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Shi'a Pundit

Devoted to the viewpoint of Islam of Muhammad SAW and Amir ul-Mumineen, Ali ibn Abi Talib SA, in the Shi'a Fatimi Ismaili Dawoodi Bohra tradition.

July 19, 2002

Islam: the essential basis of Iranian freedom.

Finally the Bush Administration has had something to say about the situation in Iran. Unfortunately, it was just words, as Ledeen admits, it is unlikely that US policies towards Iran will change, and I'm not even sure how they should change. What really can the US do? This is an internal struggle. I hope they suceed but it has to be them who succeed. Iran must never be Afghanistan.

Tthe Open Letter to Iran probably will be seen by more Iranians and have more impact, Brendan O'Neill's snide comments notwithstanding (did he even bother to READ the Open Letter? clearly not. Pejmanpundit eviscerates him accordingly), I truly think the Open Letter is something concrete.

I do think there is a clear path for the Iranians to follow. The problem with battling tyrranny is that if you do it on their terms, they already have the infrastructure in place to deal you defeat after defeat. As Ghandi demonstrated, you have to take the game out of their court. In India, it was by applying economic and public-opinion pressure to the British citizenry, who then made the occupation of India untenable.

The key seems to be outlined in this piece by Thomas Friedman, which describes the Iranian political establishment as three elements:

Iran has three power centers. There is Iran-E -- the evil conservative clerics, intelligence services and shock troops of the regime, who still have a monopoly on all the tools of coercion and are responsible for Iran's support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and the killing of Iranian intellectuals a few years ago.

Then there is Iran-C -- the rational conservatives among the clerics and bazaari merchants, who backed the Islamic revolution out of a real revulsion for the Shah's secular despotism, but who favor democracy and the rule of law. For now, Iran-C is aligned with Iran-E.

Finally, there is Iran-R, all the reformers -- the economically strapped middle class, the rising student generation and former revolutionaries who are fed up with clerical rule. They want more democracy and less imposed religion, and they are leading the opposition in Parliament but they have the least power.

That's why the key to peaceful change in Iran is a break within the conservative ruling elite. The key is to get Iran-C, the rational conservatives, to break with Iran-E, the dark conservatives, and forge a new alliance with the reformers. It's not impossible.

(emphasis mine). And I share Friedman's optimism that the alliance of Iran-R with Iran-C is not impossible, because of recent events. As I noted earlier, Ayatollah Taheri, a senior cleric in the religius theocracy, has resigned in anger and issued a blistering denunciation of the ruling elite. It's notable that Taheri was appointed to his post by the Ayatollah Khameini himself. Khameini has made an attempt at damage control by co-opting of the message away from the topic of oppression towards talk of "corruption and poverty" but I am optimistic that Iran-R and Iran-C have moved closer together.

But mere closeness isn;t enough. As Friedman noted, Iran-C has to actually break its alliance with Iran-E. It's essential to keep in mind that a secular democracy, with American-style separation of Church and State, won't sit well with Iran-C. Iran-C prefers the status quo to that, because after all they are religious conservatives. That's why they supported the installation of the Islamic Republic in the first place and why they aren't abandoning Iran-E. To get them to change allegiances, they will have to be assured that a new Iran won't be a western-style free for all on their core Islamic values. Which are the same values as Western values, btw, but thats another discussion :)

So, part of what must be promoted amongst the Iranian people is the principle that Freedom is good for Islam. Freedom of religion, as a secular concept in the Constitution, is actually isomorphic with Qur'anic Ayat 2:256 :

which roughly translates to "there is no compulsion in religion".

The idea that freedom is the true face of Islam and that the Islam promoted by the theocracy is at odds with the Qur'an itself is essential. It will also give legitimacy to the Iran-C group who need more than vague assertions from we Americans that "our system is good, try it!".

If I were making the argument to a member of Iran-C as to why they should abandon Iran-E, I would phrase it thusly:

"America itself is built upon the same universal truth expressed in the Holy Qur'an, that there is no compulsion in religion (2:256). Pious muslims in America, Shi'a and Sunni and Sufi alike, are all free to build masjids, practice their faith in peace, and worship the glory of Allah. The theocracy has denied the basic freedom of faith and has gone against the Qur'an itself. What value is morality and virtue when it is imposed from above instead of rising from within? Freedom of religion and faith is the birthright of the Muslim and the generous bounty of Allah. The people of Iran deserve no less."

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Nahj-ul Balagha

About Shi'a Pundit

Shi'a Pundit was launched in 2002 during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The blog focuses on issues pertaining to Shi'a Islam in the west and in the Islamic world. The author is a member of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Bohras adhere to the Shi'a Fatimi tradition of Islam, headed by the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS).

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