Iran and the Paradox of Paradise
Given the election-related turmoil in the Islamic Republic of Iran, can democracy ever take hold in a theocracy? How should the Obama administration respond to the disputed election and to Iran's ruling clerics?
To someone outside the Muslim world, the ideal of a pure Islamic state
looks like a reactionary form of repression. The contradictions between
a modern state and one based on the Qur'an, a divinely inspired document
from the seventh century, are simply too great. The issue of theocracy
comes down to that. Even though over 70% of Iranians are in favor of
electing their supreme leader, a democratically chosen dictator remains
a dictator, and the vexing problems of modern life will still be
filtered through medieval dictates.
The most basic contradiction in this scheme has to do with power.
Democracy gives power to the people, but not if they are voting to give
that power away to clerics with absolute dominion over them.
Parallel to Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan attempted to create an
"Islamic paradise," which to the outside world was a travesty of human
rights violations and barbaric social practices. Yet to the faithful it
would be ideal if every pronouncement of the Prophet served to guide
everyday life down to the tiniest details. Various ayatollahs and
mullahs already operate as arbiters whose pronouncements have the weight
of law, or at the very least of moral authority.
The educated, Westward-looking minority in Muslim society leads a double
life. In private they are free of clerical strictures and think on
their own; in public they obey the rules set down by theocratic
repression. What we are witnessing in the Iranian street riots is the
tension inherent in a double life. Young people, reformists, and
religious moderates have formed an ad hoc coalition fueled by idealism
and resentment. But if the Ayatollah Khamenei should follow his previous
pattern and make a few conciliatory concessions -- as he has begun to do
with his call for an electoral recount -- the built-in contradiction of
a democratic theocracy will remain.
Does the U.S. have any role to play in this scenario?
The consensus seems to be no. To a modern secularist, the very notion of
living under a theocracy is abhorrent, and the world has been burned
once through the spectacle of the Taliban's grotesque rule before they
were overthrown. Modernism is an unstoppable force, however. Throughout
the Arab world it's been a race to see how long it takes for the
Internet and the iPod to undermine the mullahs. But modernism alone
can't resolve the issues of women's rights, religious extremism, and
despotism in government that are endemic in Arab states. Blinded by the
ideal of heaven on earth, even moderate Muslims acquiesce to intolerable
conditions. After all, the freedom not to worship, one of the most basic
in the West, is a crime in the Muslim world. A steady if slow evolution
is the best we can hope for; in the meantime, the prudent policy for the
Western nations is to counter the worst excesses of dictatorial
governments as best we can. The rest comes down to a shift in collective
consciousness of the kind that seems to be happening, with ups and
downs, on a global scale.
Posted by: Farnaz1Mansouri1 | June 19, 2009 12:40 PM
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Posted by: Usama1 | June 18, 2009 1:09 PM
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