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.