Bloody confrontations erupted again yesterday between the Iranian government and pro-reform activists. As often happens in such circumstances, otherwise sober analysts become intoxicated on the fumes of revolution, leading them to reject realism in favor of ahistorical analogies. Robin Wright, a senior Fellow at the US Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C, provides a prime example in an article titled, ” Is this Iran’s Berlin Wall moment?

It is time to start wondering out loud whether Iran’s uprising could become one of those Berlin Wall moments.

This is not yet a counter-revolution. And the new “green movement” is a coalition of disparate factions — from former presidents to people who have never voted at all — who view the issues through vastly different prisms. Yet the pattern of public outpourings since the disputed election six months ago is setting historic precedents . . . .

But the green movement is far more than simply sporadic eruptions. This is the most vibrant and imaginative civil disobedience campaign in the world.

[ . . . ]

So far the green movement has insisted on non-violence. Perhaps the ultimate irony in the Islamic Republic today is that a brutal revolutionary regime suspected of secretly working on a nuclear weapon faces its biggest challenge from peaceful civil disobedience. And even such a militarised regime has been unable to put it down.

A more realistic assumption is that the current regime does not feel sufficiently threatened—at least not yet—to resort to even greater levels of violence. Once the order to suppress the protests is given, the efforts at peaceful civil disobedience will be crushed. As history has repeatedly proven, non-violent political movements are only effective against regimes that refrain from shooting their own people.

This is why Tehran in 2009 is not like Berlin in 1989. During the fall of the Berlin Wall, East German border guards called their superiors for guidance and found that none of them dared take personal responsibility for issuing orders to use lethal force against their fellow citizens. The Iranian authorities have no such qualms.

Indeed, as some news reports have noted, “demonstrators had not anticipated such harsh tactics by the authorities, despite police warnings of tougher action against any protests on the sacred day.” Such an attitude appears incredibly naive and may stem from a dangerous belief in the power and effectiveness of non-violent civil disobedience. Rather than the Berlin Wall, the most applicable historical analogy is likely to be Tiananmen Square, in which the Chinese government killed and arrested hundreds in their suppression of anti-government protest.

We may respect their cause and cheer their bravery. But as long as the Iranian government holds all the weapons, we should have no illusions that peaceful protestors will be effective in unseating Ahmadinejad.

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