September 9, 2007


Iranian leaders oscillate between rights and religion (Michael Slackman, September 9, 2007, NY Times)

In fact, both tools remain part of a larger goal: securing the Islamic Republic by remolding people's own definitions of themselves.

In that way, the strategy resembles the failed effort in the Soviet Union to build a national identity - the New Soviet Man - that was based on its own criteria. The Communists used youth camps and raw terror; anyone challenging that identity, which in their case was atheistic, was seen as challenging the state.

Since 1979, the clerics of Iran have tried to forge a new national identity based primarily on a marriage of Shiite Islamic teachings with a revolutionary ideology. Initially, some leaders tried to dilute the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian traditions. But that effort proved impossible and has largely been abandoned.

Other Iranian governments since the 1979 revolution have also tried to adapt to the realities of modernity, but those efforts did not last. President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani tried to open the state-controlled economy, and President Mohammad Khatami tried to ease the strict controls on dress, public behavior and free speech.

Both those efforts have been rolled back. Rather than rest comfortably on the reality that the Islamic Republic and its institutions have survived for nearly three decades, hard-line leaders still seem to be afraid that the system is vulnerable. And so their struggle continues.

"From one president to another, the whole orientation of the country changes," said a prominent political scientist in Tehran who, in the current climate of fear, agreed to speak only if he remained anonymous. "Why? Because we do not have a consensus on who we are or where we are going."

He added: "We can easily conclude that the ideological revolutionary order is an elite occupation, rather than a mass occupation."

What's fascinating is that they have trouble being consistent precisely because they are a republic and democratic results impact what the elites can do. The most noteworthy development of recent years is Ayatollah Khamenei trying to bring Rafsanjani back to power to reform the economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 9, 2007 8:39 AM
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