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Iran’s sad state of affairs

Published: March 12, 2010
Section: Opinions


In 1979, an Islamic revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overthrew Iran’s presiding ruler, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, commonly known as the Shah of Iran.  Iran’s current regime, which came to power as a result of this historic event, still triumphantly celebrates this remarkable transition of power.  But the Iranian government’s recent actions stray from the ideals that inspired so many Iranians a generation ago.

The Iranian revolution was the product of a confluence of forces.  At the time, the Shah’s policies increasingly favored Westernization, modernization, and closer ties with the United States and even Israel, among other countries.  As a result, his administration’s actions began to conflict with the identities and ideologies of devout Shiite Muslims, who made up the bulk of the populace.

Iranians felt they could not trust their government.  Under the Shah, dissenters were oppressed, murdered, tortured, incarcerated and put under constant surveillance.  Pahlavi’s security forces, known as the National Intelligence and Security Organization, were gradually transforming Iran into a totalitarian police state.  Consequently, Ayatollah Khomeini wanted to create a freer society for Muslims.

When the Shah was overthrown, Iran did not become a liberalized democracy, since such a system was viewed as being tainted by Western influence.  Indeed, the new government that was installed began denying basic liberties to its people, particularly minority groups.  Also, candidates running for positions in Iran’s elected bodies had to undergo a rigorous vetting process in order to ensure that their religiosity and political allegiances were acceptable.  Both of these trends continue to this day.

However, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rigged election over Mir-Hossein Mousavi and the subsequent oppression of members of the Green movement convinced much of the public that the status quo was intolerable.  Many in Iran have awakened to the fact that this government’s cruel policies increasingly resemble those of the Shah’s.  Evin Prison, once used by Pahlavi to imprison Islamists, now is used to imprison Greens.  Although the regime in power has maintained its strict anti-Western mindset that has fueled it since its inception, its subjugation of fellow Shiites runs contrary to what Ayatollah Khomeini originally intended in 1979.

The government may try to justify its actions by claiming the change represented by the Green movement is radical and un-Islamic.  Yet consider its leaders–Mir-Hossein Mousavi was Iran’s prime minister from 1981-1989,  Mohammad Khatami served as president from 1997-2005,  Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was president from 1989-1997 and current chairman of a governing body known as the Assembly of Experts, was once considered as a successor to Ayatollah Khomeini for Supreme Leader, the most powerful office in the government.  These are not extremists; they are the founders of the Iranian Revolution and have been critical supporters of and players in the government it produced.

What are the political positions of the Green movement?  They overwhelmingly support Iran’s nuclear program, viewing it as a source of the country’s strength and pride.  They are skeptical about conciliation toward the West, despite the fact that they are less antagonistic toward it than Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  In fact, from the viewpoint of the regime in power, the only truly radical view they have is that, just like Khomeini, they yearn for a trustworthy government that is accountable to all Shiites.

Instead of listening to the Greens, power has increasingly shifted into the hands of Ahmadinejad and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as its subsidiary, the paramilitary Basij militia.  The idealism of the Islamic Revolutionaries in ’79 has been replaced by brute force.  Organizers of the Green movement have faced humiliating show trials, execution, incarceration, torture, rape, and more.  Individuals like Neda Agha-Soltan, who was only an innocent bystander at a Green protest, have become martyrs.  Despite these events, oppositionists have continued to valiantly make their stand, albeit less so in recent months.

Is this really what Ayatollah Khomeini wanted?  For revolution-supporting Muslims who only yearn for justice to fear their government as he and his followers did 31 years ago?  Iran is in a sad state of affairs.