One simmering controversy over the Iran protests was over whether the protesters simply wanted to install Mir Hussein Mousavi as President and continue living in a Sharia state, or whether they wanted to overthrow the Islamic Republic altogether. It seems likely that some wanted one and some wanted the other.
In any case, the evidence that some brought forward to show that the protesters had no problem with Sharia was lacking, to say the least: Mousavi is indeed an establishment figure in the Islamic Republic with a sinister past, but that in itself didn’t establish that every demonstrator who took to the streets in Iran was doing so because he or she positively endorsed Mousavi, his program, and his resume. He became a focus of the protests, but as Pamela Geller notes here of the Iranian voters, their choices were limited: “it was not as if they could write in Ronald Reagan’s name.”
Nor did the fact that the protesters have been shouting “Allahu akbar” necessarily indicate a wholehearted endorsement of Iranian theocracy. The phrase has an extra weight in Iran due to its use as a rallying cry during the Khomeini revolution in 1979, and given Iran’s cultural context, it is not in every respect the same thing to shout this on the streets of Tehran as to shout it on the streets of New York.
Of course, these considerations don’t mean that the protesters, had they prevailed, would have installed a Western-leaning secular government akin to the Shah’s. But those who supported the Shah and secularism have not entirely disappeared from Iran, and cannot be discounted as an element in those protests.
Anyway, this interview with Ayatollah Mohsen Kadivar, an establishment hack like Mousavi, as well as a theocrat and Jew-hater. He praises Obama’s supine response to Iranian tyranny, as if the specter of American support for the protesters would have driven them to embrace Ahmadinejad in droves. But Kadivar does shed a bit more light on the nature of the protests. He insists that the protests have been “thoroughly Islamic,” but also admits that “some young people are oriented towards the West” — although he downplays that fact and maintains that most Iranians want Sharia. Still, the question Geller asked in her article still lingers: “Are people in Iran dying for more of the same thing they have been getting from the Islamic Republic for thirty years?” Since the protests have been essentially crushed at this point, we may never know the answer.
“‘This Iranian Form of Theocracy Has Failed,'” from Spiegel, July 2 (thanks to Ruth King):
[…] SPIEGEL: Tehran appears quiet at the moment, at least compared with the mass protests of the week before last. Are we currently seeing the beginning of the end of the resistance — or the end of the Iranian regime?
Kadivar: This Iranian form of theocracy has failed. The rights of the Iranian peoples are trampled upon and my homeland is heading towards a military dictatorship. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad behaves like an Iranian Taliban. The supreme leader, Mr. Ali Khamenei, has tied his fate to that of Ahmadinejad, a great moral, but also political mistake.
SPIEGEL: What has your counsel been for opposition leader Mousavi in recent days? Is he truly the undisputed head of the movement?
Kadivar: Yes, he is the leader. All reformists now support Mousavi, my friend from our days at Tarbiat Modares University in Tehran. He was a professor of political science and I was professor of philosophy and theology. I believe he should insist on new elections and continue calling for non-violent protests …
SPIEGEL: … which would then be violently squashed by the security forces of the regime, the Basij and the Pasdaran.
Kadivar: In the long term, a regime can hardly oppose millions of peaceful protesters — unless it opts for a massacre and, in doing so, completely loses its legitimacy. We should again and again point to the rights granted by the Iranian constitution. In Article 27, it is clearly pointed out that every citizen has the right to protest. Our protest is non-violent, legal and “green” — thoroughly Islamic.
SPIEGEL: That’s what you say.
Kadivar: Article 56 of our constitution includes the right of God that is give to all Iranian citizens. The citizens then elect their leader, president and parliament. The constitution is very clear on that: The leader must be elected and not selected by those claiming to know God’s will.
SPIEGEL: The state doctrine of Welayat-e Faqih (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists) and its highest representative, Ali Khamenei, see it quite differently. They claim the protest movement is directed against the law and against religion.
Kadivar: The people call “Allahu Akbar” from the rooftops. They carry signs asking “Where has my vote gone?” The protesters don’t want to rebel against everything, but they do want justice and they do want fair elections. He who refuses those demands risks a civil war.
SPIEGEL: It is true that the protesters are using the color of Islam and chanting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”). But have they not reached the point where they want more? They were also shouting, “Down with the Dictator!” Maybe the young people who are behind the movement want a democratic republic based on the Western model with separation of religion and state.
Kadivar: I admit that some young people are oriented towards the West. But one should not give too much weight to that. The majority of my compatriots would not want a complete separation of state and religion. Neither would I. Iran is a country with Islamic traditions and values. More than 90 percent of our citizens are Muslims.
SPIEGEL: Which values specifically are you referring to?
Kadivar: Above all, stands justice and the fulfillment of the will of the people. Under the rule of Ali, our first Shiite imam, there were no political prisoners, non-violent protests were permitted and critical comment even invited. One must not betray those values.
SPIEGEL: And Khamenei and Ahmadinejad did?
Kadivar: Yes. I plead for a truly Islamic and democratic state, a state that respects human dignity and does not refuse the rights of women, a state where people can freely elect their religious and secular leaders.
SPIEGEL: But now you are talking about a revolution — a completely new, different Iran.
Kadivar: I am speaking of a country where religious leaders do not have the right to determine how the country is led in opposition to the majority of the community, ostensibly according to the will of God. Such a right does not exist, neither in the Shiite tradition nor in other imperatives. I do not believe in any divine rights for clergy or believers….
SPIEGEL: Can other countries do anything to aid the opposition?
Kadivar: No. This is a battle the Iranian people have to win by themselves. I think that so far, President Obama has acted very prudently and not given those looking for any reason to attack ammunition. Ahmadinejad’s insistence that Washington has fueled the unrest has no effect.
SPIEGEL: Obama compared Ahmadinejad and Mousavi and commented that the difference between the candidates is only minor. Is he correct?
Kadivar: This is correct, but then again, it is not correct. The differences regarding the nuclear question and the evaluation of Israeli politics are indeed minor. As for the right to uranium enrichment, you won’t find an Iranian politician who thinks differently. But on the question of democracy, the differences are formidable. Ahmadinejad takes an aggressive position, while Mousavi emphazises the adherence to laws and the constitution. I believe that the issue of democratization is presently the central problem. Everything else, including the nuclear question, is secondary….
SPIEGEL: Some in the West fear that things could get far worse — and they mean for the world — if Iran obtains nuclear weapons.
Kadivar: We are particularly concerned about Israel. This country has handed its nuclear energy to the military. Every Muslim — well, everyone — is afraid of Israel. Israel’s nuclear arsenal should be placed under the control of the United Nations and the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
SPIEGEL: Do we understand you right, that there will be no change on the nuclear question regardless of who wins the power struggle in Tehran?
Kadivar: Every Iranian government will claim the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy …
SPIEGEL: … but that is not the issue. We are talking about the nuclear bomb.
Kadivar: America has it, Israel has it. What is said about my country is only potentiality not reality. If the nuclear bomb is evil, then it is evil everywhere — not only in those countries that oppose US policy. It is a double standard policy.
SPIEGEL: What would happen if Israel or the United States attacked nuclear plants in Iran?
Kadivar: That would be in contempt of all moral values. The Iranians would take up resistance, and they would do it together, regardless of political disposition and religion….