Prominent Middle Eastern historian Richard Bulliet, author of the just-published Cotton, Climate, and Camels in Early Islamic Iran: A Moment in World History, recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times on the crisis in Iran. In the op-ed, Bulliet considers the generational issues shaping the protests in Iran:
“A confrontation is looming that is as inevitable as was the generational upheaval that swept the United States during the Vietnam era. Both countries have a Greatest Generation that is pitted against a Baby Boomer Generation.”
More specifically, Ahmadinejad’s generation, which fought in the Iran-Iraq War and is akin to the United States’ “Greatest Generation,” now finds itself at odds with 20-something Iranians born during and after the war. Bulliet writes,
“Today the baby boomers, now in their 20’s, are taking their political cause to the streets. America’s boomers did the same thing to protest the Vietnam War. But just as American flower children faced grim opposition from their parents, Iran’s Greatest Generation will not go down without a fight. In their eyes, after all, the boomers neither made the revolution nor fought to defend it. They see them as whiny, luxury-loving, me-firsters with questionable religious commitments and a degrading love of American pop culture.
The boomers themselves, and particularly the women among them, chafe under the behavioral restrictions enforced by Ahmadinejad’s regime. They long to connect with the world and hate seeing their country humiliated by Ahmadinejad’s outrageous public pronouncements.”
Bulliet concludes by arguing that to justify its leadership Iran’s “Greatest Generation” needs appeal to the boomers by loosening restrictions and opening up to the outside world. Failing this, they will be forced to become even more authoritarian and sow the seeds of further discord.
For more on Bulliet’s view on the crisis in Iran, you can also view his appearance on Bloomberg Television: