October 19, 2007


Decoding the Enigmatic Republic of Iran (Khody Akhavi, 10/18/07, IPS)

Without losing sight of the brutality of the Islamic Republic and its authoritarian tendencies, Slavin presents a multifaceted Iranian point of view, skillfully weaving the statements of high-level Iranian diplomats with the hopes and fears of everyday Iranian people, trapped in the axis of religion, politics and national pride.

Slavin describes Iran's unique system of government as "a square dance", in which the highly factionalised clerical circle, with strongly conflicting views on foreign and domestic policies, competes for the Supreme Leader's favour.

"Depending on the issue, the leader draws one group or person into the centre of the circle, then switches to another in a kind of political do-si-do. No figure is banished for good so long as it remains loyal to the leader and the system; all in the circle have the chance to influence government decisions," writes Slavin. "The dance can be slow and awkward and the steps can change in unpredictable ways."

In 1997, the unpredictable dance brought the reformist movement, spearheaded by President Mohammad Khatami, to the centre of the circle and into the crosshairs of the clerical establishment. Khatami's ability to mobilise Iran's young voting constituency yielded 70 percent of the eligible voting public, of which 80 percent flocked to the polls to cast their vote. During the mild-mannered cleric's tenure, Iranians flirted with press freedoms, eased restrictions of the hypermoral space, and engaged in contentious political elections.

However, with the ascendance of Ahmadinejad, a "man of the people" who promised to fight corruption and put Iran's oil wealth on the tables of normal Iranians, the last two years have witnessed dramatic reversals in the political gains made by Khatami. And Slavin dedicates an entire chapter of her book to the blacksmith's son who became Iran's president, portraying the leader as a critic of the very establishment from which he emerged.

One of the current president's childhood friend's, Majid Karimi, told Slavin that Ahmadinejad "was a bookish overachiever who was so conscientious that he used to do homework in between pickup soccer games." He didn't drink, smoke or chase girls, was a diligent student who scored well on the state university entrance exam. But the president has also come under attack domestically for his bewildering rhetoric and mismanagement of Iran's economy.

Saeed Laylaz, a former deputy minister under Khatami, tells Slavin that the new chief executive "behaves like a rebel, not a president. Is it his job to say that Adolf Hitler was a clean guy? Is the Holocaust a real problem for the Iranian people? ...He will collapse this country in the long term."

Hard to figure why Westerners have trouble with such an obvious dynamic--Ahmedinejad does not act like the president because he did not and does not have the support of the Supreme Leader and, thus, is a rebel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 19, 2007 3:31 PM

Iran's "flirtation" with freedom was a narrow window, which started before Khatami was elected and closed before his first term was up.

Khatami was a sop to the EU and the UN. Remember that over 200 candidates for his office were rejected before the Supremo let his name on the ballot.

Any danger from the Iranian government - to the West, to Israel, and to the Iranian people themselves - did not start with Ahmadinejad. Nor does it end with him.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 20, 2007 1:30 AM

A country that wasn't dangerous to anyone wouldn't be worth having. We're the most dangerous country on Earth.

Posted by: oj at October 20, 2007 7:48 AM

A "country" that kills Jews in a Senior Citizens' Center 8000 miles away does not deserve to exist.

And who was the President then? Your putative hero.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 20, 2007 10:03 AM

And you wonder why they arm themselves?

Posted by: oj at October 20, 2007 12:15 PM

Ahh....the question of the terrorist and the grievance. A little too 'realistic' for you, I would think.

I should rephrase my earlier statement, however.

Mullahs who kill Jews 8000 miles away do not deserve to live.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 20, 2007 4:17 PM

Too unrealistic. The mullahs had nothing to do with the Argentine bombing.

It's a perilous path you head down though, since Isaraeli PMs have been directly responsible for blowing up Brits and the slaughter of innocent Palestinians.

Reality is for grown-ups.

Posted by: oj at October 20, 2007 5:54 PM

Nothing happens in Iran without some mullah (if not the Supremo) blessing it, funding it, and/or catalyzing it. That is their current reality.

Is Ahmadinejad 80% independent of Khameini, 50%, or maybe just 20%? Is he Frankenstein's monster or just a wayward youth?

And I'm surprised you cover for the mullahs on Argentina - I have read about the questionable provenance of the Khobar Towers bombing, but everything I have seen on the Argentine terror points directly (and immediately) to Tehran.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 20, 2007 11:18 PM

Exactly. Which is why your confusion of "the mullahs" with "some mullah" is so silly. It's like calling Randall Terry "The Religious," a Leftist trope.

It's quite clear the Argentine government was involved, particularly the notoriously anti-Semitic military/intelligence community. And given the role of Hezbollah it's not unlikely that there was some Iranian hand in it, financial if nothing else. To say that points directly to Tehran is like saying Abu Ghraib points directly to Washington. It's just propaganda.

Posted by: oj at October 21, 2007 7:55 AM

I'm sure there are wannabe mullahs, just like we have wannabe Presidents. But how many of them have connections with foreign governments (especially non-Muslim ones), Hezbollah, and the Guard? Probably only the top echelon. Now, an Iranian Tancredo or Kucinich might try to further his career by blowing up Jews in Buenos Aires, but repeat attacks indicates something else. It could have been domestically-driven (as you imply), but the senior names I have read have been from the Iranian governement (in Tehran, directly in Tehran).

To put it another way, these bombings didn't happen on the night shift in the basement of the prison. They weren't planned by a staff sergeant and his girlfriend, just because they were bored.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 21, 2007 9:41 AM

There are no names attached to the story which is why no one was indicted nor prosecuted. It's all just speculation.

Indeed, it happened 8,000 miles away, as you point out, and does seem to have just been bored whackos.

Posted by: oj at October 21, 2007 11:59 AM