BB: The obvious precedent is the revolution itself. If you look at the images that we’re seeing now, so many of them are these huge crowds. These images look identical to crowds in 1979, and look where that led. Therefore, the question of popular uprising now—overwhelmingly this is nonviolent so far, and I think its sympathetic. But, there’s a precedent to be wary and we’ve seen that uprisings the world over don’t always yield enlightened leadership. The kinds of power dynamics that come into play and the kinds of characters who excel in a chaotic and sometimes violent environment, they don’t always lead and become enlightened rulers. Even if they want to be, they can’t be because they’re surrounded by and attacked by violence. The old McDuffian logic—the more blood one spills, the more compelled one is to spill more blood. That’s the kind of dynamic we’ve seen the world over throughout history, and certainly plenty written in the Middle East.
But the 1979 revolution itself in many ways a sympathetic revolution widely supported by Iranians across a broad spectrum. As soon as the old shah was defeated, it turned out nobody really had any bright ideas about an enlightened order to follow. Competing factions fell upon each other and we’ve had nothing but depression and cruelty ever since.
KB: Talk to me about these allegations of election fraud. Will we ever know if it was committed?
BB: [This] would be a great thing for reporters over there to try to systematically address: Exactly what is the evidence of fraud? The evidence so far is mostly deductive rather than documented. And the deductive evidence, as you may be aware, the numbers just seem completely unlikely—both in terms of the overall two-to-one victory announced while some people where still voting, that was highly suspicious, but also in regions where the opposition candidates came from. They lost in their own home regions, including Moussavi himself and Karubi. Not only did they lose, but they lost overwhelmingly in their own home regions. Certainly there’s a lot to suggest that it’s highly problematical.
At the same time, whether or not it’s easy to conclude that Moussavi would have won without fraud, that’s a harder question for me to know anyway. Part of the reason that led us to think that maybe Moussavi could win was coming out of north Tehran and Tehran itself and not from the rural areas, not from poor districts, where most of Ahmadinejad’s support comes from. A lot of Iranians will say that it’s certainly conceivable that Ahmadinejad won the election or would have won a run-off. But the overwhelming two-to-one victory seems highly unlikely.
There has been some good reporting on this online. Juan Cole has published a fairly comprehensive piece on how he views the evidence of fraud. Laura Secor did an intelligent blog post for The New Yorker, asserting that it looks fraudulent. Exactly what is the scale for the fraud, whether or not it reversed as a result of the election, is harder for me to know for sure.
KB: So, do you think that Western journalists gave too much play to the possibility that Moussavi could win based on limited sourcing within Tehran, and not enough outside the city?
BB: I hesitate to say that, because there are thousands of people in Tehran, and the Western press is reflecting the passion of the people in the streets. Exactly how representative people are is harder to gauge. Clearly hundreds of thousands of people are shocked and appalled. When you form an impression that there was a huge wave of support for Moussavi, who were your sources? And like most people, they talk to people in their circles and their social class, their neighborhoods. So, I do think, as always with Iran, if not everywhere else in the world if not certainly Iran, a measure of caution, a measure of skepticism, a measure of detachment is in order.
KB: What should someone who is coming into report in Iran know about how the country operates?