Monday, October 19, 2009

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi's first Internet interview - 18 October 2009

The green movement has released opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi's first Internet interview. The video was first posted on Sunday, 18 October 2009, although it has only been widely published in opposition news sites on Monday. No additional information has been offered.

Sitting before a stark background, in line with his own austere and at at times stilted manner of speaking, Mousavi's interview was measured and hardly rousing. The encounter underlined the opposition figure's  strengths -- his analytical prowess, his unflinching courage in the face of threats, and his deep understanding of popular movements -- and his weaknesses -- a lack of charisma, his reluctance to engage in frontal attacks, and a sense that he is almost an 'accidental leader.'

He alluded to this last point halfway through the interview, when he began a sentence with 'We have started a great movement' before correcting himself and continuing, 'Our nation has started a great movement and we are accompanying it. God willing, we will remain on the same course as the people.' Mousavi has exhibited none of the 'mano a mano' grit of Etemad Melli party leader Mehdi Karroubi, nor the sheer popularity of former President Mohammad Khatami, bringing into focus the roles played by each of the members of the opposition triumvirate.

Mousavi made the astonishing claim that he has not engaged in any talks with political figures aimed at resolving the crisis through 'national unity.' If true, this could indicate a strategic rebuttal of Hashemi Rafsanjani's 'eminence grise' brand of politics. Mousavi clearly states that nothing short of respecting the people's sovereignty and their constitutional rights can lead to a resolution of the crisis. And despite threats of prosecution for treason, he still maintains that a majority of the people voted for him, albeit in subtle terms: '[...] As long as the majority of the people are called rioters [...] there will be no solution for the current problem.'

The following is a translation of the full interview:

In the name of God, most gracious and most compassionate.

It has been some time since people have seen your face. That is why, when we were granted an opportunity to interview you, many friends encouraged us to conduct it in this manner to overcome that shortcoming.We thank you for this opportunity. This interview will be distributed by Internet and because of the technical limitations of this media, we will restrict ourselves to two issues. We hope that we will be able to meet again at a future date to discuss questions put to us by those interested in the Green Movement.

In the past weeks, there has been talk of national unity. What is this about? Have there been any particular talks? Please inform the people about these. (NB In recent weeks there have been rumors of backroom politicking with the aim of resolving the crisis through some sort of general agreement between various political factions.)

Mir Hossein Mousavi:
In the name of God, most gracious and most compassionate.

This is my first Internet interview. I send my greetings to all the dear people who are seeing my face. Of course, many photos of me have been published, something which irks me. But I'll try to get used to this. This is another such circumstance and I'll try to take advantage of it to say a few words.

Concerning your question, this expression [of national unity] has been used in different ways by the media and it is worth separating the various interpretations.

In my discussions with Majlis representatives -- members of the minority faction whom I met -- I spoke of national unity. I was referring to a common will and sentiment, highlighted during the elections and based on our strong civilizational heritage, our common national interests, and a vision of future progress. The issue of national unity had particular significance within that framework. We witnessed a certain passion developing in the country.

This capital must be preserved and nurtured, despite everything that occurred after the election. National unity is extremely important to us and it must be a foundation for all of us. Unity between all walks of life exists here... between the general public, intellectuals, students, various ethnic groups, cultural groups...

That green human chain which linked Tajrish to Rah Ahan Square just before the election was one of the best symbols of this. (NB On June 8, 2009, Mousavi's supporters formed a human chain that stretched almost 20 km across Tehran, from Tajrish in the north to Rah Ahan or Railway Square in the south.) People from all walks of life participated and it sent tremors throughout our country. It was also the basis for the idea of the Green Path of Hope (NB The opposition's coalition movement).

But the notion of national unity has been employed in other contexts. After the problems and events which wracked the country, some people with various intentions, some good, explored the possibility of abating the tension and crisis through discussions between political figures. Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani (NB Head of the Expediency Council and the Assembly of Experts) presented one plan, then there was talk of ideas put forth by Ayatollah [Mohammad Reza] Mahdavi Kani (NB Head of the conservative Combatant Clergy Association, not to be mistaken for the reformist Association of Combatant Clerics)... Various people have spoken about this topic.

I have not made any comments in relation to this interpretation [of national unity]. But given the debate and rumors that have been sparked, I'm going to recount one of my memories concerning the Imam (NB Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini). My actions are based upon a point in this story.

When the McFarlane crisis came about, the people did not know that McFarlane had come to Iran and they were unaware of what had occurred... his secret visit to Iran and so forth. (NB Robert McFarlane was President Ronald Reagan's National Security Adviser from 1983 to 1985, and played a central role in the Iran-Contra scandal. In 1986, as a secret envoy, he delivered one planeload of weapons to Iran, but canceled a second shipment after hostages in Lebanon were not released. Lebanese weekly Al Shiraa published an account of the secret Iran-Contra dealings shortly thereafter. Mousavi was prime Minister at the time.) This issue was first revealed in a Syrian newspaper. In a meeting between the heads of the three branches of government, it was said that this news would spread to Iran and, given the people's sensitivity about the United States and any talks with the United States, this would provoke a crisis.

The heads of the three branches -- me among them -- went to see the Imam. When we explained the situation and what had transpired, who this individual was and his comings and goings, and we said that a Lebanese or Syrian newspaper had published details which would eventually reach Iran, the Imam said, Go and tell the people, the people must be informed. When we got up to leave, he said something which has remained in mind as a golden and important phrase ever since. He said, Never do something which you will not be able to explain to the people.

This has remained in my mind. That is why, if there are talks or meetings or some issue, as a companion in this massive movement, I will inform the people and there will not be anything that I will not be able to defend.

Given the deficiency of the country's media outlets which lunge at our Green Path and act against it, and the fact that we have no official outlets and all of our outlets and our ability to communicate have been restricted, it is worthwhile for the people to exercise caution when obtaining news related to this or other topics. They should pay attention to the source and its affiliations and its intentions. This will help us progress in an environment based on wisdom and our values.

Do you want to inform the people of any contacts, meetings, or talks?

Mir Hossein Mousavi:
No, there haven't been any such talks. I am of course aware of the proposals that Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani made at Friday Prayers (NB On July 17) and also the proposals that some members of the Expediency Council made to him. And I'm also aware, through the media, of other remarks made by individuals like Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani, or others with good intentions. But no direct contacts have been made with me in this respect. No correspondence or official meetings.

In your 13th statement, you said that our political and social achievements must be a part of our lives, not just our struggles, because struggles come to an end, and when they do, these values are sidelined. Your phrase was, 'The Green Path of Hope must be lived.' The comment is thought-provoking but it may befuddle some people. What did you mean by it?

Mir Hossein Mousavi:
We have started a great movement... our nation has started a great movement and we are accompanying it. God willing, we will remain on the same course as the people. At the beginning of these events which took place in the country, there was a debate on how we should respond and move forward in order to utilize and advance the great achievements of the election and the Islamic revolution. There was talk of a party, a front, various groups... a political struggle. We thought that this would not help us realize our goals, that it did not correspond to our experience of the election, those experiences that we went through together.

In this election, we saw various political, religious, artistic, cultural families... people, wherever they were, contributed and became a part of this movement in their own manner. That was an illustration of what we called, 'Every individual, a campaign staff.' This movement derives its strength from this, not from some political party. This doesn't mean that political parties were not and cannot be effective. No, they have their own critical importance. It is crucial for political parties to continue their work.

But in order to advance on this path and reach our goals, which are a developed Iran in which the people's rights are respected, we determined that our actions must be pursued on a much broader level, given the experiences of the election. And that is what happened and what was announced.

Within this context, it is not important how much and in what manner each person helps the movement. The important thing is to establish a general purpose and will throughout the country -- from within a family or on an individual level, all the way up to political parties. Everyone must be able to contribute to this great movement through their actions and way of life.

I've always believed that any virtuous individual, an old woman, an old man, a person with no possibility of engaging in such activities... we should consider even a prayer that such a person says in their home as a form of activism, which can extend all the way to the structured groups which exist.

Today, we are witnessing an extraordinary blossoming of artistic activity which has no relation to political parties, but is a part of an extended social network. The books, songs, paintings, caricatures that have been created in this recent period are unprecedented. In reality, they define the voice of this great wave and guide it. This has not been done within a political party. Small groups of artists or individual artists within or outside the country have helped the movement in this manner. In the same way, religious groups, charitable organizations, and others have contributed.

Struggle has become an inexorable way of life. It cannot be stopped. And for this reason, it is an invulnerable movement -- a movement whose direction is tweaked in a climate of dialogue. In that respect, media outlets are incredibly important and the people who toil within digital media must be commended here. In circumstances in which we have no means, I recommend that greater attention be paid to such tools. This is a miracle that we have witnessed during and after the election. Given our current situation, we must use these tools. Such outlets allow us to connect individuals in order to create a massive, broad, and enduring movement.

One of the reasons for the durability of this movement is that it does not belong to any one group. It is a movement which is enmeshed with the goals, aspirations, and lives of the people. We don't want to say that this is the definitive interpretation of the Koranic verse, 'Place your homes as the qibla' (NB Direction of prayer, the Kaaba in Mecca), but it has inspired us. The people have allowed this movement to endure by turning to their vast social networks of individuals and small groups, in many of which we have a stake.

I think that clarifies the issue for you.

I hope that we will have further opportunities to be with you and ask more questions--

Mir Hossein Mousavi:
I want to add one last point. I don't know whether we have enough time or not.

It is a sensitive point concerning your first question. As long as it is not accepted that there is a crisis and a problem in the country, as long as the majority of the people are called rioters, as long as the people are not taken into consideration, as long as the people's right to determine their own future is not respected, there will be no solution for the current problem. In the context of the second definition of national unity that we discussed and the actions of some individuals and groups on a political level to resolve the crisis, I believe that it must be ensured that the steps which are taken do not insult the people. The people are together, even those who have other opinions. We are the ones who create rifts among the people. Anyone who enters the scene must respect all the people and all of their views. We must return to the constitution and the principle of the sovereignty of the people. Then the solution to the crisis can be found quite easily.

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