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Iran: Their Existential Challenges - And Ours

| 12 Comments

As things head for a lull - and possibly an outright defeat - in Iran, WSJ online has a good piece about a gentleman named Mohsen Kadivar:

"Mr. Kadivar's chief claim to fame rests on a three-part work of political philosophy titled "The Theories of the State in Shiite Jurisprudence." At heart, it is a devastating theological critique of the Ayatollah Khomeini's notion of "the rule of the jurist" (Velayat e Faqih), which serves as the rationale for the near-dictatorial powers enjoyed by the Supreme Leader."

That kind of argument on the regime's own terms is useful and valuable. Ultimately, the defeat of Khomeinism is going to require an ideological shattering, as well as a physical shattering. Religious critique from within is a vital part of that, though certainly not exclusive. The decision that ordinary Iranians have taken are also part of it - and on Jack Wheeler's site, he carries a piece by an Iranian philosophy professor in Tehran:

"That is how I can describe the most people who came out to attend the demonstration today [June 20]. After the fierce speech [by Ayatollah Khamenei] at the Friday prayers, we knew that today we would be treated differently. We felt so vulnerable, more than ever, but at the same time were aware of our power, which, no matter how influential it is collectively, would have done little to protect us today.

We could only take our bones and flesh to the streets and expose them to batons and bullets. Two different feelings fight inside you without mixing with one another. To live or to just be alive, that's the question."

Emphasis mine. For that is the question. For all of us. All the time. Events in Iran have made it clearer that this is the question, and raised its existential priority for people. That will have long term consequences.

In the short term, however, it looks like the regime has likely won. No thanks to America, whose craven leadership, despite recent staged press conference shows to deflect deserved criticism, has consistently been lukewarm in its support for the protests. And consistently behind other western countries, including France. Not to mention the Congress and Senate, who eventually forced the President's hand. Thank you, Sen. McCain. Among others.

That kind of diplomatic voting "present" hasn't been an accident, or a slip - but a considered and consistent position. Joshua Murchavik, in "The Abandonment of Democracy:

"While it is hard to see any diplomatic benefit in soft-pedaling human rights in Burma and Sudan, neither has Obama anything to gain politically by easing up on regimes that are reviled by Americans from Left to Right. Even so ardent an admirer of the President as columnist E. J. Dionne, the first to discern an "Obama Doctrine" in foreign policy, confesses to "qualms" about "the relatively short shrift" this doctrine "has so far given to concerns over human rights and democracy."

Whether or not there is something as distinct and important as to warrant the label "doctrine," the consistency with which the new administration has left aside democracy and human rights suggests this is an approach the president has thought through...."

In its reluctance to criticize the Iranian regime, and eagerness to negotiate with it and lend it legitimacy even as the blood of protesters flows in Iran's streets, it has abandoned the very people America should be supporting on all levels. It has also abandoned Iran's various ethnicities, many of whom chafe under the heel of a mini empire - and, as Al Giordano points out, are even mobilizing in some cases (Kurds) against the regime. As Obama seeks to extend his hand to the mullahs, Eastern European history strongly suggests that he will strengthen them, and help to demoralize their opposition.

There will be a price to be paid for this approach and its failure, down the road. Possibly sooner than we like to think.

But then, that's the real theme, and eventual tagline, for Barrack Obama's entire presidency. And so, for America. As that bill comes due, on multiple levels, remember the words of an Iranian philosophy professor.

12 Comments

The Iranian opposition lacks a platform and philosophical basis and needs both to sustain itself. It just may be that Shia theology will provide such a basis, a basis with both historical and religious roots.

It could. I think they'll be like most political coalitions, though. Which would mean it's more like multiple sustaining bases, with overlaps of agreement defining a common platform by agreement or by default.

Outside pressure, and support, can be helpful in that process. In Eastern Europe, some of the things Reagan articulated were very significant, because they echoed in ways that (a) made the dissidents feel less alone - a key point, since totalitarians and dictators rely on atomization; and (b) created echoes within those societies that helps an opposition define itself better.

Would the latter process have happened without him? Yes, in part thanks to (Catholic) clerical support networks in key places. But Ron worked hard, with some success, to help that process along.

We're dealing with a fundamentally different culture with respect to Arabs and Islam. This changes the goal somewhat, to healthy societies on their own terms, instead of the sick cesspools that are so often the case. Obama is positioned to play that role well - if he wanted to. But he's far more interested in dealing with dictators and making nice.

The lost opportunity is seismic. And it will bite.

Four theses on Obama:

1. Obama cannot distinguish between deference and diplomacy.

2. Obama does his diplomatic thinking out loud.

3. Obama assumes the moral superiority of anti-American claims, or thinks that "diplomacy" requires him to assume it.

4. There is no danger, whatsoever, of pushing Obama too far.

Joe Katzman:

We're dealing with a fundamentally different culture with respect to Arabs and Islam. This changes the goal somewhat, to healthy societies on their own terms, instead of the sick cesspools that are so often the case.

We're discussing Persians at the moment. (Even though a tendency to Arab domination is built into Islam.)

More importantly, their religion and their culture does not legitimately impose on us the goal of building for them societies that are healthy on their own terms, which, given that this is Islam, means terms inherently, necessarily inimical to us.

More reasonable goals include reducing to a minimum the number of nukes and other weapons of mass destruction in Islamic hands, defending ourselves against everything that has a tendency to sharia (including of course mass immigration from Islamic countries), supporting non-Islamic peoples (such as the Jews of Israel) in their defense against jihad, reducing to zero the number of dollars, cents and even official words spent giving comfort and support to Islam and Islamic organizations (such as the O.I.C.), and generally orienting ourselves around the defensive necessity of less Islam.

That is our existential challenge.

Between a government that shouts Allah hu akhbar!, which means in effect death, conversion or subjugation for us, and an opposition that shouts Allah hu akhbar!, which means in effect death, conversion or subjugation for us, we do not have a side.

1) Joe, you realize that Ahmadinejad has been claiming that Obama has been claiming typical neo-con rhetoric from Obama all week. Why do you think he would do this? Can't you see that this actually solidifies Ahmadinejad's base and gives them an excuse to ramp down on protesters.

Here are a couple of feeds on that same thought

Obsidian wings Why less is more

Jon Stewart meeting with Reza Aslan

The point you're looking for is at 3 min, 30 secs

"As of course, with any situation in this part of the world, it's important for all of us here to think: How can we make this about us?"

David,

I'm not sure Islam has fielded a society that qualified as "healthy on its own terms" for many centuries. A culture of that sort would have very different church/ state and reason/religion sets of relationships than has been the case, since... well, since the Mu'tazilites left the scene.

We almost had one of those again in Iraq, but after leading the successful Anbar Awakening, al-Qaeda got Sitar Abu Risha. We'll see how his successors do.

People who shout the equivalent of "Allah hu Akbhar... and you guys in the government can never be God's viceroys" - that's a side we can take, because its implications would create a very different kind of Islam. One that could reasonably work with the many people in Iran whose opinion of, and stance toward Islam, has been badly soured by the mullahcracy.

An opposition that can find such common ground, is one that can find common ground with us as well. (As you note, in a context that will have an Islamic component, but would also be Persian not Arab.)

Chuck, why would they need any more common ground than opposition to the current regime? Remember, a coalition of trade unions, Communists, and a core of fanatics were once able to sweep away a ruler viewed as autocratic and too pro-American. I'm speaking of course of November 2008, but I think something similar happened in Iran.

There are many people who disagree that this is a failure, in fact many see this as a success for Obama.

Obsidian Wings Why less is more

I particularly like the ending paragraph:

In 1963, as King delivers his famous speech to the March on Washington, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev delivers a public message of his own to the protesters. “We would like to tell these brave voices of freedom,” Khrushchev says, “that they have the full support and solidarity of the USSR."

Let us focus only on a simple tactical question: would Khrushchev’s statement aid the civil rights movement? Would it be welcomed by King and his associates? Why or why not?

And, Reza Aslan, an Iranian-American scholar of religious studies, who said pretty much the same thing on The Daily Show Wednesday night.

He added

If you want to put an end to this movement, to this revolution tomorrow, then let's listen to Bill Bennett, let's listen to John McCain, because that will end this revolution instantly... Sometimes the best thing we can do is just shut-up, and stay out of it.

The same arguments were made about the Soviet Empire, alchemist. They turned out to be quite wrong.

Flipping the story around, Khrushchev had no effect either way on the outcome of the civil rights movement, because outside the Left, no one in America saw him as a significant player, or a sympathetic one, in that domain.

I recall the candlelight vigils in Iran after 9/11, however, none of which were sanctioned or approved of by the regime.

A president who will not use the words stolen or fraudulent with respect to this election is legitimizing it. And he's doing so in order to facilitate more appeasement and support for this regime down the road.

I think it is a success for Obama, inasmuch as it's a success for the Iranian regime, and they are on the same side. He's never had a problem with a tyrant who didn't make the mistake of lumping him in with America during the course of a tirade.

Interesting to see an Obama fan compare him to Khrushchev in terms of moral authority.

The same arguments were made about the Soviet Empire, alchemist. They turned out to be quite wrong.

Joe, I'm having difficulty placing the exact meaning of this argument, since so many different presidents produced harsh denounciations of soviet human rights abuses. Other than the Berlin wall, i can't find evidence that this criticism actually made a difference. (And, since this Germans basically held hostage by the USSR (not a native government) I think we can agree that this sitauation does NOT clearly overlap with Iran.

The last few days i've also been trying to find Iranian experts and bloggers that are angry with obama. As of yet, I haven't found many. Although every expert I have talked to (including the man AL links to in the rethinking iran post) agree that the soft approach is the best approach.

Now, if you've got an iranian expert you'd like to put forward, great. Otherwise I'm going to lean heavier of Iranian experts than a guy who 3 months ago thought it was funny to joke about bombing the nation (somehow I just don't feel he has a finger on the pulse of everyday iranians....)

bgates: That's an interesting argument. Unfortunately, I don't consider Michael Savage a well informed source. Unless you can back up this line of reasoning, I'm going to ignore you from here on out.

Sorry, I was speaking of McCain there, wasn't quite clear enough.

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