Skip to comments.Iran - The Next Secular Revolution?
Posted on 06/18/2005 5:51:25 PM PDT by F14 Pilot
March 15, 2005. Tehran. Somewhere, a Qur'an is burning. It is Tchahr Shanbe Souri, the traditional Persian fire festival, and in major cities throughout the country Iranians are turning the celebration-denounced as pagan by the ruling clerics-into a protest. There are reports of revelers chanting "Down with the Islamic Republic" and casting Islamist literature and even scripture into bonfires.1 Government militia respond brutally, and violent clashes with demonstrators continue into the night.
The episode is not isolated but appears to be part of a trend in which large numbers of Iranians are taking to the streets, as they did in July 1999, October 2001, November 2002, and July 2003. During the fire festival of 2000, so many bushes were set ablaze that the pilot of an Air France plane attempting to land in Tehran changed course, thinking that a revolution had begun in Iran. The pilot may have been right. Twenty-six years ago, 98 percent of Iranians voted in favor of Ayatollah Khomeini's referendum calling for an Islamic republic. Today, half the population is between the ages of fourteen and twenty-five. They were not even born at the time of the revolution. An August 2002 telephone public-opinion poll found that only 19 percent of Iranians supported a politically active clergy, while 68 percent said their family's financial situation had gotten worse since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.2 An overwhelming majority favor a new referendum, which asks simply: theocracy or democracy?
As in 1979, university students are at the forefront of the fundamental shifts now underway in Iranian society. The election of President Mohammad Khatami in 1997 on a platform of reform gave them fresh hope. Throughout the 1990s, they organized under the auspices of a national umbrella group, the Office of Consolidation Unity, or OCU. But by 2004, Khatami's initiatives were stalled, and most student activists had come to regard the reformist program as a sham.
"The theocratic regime is nonreformable," says Aryo B. Pirouznia, coordinator of the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran or SMCCDI, a Texas-based network of activists inside and outside Iran. According to Pirouznia, SMCCDI represents the orientation of the current generation of activists: pro-Western, media-savvy, anti-"reformist," and explicitly secularist.
Today's activists are secularist in two senses. First, they are convinced that "religion is to go back to the mosques and the hearts of those who want it," says Pirouznia. "Even the Ayatollahs are saying that a majority of Iranians is no longer attending regular services. A lot of young Iranians are changing their Islamic names, like Mohammad, to Persian names. That can give you a very clear indication that they are turning their backs to Islam, rejecting a privilege of having the name of the prophet." The goal is absolute separation of mosque and state: "Islamic democracy is in itself a pure contradiction. What's going to happen to Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and atheists?"
Today's activists are also increasingly operating independently of any religious organizations, including the OCU, which descends from a state-backed body of religious students involved in the Cultural Revolution of the 1980s that Islamicized Iranian universities. Today's street demonstrations are spontaneous outpourings rather than centrally planned actions. The ultimate goal of these demonstrations? The overthrow of the Islamic Republic. By what means? That depends on whom you ask. SMCCDI favors a nonviolent popular uprising to oust the mullahs, the creation of a transitional government that would administer a UN-monitored referendum on the theocracy, and the formation of a National Commission for Reconciliation to begin a process of national healing.
Mass media are crucial to this secular movement. Again, SMCCDI is representative. Their Web site averages sixty thousand hits a day. They disseminate their calls for secular democracy through the many Los Angeles-based radio and satellite-TV programs that broadcast in Iran, as well as Voice of Israel, Voice of America, and the BBC. In the words of SMCCDI's charter, which has been read in Farsi repeatedly over the airwaves:
The most effective way the outside world can help the democratic movement in Iran is by publicizing the Iranian people's grievances and their yearning and struggles for freedom. The world's media need to focus on our peaceful resistance to establish basic human rights. TV coverage, not bullets and tanks, will end Iran's theocracy and bring democracy and tolerance to the Middle East.3
Many anticipate a general boycott of the June 2005 Iranian elections. Few will venture predictions, but with increased pressure by an emboldened Bush administration, the country might look radically different by the time of Tchahr Shanbe Souri next year. This special section of Free Inquiry aims to introduce readers to the secular student movement, which may play a pivotal role in the future of Iran. Effort has been made to present various perspectives, including the neocon foreign policy expert Michael Ledeen (interviewed by author Ibn Warraq), a former OCU member, and a young woman who was among the crowd of students whose exasperation with "reform" boiled over at President Khatami at Tehran University in December 2004. The editors would like to acknowledge the assistance of Pooyan Aslani, Azam Kamguian, Majid Mohammadi, Ibn Warraq, and three translators who wish to remain anonymous.
Notes 1. "Traditional 'Pagan' Celebration Turns into Street Fights against Regime Forces," SMCCDI Information Service, March 15, 2005. 2. Public Opinion Survey in Iran, August 23-28, 2002, Tarrance Group. 3. Available at www.daneshjoo.org.
Amnesty International will come out against the protestors, calling them "the Bolsheviks of our time."
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Uh..secular? Not quite. They will never give up Islam in a million years, and for this they are fighting a battle that will return them to where they are now, even if they win.
Why didn't Iranians support the Shah, instead of helping the mollahs taking over their country?
Majority of Iranians who fought against the Shah were either leftists, or nationalist democrats. Even after Khomenei came to power the idea was for a secular government - Khomenei eventually had them either kicked out of the government or assasinated.
I hate Carter more than you my friend, but you can't always
blame US Presidents (even the shittiest!)..
I blame him for the whole mess.
I blame him for what he did to the Shah of Iran.
I'm not going to buy into that without really firm evidence that this is the case, and don't say a million people died in the Iran - Iraq wars. I know that.
As far as the rest, IMO, it's wishful thinking.
The only way for true reform is to decapitate their government, cripple their infrastructure, and wipe out their nuclear facilities.
The Mullahs have a grip of steel, and though wishful thinking is nice, it is just that.
In other words, don't hold your breath.
I believe the student movement will succeed in building a secular society in time, as long as they don't lose hope.
EXACTLY! It's mostly his fault the Shah was overthrown.
Carter had no good intentions when it came to the Shah.
The future of Iran is bright. I believe the Iranian society will be a very secular one in near future
The Iranian people are very patient and I wish them well.
Very good. Islam will dirty anything it comes in contact with. These people have been swimming in it and they wont be able to get rid of it. Lets not hope for anything out of iran internally.
This is true, though the moron probably really thought he was doing good in a terminally addled sort of way that only he MIGHT have understood.
He also had no good intentions in his dealings with Yasser. For Israel. He had no good intentions when dealing with either Kim. For the United States.
Carter paved the way for Radical Muslims to threaten the world security
The wheel's turned full circle dude.
The present generation of students were likely born after 1979 and have no clue about the Shah regime's relative freedoms.
Iran is a perfect test case for what happens when ordinary decent folks are fed an "overdose of islam", the disgust and yearning for freedom it engenders etc.
I think this is a good sign of hope. A pityit'll take a huge Iranian mullah folly with nuke ambitions for the Bush admin to act and bring it crashing down like it bloody well deserves to...
You better hope!
Moreover you have no idea what you talk about.
Iran is a different country. Islam is not their genuine religion and they dislike Islam.
Do some research and have some idea about topics you don't know well.
Let us not forget the Panama Canal.
you know as well as i do that iran wont become free through internal forces. lets not let idealism cloud reality.
That will be great if free societies contribute to freedom of Iranians but I believe that freedom and democracy must be brought to their country from within.
I don't believe that you can deliver democracy to Iran by Bombs or Bullets.
I was reading your comments here.
I think you are dead wrong on Iran.
i totally agree with you. thats why i think our time is being wasted in iraq. you cant teach freedom to muslims. islam didnt spread so much and create islamic nations because it can be toppled be some kids who dont like its restrictions very much. islam is going to win in iran. islam is too strong for that. america has to destroy islam because the rest of the world is too weak to.
Islam is already defeated in my country!
hi, i dont see any of my comments there but you are welcome to disagree with me just like many others do. even if people disagree with me its good to have my point of view out there i think.
The USA should help secular movements in the Islamic world to moderate Islam. We can not destroy Islam or any other ideas.
the better word is probably "break" not destroy. we cant just change them there needs to be a break in order to take their militant nature out of them.
Don't hold your breath.
I would be repeating the same thing long long after you had turned blue.
I do still hope that they gain the freedom they deserve.
Actually, I am White! ;-)
Ah yes, I sit corrected and apologize for the omission. He has a thirty-year long trail of debris behind him. Sometimes it's hard to keep track of it all.
Okay... I agree then but Ideas are hard to destroy/break!
in addition, the mad mullahs are continuing the clod war they had with Saddam by sending in terrorists to pose as "insurgents", disrupt the fledgling Iraqi government, take over Iraq at last AND score a major victory against the hated US without officially firing a shot. While the mad mullahs are distracted in Iraq....anything can happen in Iran.
which is exactly why some iranian students wont be able to defeat islam. it is in peoples heads. they cant let it go.
our soldiers are working very hard but management has made a bad decision.
They're not trying to "defeat Islam". They're trying to defeat the Islamist theothugs who rule with an iron fist. They want a secular government, not a society free from religion.
The bulk of the Iraqi people would disagree.
I have a dear friend who is an Iranian. One time I wished him a blessed Eid and he said "Thank, but I don't go in for that Islamic crap." :o)
Nice graphic :-)
Great to hear that!