Arrias: Iran: Will This Time Be Different?

Over the past week speculation has spanned the full spectrum as to what will happen in Iran: the Mullahs who’ve ruled Iran since 1979 are facing protests in a number of cities as many citizens call for greater freedoms and greater representation in their government.

The catalyst for the riots was rising food prices. But there are also reports that there are factions within the government who have incited the riots – the students being unwitting pawns – to pressure President Rouhani on future spending. One faction apparently wants more money spent inside Iran; others want to continue to expand Iran’s presence in Syria and Lebanon. These stories sometimes refer to President Rouhani as a “moderate” cleric. They’re careful, however, to place quotation marks around “moderate.”

In Iran several things are of note: 1) moderate mullahs aren’t; 2) No one comes to power (government or military) unless approved by a very small group of clerics. You can’t run for President or for the legislature (Assembly) until approved by a council of clerics; 3) The small council of clerics are approved by the Ayatollah Khameini; then, and only then, are the people allowed to vote. Western democracy it’s not. In short, the Ayatollah is the real power; 4) The Ayatollah isn’t going to give up power easily.

Iran is an amazing country, with 81 million people, larger than Alaska, with a civilization that is 4000 years old. Iranians have produced some of the finest art and literature in the world. They’re smart, talented, educated. It has been said repeatedly that Americans have more in common with Iranians than with any other people in the Mid East.

To listen to many – hopeful – experts, this time the people will win. In fact, if you listen to what’s being said, it’s inevitable.

But history hasn’t been kind to the idea that the people will win, and that ever greater liberty is a given. This concept, from the school of thought that history is developing to some new and improved end state (popular among Marxists), sounds good if you’re clever with the definitions. A squishy, feel-good, new age religion-spirituality supports this.

But not to put too fine a point on it, you can make a fairly clear argument that nations aren’t really in God’s portfolio. Nations are, as our Declaration of Independence notes, instituted among men. And they are full of failures and errors. Some few fix themselves over time, most do not. In most, the concerns are not about rights and justice, they are about power. And so, back to Iran, the Ayatollah and his mullahs.

Western civilization developed political philosophies that supported justice and individual rights; within that framework it was understood that each individual would be able to pursue those interests that served him best, whether they sought temporal or eternal reward. And so, Western thought focused on states that would provide the minimum necessary conditions for that pursuit.

The other civilizations of the world have chosen different paths. But at the core of all those paths, is a desire not to provide justice, but to hold power. The West created mechanisms to thwart those efforts (though the efforts are by no means fool proof); no other school of philosophy spent so much effort on limiting the power of the state.

In Iran the Mullahs may claim they speak for God (or Allah, if you prefer), but whether they happen to, from time to time, say something with which God agrees, they really speak for themselves, and seek power for themselves. They will not yield it gently. Perhaps the people will overthrow them this time, perhaps not. (If I were a betting man I would put my money on the Mullahs right now). Perhaps they will someday overthrow the Mullahs. But, those in power tend to remain in power. And the more power they have, the harder they hold onto it.

The Mullahs want to retain power. In all likelihood they will use every means to do so, including extreme violence. If we really want the pro-democracy movement to succeed, we will need to not only get involved, but we will need to understand that it will get very messy, will be very unpleasant, and may not work. Or we can sit and watch and hope it works out. And remember, odds are it won’t work out, at least not for the near term.

There are no easy answers.

Copyright 2018 Arrias

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