The End of Islamic Theocracy? June 22, 2009

The End of Islamic Theocracy?

Fareed Zakaria suggests that we are witnessing the fall of Islamic theocracy in Iran right now:

CNN: As you’ve seen the situation in Iran develop over the last week, what are your thoughts?

Fareed Zakaria: One of the first things that strikes me is we are watching the fall of Islamic theocracy.

CNN: Do you mean you think the regime will fall?

Zakaria: No, I don’t mean the Iranian regime will fall soon. It may — I certainly hope it will — but repressive regimes can stick around for a long time. I mean that this is the end of the ideology that lay at the basis of the Iranian regime.

The regime’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, laid out his special interpretation of political Islam in a series of lectures in 1970. In this interpretation of Shia Islam, Islamic jurists had divinely ordained powers to rule as guardians of the society, supreme arbiters not only on matters of morality but politics as well. When Khomeini established the Islamic Republic of Iran, this idea was at its heart. Last week, that ideology suffered a fatal wound.

CNN: How so?

Zakaria: When the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a “divine assessment,” he was indicating it was divinely sanctioned. But no one bought it. He was forced to accept the need for an inquiry into the election. The Guardian Council, Iran’s supreme constitutional body, met with the candidates and promised to investigate and perhaps recount some votes. Khamenei has subsequently hardened his position but that is now irrelevant. Something very important has been laid bare in Iran today — legitimacy does not flow from divine authority but from popular support.

Blake Hounshell of Foreign Policy adds:

the clear implication of Mousavi’s actions is that he no longer sees the supreme leader as the legitimate, unquestioned ruler of Iran. I’m sure an increasing number of Iranians feel the same way, even if the regime ultimately beats them into submission as we watch helplessly, glued to our monitors. And that will spell the end of the Islamic Republic in the long run.

Despite the chaos in Iran right now, we have this to be optimistic about.

(via The Daily Dish)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I share Zakaria’s optimistic outlook for Iran.

    It may turn out that the best way to disillusion people about religion is to have them experience a theocracy for a couple of generations.

  • The Unbrainwashed

    Why don’t you post anti-Islamic posts more often? You seem to direct almost all your ire towards Christianity, while I see Islam as a much more dangerous global force (see current situation in Europe).

  • As I listen to the scant news coming out of Iran I can’t help but think back to the Prague Spring or the Tiananmen Square protests and hope that this doesn’t end with a similar crackdown.

    While I would like to see the theocracy loosen its hold on Iran, there are a lot of conservative hardliners over there (both religious and non) who would be more than happy to crush the protests violently. And there’s certainly ample historical precedent for that sort of action.

  • Infinite Monkey

    While I’m not familiar with Prague Spring, right now, we are at a point where it could either go one way or the other-the demonstrations that brought down the USSR, or the demonstrations that got some guy ran over by a tank. Its too early to call it.

  • Lyn McGinnis

    The phrase Prague Spring refers to the following tragic events:

  • gribblethemunchkin

    Iran has a few things going for it that might help in freeing it from the Ayatollahs.

    1. It has an incredibly large young population (60% of the population are under 30)

    2. These young ‘uns are, thanks to the interwebs, perfectly well aware of how we in the west are free (largely) to say and do as we please, women may wear what they like, men may share a pint after work, dancing and singing are good fun.

    3. They are also perfectly aware that they do not have these freedoms.

    4. Under the Ayatollahs they know they have been politically isolated and diminished.

    5. No one likes Ahmadinajad. His statements on Israel haven’t been widely accepted, his economic policies have done nothing good and the nuclear path he is on has noticeably alienated the rest of the world.

    No for the downsides. What exactly do we think the fundamentalists in charge will do when they get kicked out of power? Will they go queitly into the night? Or will they engage in terrorism and other undesireable behaviour to try and cripple whatever replaces the ayatollahs?

    Overall i’m optimistic, I’ve always thought the Iranians had a lot going for them and that the theocracy couldn’t last. I hope they manage to throw off the ayatollah and establish some form of self governance.

  • dfledermaus

    I think Fareed Zacharia’s assessment that theocracy in Iran has received a fatal blow may be too optimistic. One should never underestimate the theist’s ability to rationalize away evidence they don’t want to face.

  • I still think that we have to remember there is a large rural population in Iran that ostensibly supports Ahmadinajad. It’s the same sort of city/rural voting block that brought eight years of W. here in the states. How much of that rural support is true and how much of it is the party line filtering through will be what ultimately decides this, I think.

  • Towards the end of the cold-war (1989), I was working in Prague and rented a room from a woman who had demonstrated in the “Prague Spring” in 1968. She told me her story and how proud she was of her own daughter who had recently demonstrated herself before I arrived in Prague. In this later demonstration, there was a student killed and the site had a mountain of flowers marking the spot. Sometimes, social progress takes a generation to fulfill.

    If events in Iran turn out to be like a “Prague Spring”, I still predict that the demonstrators will experience liberation within a generation. Some things take time.

    I also happened to be in Beijing just before the “Tiananmen square” incident. I personally know Chinese graduate students that were “defined” by that event. Although, the Chinese government hasn’t fallen, most agree that the Chinese government has moderated quite a lot since the “old days”.

    Any time tanks roll and fire on their own, the party doing the firing ultimately looses (or changes for the better).

  • Miko

    More to the point, all candidates in Iran have to be approved by the Council of Guardians before running. Voting is a joke; the real power lies with those who determine who’s on the ballot. And Iran also has a state-run radio and television network, which is always a great asset for those in power who wish to stay in power.


    What exactly do we think the fundamentalists in charge will do when they get kicked out of power?

    As the old saying goes, “voting doesn’t change anything; if it did, they’ll outlaw it.” The one common factor underlying all governments is that they’ll stoop to any level of violence, no matter how unimaginable, to maintain power. The one thing in the favor of the people is that we have the government vastly outnumbered. Most of the time, the people are kept suitably passive so that this is not an issue, but I’d say that this is a rare moment in which the Iranian people are focused sufficiently on their condition to actually stand up to anything the government throws at them. It’ll be nasty, but the people will win. Unfortunately, after it’s done they’ll most likely proceed to set up a new government which is slightly different but nonetheless maintains most of the bad features of the old one.

    @Unbrainwashed: Neither Christianity nor Islam is dangerous; theocracy is dangerous.

  • Havabiscuit
  • Revyloution

    Jeff, I’ve been thinking quite a bit on those prior social upheavals.

    Every generation makes the fallacy of assuming their time is different, special. One thing makes me think this one is different. Technology has changed the dynamic of the political movement.

    Tienanmen Square was a mere 20 years ago, and the changes in China have been staggering. They might not be a carbon copy of western democracy, but things have changed quickly. And that was just because of TV.

    Sorry, I have to give a quick segue to Rodger Waters from his album Amused to Death, the end of the song ‘Watching TV’

    And she is different from Cro-Magnon man
    She’s different from Anne Boleyn
    She is different from the Rosenbergs
    And from the unknown Jew
    She is different from the unknown Nicaraguan
    Half superstar half victim
    She’s a victor star conceptually new
    And she is different from the Dodo
    And from the Kankabono
    She is different from the Aztec
    And from the Cherokee
    She’s everybody’s sister
    She’s symbolic of our failure
    She’s the one in fifty million
    Who can help us to be free
    Because she died on TV

    TV changed the world. Now the Internet is dwarfing its impact at the speed of light. I would have been skeptical of quick change in Iran 8 years ago. Today, with a camera, video recorder, phone and internet access in everyones pocket, Pandoras Box has been opened wide.

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