MICHELE NORRIS, host:
For some analysis of what's going on in Iran, we turn now to Shahram Kholdi. He is a teaching fellow at the University of Manchester in England. He studies Iran and the Revolution of 1979. Welcome to the program.
Mr. SHAHRAM KHOLDI (Graduate Teaching Fellow, University of Manchester, England): Well thank you very much for having me.
NORRIS: Now we just heard from a supporter of Mousavi in Tehran. He was saying that he's been paying particular attention to the slogans, the chants that he is hearing from people out on the street. What's your sense? Is there an effort by Mousavi supporters to appropriate the symbols, including the chants from the 1979 Revolution?
Mr. KHOLDI: I think it's a very symbolic process. It has been a symbolic process from the beginning. When in just two days ago, Mousavi invited his supporters to demonstrate between Inquilab Square to Azadi Square. I think that was when symbolism really reached an unexpected height. Because as, you know, Tehran University gates are located just next to Inquilab Square. And Inquilab in Persian, means the revolution. And basically, marching from the Revolution Square to Azadi Square, which means freedom.
So by asking his supporters, who showed up in hundreds of thousands to participate in that march, I think Mousavi proved that he is a master of image and metaphor.
NORRIS: Well, speaking of images, I want to ask you something else about the crowds. We've noticed that there have been several people who seemed to be holding signs that are written in English. Despite the effort to quash the coverage of the demonstrations from the western press, it seems that they're trying to send messages of some kind. What do you make of that?
Mr. KHOLDI: Well, I think we had the same thing in the 1979 Revolution. I was very young then. I was basically eight. But I remember that my classmates wanted to shout, so that other foreigners who were in Iran, they would hear that they were saying down with the shah in English. But because they couldn't pronounce it properly, they would say (unintelligible) shah, for example, instead of saying down with the shah.
So this is not really a new thing. But now I think writing it in English is a message to the government that you are shutting down all the outlets of communication. We are still bent on sending the message to the West, and the rest of the world, that we are not going to stop our protests.
NORRIS: Help us understand something - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is an avowed conservative, Mousavi is seen as a reformer - but help us understand the differences between these two men in terms of the kind of diplomatic challenge that they present to the United States, particularly on the question of the nuclear front.
Mr. KHOLDI: Well, Ahmadinejad is really an ultra-orthodox conservative. And Mousavi is a moderate conservative with reformist and liberal aspirations. So Mousavi is being supported by a combination of what we call traditional left -that is people who are somewhat liberal in certain aspects when it comes to domestic issues, but are kind of radical and, in their own words, anti-imperialist, and anti-Zionist when it comes to foreign policy. Nuclear issue is a rather different issue. It's a matter of national pride, really. What Ahmadinejad did is that by taking it at an unprecedented height of patriotism, he refused any meaningful debate about how we have to proceed in terms of nuclear negotiations at the international level. And he, effectively, even shut down his reformist critics and said that anybody who would criticize him is basically siding with Americans and (unintelligible) Zionism.
So the reformists are upset because they don't like the tactics that Ahmadinejad has used. And, in a way, by attacking Ahmadinejad, they are, in a very nuanced and indirect way, criticizing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
NORRIS: Mr. Kholdi, thank you very much for speaking with us.
Mr. KHOLDI: Well, thank you very much for having me.
NORRIS: Shahram Kholdi is a teaching fellow at the University of Manchester in England. He studies Iran and the revolution of 1979.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.