Last week, Ali Gharib made the important point that what’s happening in Iran is thus far not a rejection of the Islamic republic, but a struggle over its founding principles. Reviewing Moussavi’s formal statement Saturday, Gary Sick described it as diagnosis of “a revolution gone wrong,” writing that Moussavi has “issued a manifesto for a new vision of the Islamic republic.”
If the large volume of cheating and vote rigging, which has set fire to the hays of people’s anger, is expressed as the evidence of fairness, the republican nature of the state will be killed and in practice, the ideology that Islam and Republicanism are incompatible will be proven.
This outcome will make two groups happy: One, those who since the beginning of revolution stood against Imam and called the Islamic state a dictatorship of the elite who want to take people to heaven by force; and the other, those who in defending the human rights, consider religion and Islam against republicanism.
As Spencer notes, that last bit is a pretty clear rebuke to those Western critics who, in criticizing the brutality of the Iranian regime, have tried to present Islam and democracy as irreconcilable.
Speaking of which, conservative scholar-activist Martin Kramer, in a comically mendacious (and, as usual, Rashid Khalidi-obsessed) dispatch, tries to argue that the “events in Iran have left Obama’s simplistic mental map of the Middle East, first learned from a few Palestinian activists and an old Hyde Park rabbi, in shreds.”
But, in fact, what is in shreds is the representation of Islamism — peddled for years by Kramer, Daniel Pipes, and ideologically affiliated think tanks and publications — as wholly and irretrievably hostile to modernity, to human rights, and to democracy. Having spent years vilifying the Islamist discourse of struggle and sacrifice as deployed by Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, these pundits have now been pantsed by the Iranian demonstrators deploying the very same discourse on behalf of freedom and reform. Moussavi has declared himself “ready for martyrdom” — will conservatives now condemn his “death cult”?
The point here is not to call out those whose skewed analysis of the Middle East strongly informed America’s disastrous and costly attempt to implant democracy there by force. Okay, that’s part of the point. But the larger part is to note how significant it is that the Iranian clerical-dictatorial regime is being challenged from within Islam, and that a very credible scholarly-religious critique that has long been suppressed by the regime now seems to have found a vehicle in Moussavi and the movement around him.
Even in the best outcome, I think it’s likely that the Iranian government will continue to be, in key respects, Islamist-controlled (matching the Islamist-controlled government in neighboring Iraq.) But it’s important to understand that this, much more so than any Western-imported concept of “secularism,” has the potential to really spur the already vigorous debate in the region over the arrangement of a fair and just society, by underscoring Islamism’s contribution to that debate. As with President Obama’s wise caution in regard to the demonstrations, the most productive thing the U.S. do, while continuing to voice support for human rights, is to get out of the way and make space for the debate to occur.