power of the state?
CLAY SHIRKY, AUTHOR, “HERE COMES EVERYBODY”: It’s certainly a seminal moment.
But I keep being struck by the 1968 chant during the Chicago riots, “the whole world is watching.” And that wasn’t true then, but it is now.
And I think what we’re seeing now isn’t just that the Iranians are using these tools, but also that the outside world is not only watching, but trying to participate in ways that weren’t possible prior to this kind of interconnectivity.
We don’t know whether or not it’s a revolution in — we don’t know whether or not the revolution will be successful. But in a way, what states like Iran are being pushed to is shutting down all communications infrastructure.
If you have to shut down even SMS, it potentially radicalizes parts of the population that didn’t previously think they were part of the fight. So the more tools the dissidents have on the ground, the more hysterical and public the state’s reaction has to be. And that potentially creates long-term dangers.
ZAKARIA: And the more you have to shut down your economy to make this work.
SHIRKY: Exactly right. And so, that’s now the new game of chicken in a way.
If we can use enough communications tools, the state would have to do damage to the population at large. It’s almost the digital version of insurgents operating from within hospitals, which is to say, they can’t afford to attack the communications infrastructure of the whole country.
ZAKARIA: Sree, what strikes you about this? I mean, what I’m struck by is how — the fact that you don’t have that much coming out of television has meant that news organizations like CNN have to rely on people on the street, iReports, Twitter.
SREE SREENIVASAN, PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY JOURNALISM SCHOOL: Right. And it’s causing a lot of consternation within newsrooms, because they’re not used to putting things on the air that they cannot verify 100 percent, or as close to that as possible.
So, you’re seeing lots of internal debate about what should we put — sort of every television or newspaper place to say, what should we be doing?
And what’s happening — I think what Clay was saying is very important — that not only is the stuff getting out, but then it’s being amplified by people outside. And so, it’s helping, or they’re trying to help.
We’ll see how successful all of this is in the end, because unless the revolution really is completely successful, it’s just an attempt, rather than a full revolution.
ZAKARIA: Well, what strikes me also is the fact that one now goes to sources that have an expertise at gathering this kind of stuff, rather than so much traditional media. Of course, cnn.com is the greatest and most important news site in the world.
But I find that Andrew Sullivan, this, you know, very famous blogger, has been able to put together a remarkable set of videos, photographs, reports. How does that happen? I mean, are people sending him this stuff?
SREENIVASAN: Well, people are sending folks like him, and it’s not — I mean, Andrew does a great job. But there are so many people who have said that what we can do that will be most helpful to everyone is to take these pictures and show them to everybody and put them in one place.
Because if you’re sitting there or standing around, running in Tehran, you’re just sending this out, you don’t know where it’s going. So kind of curating the stuff so that it’s helpful to the outside world to see these pictures — look at this picture right now.
You know, when you see the kind of things that we’ve been seeing on the screen, they’re very powerful. And they make a point to politicians and thought leaders and others. Look at this. This is what’s happening.
ZAKARIA: So, let’s look at this now. Is this too graphic? Is this too…
SREENIVASAN: Well, it depends on what you’re saying. I’ve seen many worse pictures than this on the Internet about what’s going on there.
And the questions that are being asked about these pictures are, should we be showing this? Should we put labels on them, not just where they’re from, but warnings?
ZAKARIA: And to me the most interesting thing is, it has a political effect, which is the regime tries to shut down television coverage, because it wants to shut down a protest. And it’s feeling as if — you know, is there a protest if nobody knows about it? It’s a kind of a philosophical question, if the tree falls in the forest.
What Twitter does, what cell phones do, what these cameras do is they say, we will record. We will record it, even if you don’t allow state media or you don’t allow television cameras, word will get out that half a million people gathered in central Tehran.
SREENIVASAN: And as we are seeing with the anniversary of Tiananmen Square, that people really want to document this also for what happens for history. So, even if none of the pictures I take today are going to come out, I know that somebody, some day is going to do this, is going to verify that this happened. And that’s really important to people on the street as they are doing this.
And there’s also, we’re all kind of learning together. There’s not like there’s a manual on how to do this.
So, for example, a lot of the activists said, hey, everybody, let’s help confuse the Iranian government. Everybody, change your Twitter profile, no matter where you are, to say you’re in Tehran, so that they’ll have to shut down millions of people rather than just a few.
Now what happens? That’s a real problem for journalists and others trying to verify, because I could be sitting in New York and I say I’m in Tehran. It doesn’t help get the right information out, but it confuses people.
ZAKARIA: We’re all from Tehran.
SREENIVASAN: Yes, exactly.
SHIRKY: Almost all of the censorship regimes for countries like this have been about censoring professional media, media from the outside, media that’s relatively low volume from predictable sources.
When every one of your citizens is also a potential camera person and on-the-scene reporter, there’s no more surgical censorship possible. And that’s when you get things like all of Twitter shuts down, all of Facebook shuts down. And we’re moving into a world from kind of surgical, you can’t read “The New York Times,” you can’t see Wikipedia, to really these kind of blunt force interventions — no Twitter at all, no SMS at all.
And as you said, the potential threat to the economy of shutting down communications infrastructure actually puts the government at risk from taking these actions, because of the potential repercussions down the line.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: I think you’re going to continue to see this, and people are going to — you know, even people who have had the cell phone, but have never thought about taking a picture, who have had their Internet access, but they’ve never thought about writing something. Let’s document it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: What do you think is the likely follow-up here? Are we going to see more and more of this in Iran right now?
SREENIVASAN: I think you’re going to continue to see this, and people are going to — you know, even people who have had the cell phone, but have never thought about taking a picture, who have had their Internet access, but they’ve never thought about writing something. Let’s document it.
And by the way, it’s both sides. It’s not like it’s all, you know, we’re seeing a lot on the outside because it’s being amplified by one side. But we’re seeing the pro-Ahmadinejad people are on there also and saying, look. They’re also smart about using the blogosphere, but a lot of them are not communicating in the languages that might appeal to the West, and things like that.
ZAKARIA: Is it fair to say, though, that this is all probably an urban phenomenon, that maybe we’re self-selecting here, we’re looking at all of these people that we want to see? Urban is probably not the right word, because actually, Iran is 80 percent urban.
SHIRKY: Yes, it’s quite urban, yes.
ZAKARIA: But it’s an upper middle class phenomenon?
SREENIVASAN: Well, except that the cell phone, as in many other countries, is something that even lower middle class — and even lower than that — can afford.
Now, can they afford the one that allows you to take the picture and send it? What kind of data plan are they on?
ZAKARIA: Do they know how to use Twitter?
SREENIVASAN: Very unlikely that they know how to do it, but… ZAKARIA: And it seems to me — tell me if I’m right about this, because I’m hardly an expert. But what strikes me as so powerful about Twitter is that it’s using SMS. It’s using texting.
And in most of the Third World, in most of the non-Western world, the mobile phone has become the personal computer.
ZAKARIA: And so, if you can do stuff off your mobile phone, it means you’ve suddenly — you’re accessing two billion people.
SHIRKY: That’s exactly right. And Sree said this beautifully. The phone is really the seminal device on the ground in Iran.
You see a number of people sort of talking about how few people computers, how few people have Internet access. But that’s a very 1990s way of looking at the world. The Internet is one thing over here, and the phone is another thing over there.
Really, the two key pieces are, is there connectivity, and can you send data? And whenever, on any kind of device, both of those things are true, you’re plugged into the grid.
And so, if I SMS something, I’m seeing people raiding a dormitory here, and Sree gets it and he can take SMS in but tweet out or put it on Facebook or put it on his blog, it’s the ecosystem as a whole that matters here, not any one device or any one tool.
And the inner amplification of a single observation in the field spreading outwards and then people’s reaction funneling back, that’s, in a way, where the power of this comes from, as much from the distribution of cell phones as from the redistribution by computer.
ZAKARIA: What are the most important sites to look at that are aggregating? If you want to understand Iran, what Web sites should you look at?
SREENIVASAN: Well, I mean, there are — I mean, I would start, obviously, at cnn.com. There’s plenty of nice links there.
But I think we have video of some of the other, new kind of things where you can see live searches being put together. There’s a site I like called almost.at. Almost.at is what they call it. And where you go in there, and not only do you have the tweets, you also have video and photographs, and you also are able to see news links, so that you can see them all in one place.
Sites like Global Voices Online, which is what we are seeing here, is an important way in which, it’s not just that people are blogging, it’s so that you can get them all — all the useful, best bloggers are in one place.
And the idea of who is a good blogger is determined by the crowd and by what they’re actually saying, rather than a degree that they might have on a wall. It’s actually what are they seeing, what are they hearing. That’s what important.
ZAKARIA: Sree, Clay, fascinating discussion. We’ll have you back.
SREENIVASAN: Thank you so much.
SHIRKY: Thanks very much.
ZAKARIA: And we will be back.
ZAKARIA: Now, for the “Question of the Week.”
Last week I asked you if you thought real reform could come to Iran in the foreseeable future, or if you thought that any attempts at real liberalization would be thwarted by the ruling clerics.
Many of you pointed to the obvious. Reform, you asked. Look at the rigged election. How could reform happen in such an atmosphere?
And, of course, many of you pointed to what has happened since the election as a sign that reform is possible, perhaps even soon.
Which leads me to now. After this extraordinary week of demonstrations, crackdowns, violence, what do you think people from outside Iran can do to help those in Iran who want change? What would be the best and most interesting suggestions for people from the outside world? Let me know what you think.
As always, I’d like to recommend a book — actually, two books, the two best books on Iran that I have read in a while. Both are by people who appeared on the program today.
First, “The Ayatollah Begs to Differ,” by Hooman Majd. It’s a terrific book that looks inside Persian life, a portrait of a proud and often paradoxical country. Very good. Very well written.
Second, “The Soul of Iran,” by Afshin Molavi. It’s about what this writer learned on his extensive travels through the country where he was born. Very intelligent, acute observations throughout.
I think you’ll really enjoy both.
Also, don’t forget to check out our Web site, cnn.com/gps, and watch interviews that you might have missed in the past. And you can always e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. And I will see you next week.