Sunday, June 21, 2009


From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Struggle among Iran's clerics bursts into the open

TEHRAN, Iran — A backstage struggle among Iran's ruling clerics burst into the open Sunday when the government said it had arrested the daughter and other relatives of an ayatollah who is one of the country's most powerful men.

State media said the daughter and four other relatives of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani were later released but their arrests appeared to be a clear warning from the hard-line establishment to a cleric who may be aligning himself with the opposition.

Tehran's streets fell mostly quiet for the first time since a bitterly disputed June 12 presidential election, but cries of "God is great!" echoed again from rooftops after dark, a sign of seething anger at a government crackdown that peaked with at least 10 protesters' deaths Saturday.

The killings drove the official death toll to at least 17 after a week of massive street demonstrations by protesters who say hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stole his re-election win. But searing images posted online — including gruesome video purporting to show the fatal shooting of a teenage girl — hinted the true toll may be higher.

Police and the feared Basij militia swarmed the streets of Tehran to prevent more protests and the government intensified a crackdown on independent media — expelling a BBC correspondent, suspending the Dubai-based network Al-Arabiya and detaining at least two local journalists for U.S. magazines.

More here.

Here's my take: this is really difficult to understand.

Admittedly, it's all very exciting. I mean, ostensibly, it looks like the people have risen up to demand their freedom, like when the Berlin Wall fell, or when protesters faced off against tanks in Tienanmen Square, or like the great Civil Rights era march on Washington here in the US. It's hard for me, as a rebel-rousing freedom-loving American, to not side with the people of Iran as they do their thing in the streets.

I do support the demonstrations. But I'm not really sure if I'm necessarily on the same side as these Iranians. That is, as far as I can tell, these protests are aimed at forcing the Iranian government to follow the laws they're supposed to execute. In other words, it seems to me that, in the face of what appears to be a massively rigged election, the people of Iran are are protesting in favor of the theocratic governmental system they've had since the revolution of 1979, the one their leaders no longer seem interested maintaining.

I think Americans see the turmoil in the streets of Tehran and can't help but understand it in terms of our own revolutionary history. We see Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry; we see love for Western democracy and Western freedom because this is what it looks like to us. But Persians aren't from the West. There was no Enlightenment in the Middle East. There is no democratic tradition in Iran in the way we understand it. These people want democracy, yes, but how many of them understand the concept in terms of the severely limited sense of democracy afforded them by their ayatollahs? My guess is that this is what the majority of these demonstrators want. That is, they want a restoration of the status quo, a restoration of Muslim Shia theocracy as they've understood it for forty years.

Do we really want to support that? President Obama is right to be cautious.

Tehran, from Twitter, courtesy of the Daily Kos.