December 18, 2009

Demonstrators face legal charges for eroding image of respectability of national founder

    Friday, December 18, 2009   No comments

Demonstrators face legal charges for eroding image of respectability of national founder

Tens of thousands of Iranians have staged rallies on Friday to protest what they deem as acts “of desecration of the image of the late founder of the Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khumeini. This wave of protests is a reaction to TV footages of a torn-up poster of Imam Khumeini during student day demonstrations in Tehran on December 7.

The public response will likely be followed by government legal action against the individuals who tore the posters. In fact, immediately after the airing of opposition protests, Khumeini’s successor, Ayatollah Khamenei, condemned the “desecration.” Tehran’s prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadai, also said that the perpetrators of the incident have been identified, with one of them arrested during the event.

Most people would expect such a reaction in a country like Iran, generally characterized as a religious theocracy. But most people also ignore the fact that such actions and reactions take place in non-religious theocracies as well.

This week, a Turkish criminal court has validated a legal claim against journalist and filmmaker Can Dündar. If convicted, Dündar could spend seven and a half years in prison for producing the film “Mustafa,” which portrays Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in less favorable light. This is not the first time a court has acted to protect the image of the first president of the Turkish republic. In 2007, a Turkish court, ordered access to YouTube blocked because it featured clips that allegedly insulted Atatürk.

Contextually, it must be recalled that in the late 1990’s, and after an intense letter-writing campaign, actor Antonio Banderas withdrew from a film project about the legacy of Atatürk, who is seen by many (mostly ethnic Armenians and Greeks) as “unworthy of favorable portrayal.”

In both cases, Khumeini and Atatürk have cultivated legendary status in the view of their followers. But as it is generally the case with controversial figures, he who is a hero in the eyes of some is a villain in the eyes of others. More importantly, these two cases reveal interesting facts: (1) Both, the secular and the religious, the liberal and the conservative do idolize persons; (2) The desire of people to create and subscribe to a narrative that produces national identity that can withstand division and fragmentation; and (3) The reliance of modern Islamic societies on charismatic figures in place of institutions.

In the end, these events show the complexity of the Turkish and Iranian social and political structures that defy the superficial categorizations by western media and politicians. While there are now signs that Turkey is moving beyond Atatürk’s vision, the Islamic Republic of Iran has just began to transition to post-revolution generation."

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