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Monthly Archive: August 2005
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August 02, 2005

Is Ganji Being Played With?
Guest Auhtor: Shahram Kholdi

ganjigame.jpg In one of his latest posts on his weblog and on Iran Scan, Hoder suggests that Ganji has practically become a tool in the hands of the Islamic Republic's hardliner ruling elite. He says they will use him as much as they can to promote their interests. For instance, Hoder cites how Ganji's "timely" release, just before the first round of the presidential election, was in fact a calculated move by the hardliners to let Ganji spread his call for an election boycott through a press conference.

I tried to remain silent about such a short-sighted and unfair analysis. Such simplistic observations on Iranian politics reinforce misconceptions amongst our Western audience about the dynamics of the Iranian politics. I find his undertaking as unfair, superficial, and narrow-minded, and here I offer a response.

Hoder argues that this well-calculated move reinforced public apathy and
eventually led to the victory of hardliners' favourite candidate, Ahmadinejad.
However, the term "reinforcing public apathy" and/or an analysis such as "Ganji's release worked as a catalyst to perpetuate an atmosphere of disenchantment with electoral politics" are definitely absent from Hoder's core argument. In the interest of fairness, I made an effort to read his argument as such. Unfortunately, Hoder's underlying argument staunchly remains the same: the hardliners have been using Ganji to their advantage before and after the election and he remains the sole loser of this game, dead or alive.

First, Hoder cannot prove in any way that Ganji's call for an election boycott was "a cause", if not "a major cause" of the hardliners' victory in the election. Hoder does not establish as to how many of almost thirty million people, who either did not vote or voted for Rafsanjani in the second round, were inspired by Ganji's election boycott call. A second objection that I raise is methodological. Hoder draws a very aggregate picture of the hardliner camp and depicts them as solidly undivided and invariably united. I do not think he or anybody at this point can corroborate their assumptions on the dynamics of decision-making in the Hardliners' camp. I will elaborate further upon this second observation first, and then I will elaborate upon the first objection.

We cannot be sure if Ganji's release was a well-calculated and well-implemented plot at all. Contradictory statements about the terms of Ganji's release, as stated by Ganji and others after his release, show that we do not even know how much agreement existed amongst the political and judicial leaders in the hardliner camp as to the timing of Ganji's release.

This observation reminds us of another core problem with Hoder's argument: How can Hoder conceive the hardliners as a cohesive and united actor in the first place? The hardliners cannot be conceived in highly aggregate terms themselves as they too appear to be divided into different camps. The hardliners favour different courses of action depending on the degree of their orthodoxy. These differences, albeit in degree rather than in kind, when compared with the reformists cannot be trivialized. The fact that the hardliners, before and during the course of this campaign remained divided over their favourite candidate does not necessarily indicate that they were trying to deviate from who their "truly favourite" candidate was. It also indicates that Khamenei, as their chief mentor, was either not able or not willing to bring unity to his political confederates until after the first round. Such a disunity could also mean that the Hardliners disputed the chances of different candidates of their own camp to the point that their different factions chose different courses of action. The militant faction that supported Ahmadinejad, and that was favoured by Ahmadinejad's political and family affiliates in the Guardian Council, won the day. Both possibilities can be true at the same time without contradicting each other.

Hoder's argument, at worst, implies a conspiracy-oriented theory. It shows the hardliners as one united actor that successfully hides its true candidate, Ahmadinejad, to the very end. When one dissects the hardliners camp according to the number of their presidential candidates into various factions, Hoder's core claim on the timely release of Ganji as indicative of one "united" and "undivided" Hardliner camp's calculated strategy, simply falls apart.

Does Hoder also imply that presenting several different candidates by the hardliners is not an indication of their lack of organization, but their well-planned endeavour to ensure Ahmadinejad's victory? By such a double implication, he clearly indicates that he subscribes to a massive right-wing conspiracy long before the presidential election campaign itself. Does Hoder have some insider knowledge that we do not have? Such a confident analysis also implies that Hoder retains some valuable inside knowledge of the hardliner camp that others do not. If he does not retain such insider knowledge, however, his argument is informed by a typically Iranian conspiracy-minded theory attitude.

Several possibilities are more likely. Hardliners' lack of proper planning and disorganization could have caused the so-called timely release of Ganji. As to the introduction of several presidential candidates by the hardliners, the same lack of strategic planning could have caused the introduction of multiple candidates. The second possibility could be that the hardliners' profound disagreement over who should be the next president caused multiple candidates to be introduced. As public apathy was observed in the municipal and parliamentary elections, it is possible that various hardliner faction wanted their favourite leader to be put in the office of the President. Victory could have been taken for granted, and the only question left to be settled was "which" hardliner candidate, as opposed to "whether" any hardliner candidate, would become the President of the Islamic Republic.

How do we know how many of twenty million eligible voters who did not turn up at the polls were influenced by Ganji? Anecdotal reports from major urban centres outside Tehran have constantly alerted observers that even in major urban centres many people were not aware of Ganji's plight and/or his call for boycotting the election. Many people were not aware until couple of weeks ago when his condition deteriorated. Such an information deficit on Ganji's conditions, even in the form of rumours, should be even greater in smaller towns across the country.

Hoder's false causal relationship, that Ganji's call for boycott as used by the hardliners caused the boycott and led to their victory, fundamentally questions the merits of his conclusion, that the hardliners used him to win. Hardliners' complete control over all the major press and media outlets in Iran was enough to ensure their victory in the presidential election.

We cannot verify to what extent the twenty million voters who did not participate in the election were influenced by Ganji, and/or other boycotters inside or outside the country, such as California-based media outlets. Identifying the boycotters as the cause of apathy and refusal of twenty million eligible voters to vote is indeed missing the forest for the trees. Why cannot we just accept that the twenty million Iranians who refused to vote did so, perhaps, because they were frustrated and disappointed by the Reformists' lack of political will in confronting the hardliners? Had they not done that in the previous municipal and parliamentary elections?

In the end, Hoder's argument, intentionally or unintentionally implicates Ganji in an unfair and overstated manner, as a cause of the hardliners' victory in the election. Dynamically, it also falsely identifies the hardliners' camp as aggregately united and cohesive. Furthermore, by this type of argument Hoder appears to attempt to reinforce the role of boycotters of all stripes, from Iranian expatriate organizations to Nouri and Ganji types of reformists, as central in causing the reformists/moderate conservatives' defeat in the mind of Western public opinion. On all counts Hoder is wrong, and the Western public opinion, by virtue of the present article, is hopefully provided with a rather long "au contraire."

Shahram Kholdi is, in his own words, "a history animal and an animal of history." He keeps a regularly updated weblog, S'Can Iranic. You can read more about him here.