June 21, 2009


Top cleric may be playing role in Iran unrest (HAMZA HENDAWI, 6/20/09, Associated Press)

One of Iran's most powerful men may be playing a key role behind closed doors in the country's escalating postelection crisis.

Former president and influential cleric Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani has made no public comment since Iran erupted into confrontation between backers of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and reformists who claim he stole re-election through fraud.

But Iranian TV has shown pictures of Rafsanjani's daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, speaking to hundreds of opposition supporters. And Rafsanjani, who has made no secret of his distaste for Ahmadinejad, was conspicuously absent from an address by the country's supreme leader calling for national unity and siding with the president.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Rafsanjani, 75, on Friday as one of the revolution's architects and an effective political figure for many years, but he acknowledged that the two have "many differences of opinion."

A Struggle for the Legacy of the Iranian Revolution (ROBERT F. WORTH, 6/21/09, NY Times)
Ascertaining what the true Iran is has never been harder. What is clear, though, is that the electoral dispute has exposed a deep rift in Iranian society, one that cannot be measured or healed by vote counts. On each side, faith merges with perception, making the partisans believe with fierce certainty that they represent the country’s true majority.

The difference is sometimes caricatured as one between a Westernized urban elite and the pious lower classes. In fact, it is not that simple, even if there is little doubt about who all those fashionable Tehrani women in jeans and loose head scarves voted for. A vast opposition rally on Monday — in which more than a million people are believed to have taken part — was also full of people who looked more like Ahmadinejad supporters: women in traditional Islamic garb, and working-class men.

In essence, the core of the struggle is between two competing views of what this country’s Islamic revolution sought to achieve.

“One side wants a gradual evolution of democratic institutions and a more democratic reading of Islamic institutions,” said Kavous Seyed-Emami, a political science professor at Imam Sadeq University in Tehran. “The other side is for a populist and more or less authoritarian reading of Islam.”

The Koran and the Ballot Box (REUEL MARC GERECHT, 6/21/09, NY Times)
The Islamic revolution in Iran encompassed two incompatible ideas: that God’s law — as interpreted by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — would rule, and that the people of Iran had the right to elect representatives who would advance and protect their interests. When Khomeini was alive and Iran was at war with Iraq, the tension between theocracy and democracy never became acute. [...]

[I]n the current demonstrations we are witnessing not just the end of the first stage of the Iranian democratic experiment, but the collapse of the structural underpinnings of the entire Islamic approach to modern political self-rule. Islam’s categorical imperative for both traditional and fundamentalist Muslims —“commanding right and forbidding wrong” — is being transformed.

This imperative appears repeatedly in the Koran. Historically, it has been understood as a check on the corrupting, restive and libidinous side of the human soul. For modern Islamic militants, it is a war cry as well — a justification of the morals police in Saudi Arabia and Iran, of the young men who harass “improperly” attired Muslim women from Cairo to Copenhagen. It is the primary theological reason that Ayatollah Khamenei will try to stop a democratic triumph in his country, since real democracy would allow men, not God and his faithful guardians, the mullahs, to determine right and wrong.

Westerners would do well to understand the magnitude of what is transpiring in the Islamic Republic. Iran’s revolution shook the Islamic world. It was the first attempt by militant Muslims to prove that “Islam has all the answers” — or at least enough of them to run a modern state and make its citizenry more moral children of God. But the experiment has failed. The so-called June 12th revolution is the Iranian answer to the recurring hope in Islamic history that the world can be reborn closer to the Prophet Muhammad’s virtuous community. Millions of Iranians said in the presidential election, and more powerfully on the streets since, that they want out of Ayatollah Khomeini’s dream, which has become a nightmare.

No matter what Ayatollah Khamenei does — and at his most recent Friday prayer sermon he gave no inclination he’s ready to stop hammering the reformers — this message isn’t going to change. In the nine years since the reform movement around Mr. Khatami was crushed, it has only grown stronger. It brought within its ranks Mr. Moussavi, a favored lay disciple of Ayatollah Khomeini, who clearly has no regard for either Mr. Ahmadinejad or the supreme leader.

What may seem more surprising is that so many prominent first-generation revolutionaries have sided with Mr. Moussavi. There are many reasons for this, but among the most salient is a growing belief that the Islamic Republic and the revolution are finished unless Iran becomes more democratic.

The belief in the evolution of the Republic is, of course, anti-revolutionary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 21, 2009 6:57 AM
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