At the same time, Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s spiritual mentor, runs three powerful educational institutions in the holy city of Qum, all spun off from the Haqqani seminary, which teaches that Islam and democracy are incompatible. The ayatollah favors a system that would preserve the post of supreme leader and eliminate elections. The Ahmadinejad administration has provided generous government subsidies to the seminary, and its graduates hold significant government posts nationwide.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Ideology and the Iranian Unrest
I don't know who actually won the June 12 Iranian elections. The winner was announced essentially before the votes were counted and confirmed. My sense is that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad either did not win or didn't get 50% of the vote. It is interesting that essentially only 2 candidates are given votes. But that hardly seems likely. One would assume that the other two candidates, one conservative and one more progressive (actuallyl the most progressive candidate) would receive so few votes, especially since Mehdi Karoubi was one of the primary candidates in the last go round four years ago.
So, what happened? I find interesting an article in today's NY Times, which notes how President Ahmadinejad, with the support of the Supreme Leader, has gone to great lengths to put allies, friends, supporters into positions throughout the government, both locally and nationally. He has replaced the governors, mayors, and down the line. His allies control the Interior Ministry (oversees the elections), Justice, Intelligence, the Basj Militias. And apparently, while he and the Supreme Leader don't see eye to eye on everything, they are tied together. What this article notes is that while Ahmadinejad comes off as a buffoon when speaking, he's a shrewd political operator with important connections.
Some of the things we're learning about Ahmadinejad -- and his ideological inclinations -- is that he and his allies emerged out of the Iran-Iraq War. They have been hardened by that war. We also learn that this generation (mostly in their 50s) is largely at odds with the older revolutionary generation -- such as Ayatollah Ali Rafsanjani and Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. They are more agressive, assertive, and wanting to continue a confrontational foreign policy.
We also learn from this article that Ahmadinejad has connections to a stream of Shiite thought that teaches that Islam and Democracy are incompatible.
So what does this hold for the future? No one really knows. It's clear that Mr. Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will do whatever it takes to keep power. The president has a populist message, and has lower class roots, which may fuel anger against the political elite. If his ideological mentors are anti-democratic, then we learn more.
That stands one side of the ledger. At the same time, there is a growing sense that Iran needs to change, that it needs to become more democratic and more open to the outside world. Many of the key figures in the opposition emerged out of the Revolution, and have mellowed, seeing little benefit to be gained by hardline perspectives. In many ways this is a battle over the legacy of the 1979 Revolution.
The future likely will be one of unrest, simmering anger, and uncertainty. It is interesting to hear the Supreme Leader say that he won't be influenced or intimidated by protests and strikes. It's interesting because these are the tactics that brought about the 1979 Revolution, one that Ayatollah Khomeini and many of the current elite hijacked.
With this going on, America must be cautious. It's obvious, that for now we cannot have any real conversations with the government. We must not appear to be provacateers, which would give ammunition to the government, making this a nationalist issue. This is an issue that the Iranians must resolve themselves. But, we can do some important work on the outside. I saw that the US is sending back its ambassador to Syria. We need to pull Syria out of the Iranian orbit -- and Syria likely understands that Iran is no longer a stable ally. We also need to see how Iraq's leaders respond, for the leaders of the Shiite majority have had ties to Iran -- who are they aligned with?
None of this is easy -- we must keep our eyes and ears open, praying for peace and justice for a people living in difficult circumstances. The Iranians are not our enemies. They're not part of some axis of evil. But their current government is not good for them nor for the world iself. Let us remember this when we pray.