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SOCIOLOGY OF ISLAM & MUSLIM SOCIETIES SPRING 2010 Newsletter No. 5

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SOCIOLOGY OF ISLAM & MUSLIM SOCIETIES SPRING 2010 Newsletter No. 5
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  [1] SOCIOLOGY OF ISLAM   & MUSLIM SOCIETIES International Studies - 224 East Hall - Portland, OR 97207 - 0751 - USA Spring 2010 - Newsletter No. 5 - ISSN:1942-7948 Contents Introduction by Tugrul Keskin and Najm al-Din YousefiReflections on Democracy, Non-Violence and PoliticalChange in Iran by Nader Hashemi - Page 3An Interview with Iranian Political Scientist HosseinBashiriyeh by Danny Postel - Page 6The role of religious agents in modern Iran by Wladimir vanWilgenburg - Page 24Identity Narratives among Second-Generation Iranians inthe United States by Sahar Sadeghi - Page 28Writers’ Inferno, Ivayla Datseva - Page 32Iran-Yemen Relations and Regional Implications by LadanYazdian - Page 39Reconstructions, Reform and Ahmadinejad: Iran’s PoliticalRevolutions 1989-2009 by Marcus W. Dorsen - Page 44 Thirty Years after the Iranian Revolution:Islam, Democracy and the Crisis of Legitimacy The 2009 presidential election in Iran marks an epochnot only in Iranian history but in the Middle East aswhole. For the first time after the 1979 revolution, thethree defeated candidates with extensiverevolutionary credentials openly challenged thevalidity of the election, accusing the government of massive fraud that had resulted in the reelection of the incumbent president Mahmud Ahmadinejad. To be sure, the previous election (2005) was not entirelydevoid of controversy as the candidate MehdiKarrubi had leveled fraud accusations against thegovernment, but the controversy was little more thanephemeral and posed no serious challenge to thegovernment’s authority. However, the latestallegations and the ensuing protests in Tehran andother major cities struck an unprecedented blow tothe legitimacy of the entire political system, whichhas over the past three decades relied on people’svotes to meet the exigencies of a republic.While the protests started with a simple slogan —“where is my vote?”—they ostensibly targetedmore than a seemingly fraudulent election. Indeedthey called into question the legitimacy of agovernment that could no longer be trusted withsafeguarding people’s rights and interests. The 2009 Photojournalist: Sasan Afsoosi -safsoosi@gmail.com  [2]  presidential election has thus uncovered inner conflicts that had long lain dormant in thefoundations of the Iranian political system—conflictsthat raised serious questions about the extent to whichideological and factional interests could take precedence over both democratic principles andIslamic ideals of governance.More importantly, the 2009 election has induced theemergence of the Iranian Green Movement as a broad-based platform for a host of social, economic,and political demands. The Green Movement’sstrength lies in its pluralistic character and itsnonviolent strategy. While the unfettered violence, perpetrated by the Iranian government and its militiasurrogates, has helped curb the eruption of street protests, the Green Movement seems to have retainedits vast potentials for mobilizing political forceswithin Iranian society.The Movement’s leadership—consisting of the twodefeated candidates, Mir Hossein Moussavi andMehdi Karroubi, plus the former presidentMohammad Khatami—has emphasized time andagain that a viable solution to the current crisis must be sought within the framework of the Iranianconstitution, which embraces both Islamic principlesand democratic procedures. Yet the government’sdenial of any political crisis as well as its interest in putting the Movement’s leader on trial has dashed anyhopes for a reconciliatory rapprochement. Many of the Green Movement’s supporters, on the other hand,feel strongly about the government’s violentcrackdown on peaceful demonstrations, its tortureand killing of political dissidents, and its utter disregard of the citizens’ civil rights, which in turnhas rendered any compromise ineffective.It is hard to predict the outcome of the currentdeadlock. It is clear, however, that the GreenMovement will continue to serve as a platform for avariety of public demands. This issue of theSociology of Islam and Muslim Societies Newsletter  provides insight into this political crisis. A number of scholars and specialists of Iranian contemporary politics offer their analyses on the current state of affairs and the future prospects of change in Iran. The Newsletter’s editors hope that the six articles and oneinterview in this issue will contribute to a better understanding of the ongoing crisis in Iran. Tugrul Keskin Najm al-Din Yousefi Specialthanksto SASAN AFSOOSI who let theSociology of Islam and Muslim Societies use hiswonderful photos. Sasan’s photos represent the realIran from an insider’s perspective, not an Orientalistapproach. For more information:Photojournalist | TV Producer | Iran Media ConsultantM 703 862 7642 | F 703 764 2048 | Emailsafsoosi@gmail.com   SOCIOLOGY OF ISLAM &MUSLIM SOCIETIES  [3] Reflections on Democracy, Non-Violenceand Political Change in Iran Nader Hashemi Assistant Professor of Middle East and IslamicPolitics,Josef Korbel School of International Studies,University of Denver  Nader.Hashemi@du.edu Struggles for democracy generally require threecritical ingredients for success: effective andincorruptible leadership, a strategy for massmobilization and a sense of hope that engenderssacrifice. Last year at this time, none of these existedin Iran. The clerical oligarchy was firmly in control,the Reform movement was in disarray and politicalapathy reigned supreme. Today, eight months after the disputed presidential election, all three keyingredients are now firmly in place. Defyingexpectations, Iran’s Green Movement (Jonbesh-eSabz-e Iran) soldiers on in the face of an authoritarianregime whose brutal suppression has failed tointimidate or subdue it. Whether this movement will be triumphant is unknown but what is clear is that anindigenous movement for democracy has delivered amajor blow to the Islamic Republic: Iranian politicshenceforth will never be the same. How did thesethree elements come together?Understanding the srcins and the defiant posture of the leadership of the Green Movement requiresreturning to an event in August 2000 that marked acriticaldenouement for the r eformist-conservativestruggle in Iran. At this time, the Reform Movementwas in its prime, winning landslide elections at the presidential, municipal and most recently the parliamentary level. Hope for democratic change wasin the air as Reformers captured all of the keydemocratically-contested institutions of the state inquick succession, to the shock and bewilderment of their conservative rivals.The first item on the legislative agenda of reform-dominated 6th parliament (2000-2004) was tooverturn an illiberal press law passed in the final daysof the outgoing hard-line parliament. The print mediain Iran had flourished during President Khatami’sfirst term and quickly became a bastion of support for  pro-democracy activists. Courageous journalists andeditors were breaking political taboos by transcendingthe narrow ideological confines of Iran’s post-revolutionary elite consensus. A public sphere wascreated whereby Iranian society was in full scaledebate – to the mortification of the ruling clericalestablishment – about the relationship betweentradition and modernity, religion and democracy andthe moral basis of legitimate political authority.    Nader HashemiAs parliamentary debate on the press law began withthe eyes of the nation upon it, the speaker suddenlyintervened to halt the proceedings. He announcedthat he had just received an important summons fromthe Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei demanding thatthe existing (illiberal) press law not be revised andthat all debate in on this topic cease immediately.Khamenei’s letter – which angry MPs forced the SOCIOLOGY OF ISLAM &MUSLIM SOCIETIES  [4] speaker to read into the parliamentary record – specifically warned that “should the enemies of Islam, the revolution and the Islamic system take over or infiltrate the press, a great danger would threatenthe security, unity and the faith of the people….Thecurrent [press] law … has been able to prevent theappearance of this great calamity, and [therefore], itsamendment and similar actions that have beenanticipated by the parliamentary committee are notlegitimate and not in the interest of the country andthe system.”(1)Scuffles and fistfights broke out among rivalmembers of parliament. Several deputies walked outin protest as chaos soon enveloped the parliamentarychamber. The speaker tried to restore calm byreminding everyone that the Supreme Leader’sactions were legally permissible. “Our constitutionhas the elements of the absolute rule of the supremeclerical leader [velayat-i motlaq faqih] and you allknow this and approve of this. We are all duty-boundto abide by it.”(2) The speaker at the time was MehdiKaroubi, a 2009 Reformist presidential candidate andtoday one of the courageous leaders of the GreenMovement, famous for exposing a policy of systematic rape in Iranian prisons. His defiance of Khamenei today, in contrast to his deference nineyears ago, is worth noting.After the June 2009 election, and following aweek of demonstrations that brought three million people into the streets of Tehran, Khamenei deliveredhis much anticipated Friday sermon. He publiclyendorsed Ahmadinejad as president, declared theelection to be free and fair on balance and then went astep further. Similar to his August 2000 intervention,he forcefully demanded a halt to all debate on thetopic, declaring the issue resolved while threateningthe opposition with violence if their defiance persisted. This time, however, the senior leadershipof the reform movement stood firm and boldly defiedthe explicit wishes of the Supreme Leader. Thismarked a critical turning point in the relationship between reformers and the Islamic Republicanestablishment. Their disobedience inspired millionsof Iranians and provided Iran’s democratic forceswith the internal leadership it desperately sought and previously lacked.By all measures, the leadership of the GreenMovement comprised of the troika of Mir HosseinMousavi (former Prime Minister), Mehdi Karoubi(former Speaker of Parliament) and MuhammadKhatami (former President), can be characterized asrelatively mild and measured in their speeches and political statements. All remain loyal to the IslamicRepublic, its current constitution and the politicaltheology of Ayatullah Khomeini, albeit emphasizing ademocratic and humanistic reading of this legacy. Nonetheless, despite repeated warnings from theSupreme Leader and a growing chorus of hard-lineopinion demanding their arrest – and more recentlytheir execution – the leadership continues its defianceof established power and its steadfast support for thecivil and human rights of their fellow citizens. Thefuture of the Green Movement and any hope for aneventual democratic transition in Iran will bedependent on the ongoing resistance of these leaders.The strategy of mass mobilization and street protests has at best a tenuous link to Iran’s Greenleadership. It has been accurately reported thatleaders are responding to and being led by societyand not the opposite. In his most recent statement tothe nation, (No. 17, January 1, 2010), Mousaviexplicitly acknowledged the point that protests areoccurring not because he has called people into thestreets but rather due to the prevalence of “widespread social and civil networks that wereformed during and after the election through the people themselves and which continue to self generate.”(3) This fascinating development suggeststhe extent to which the Green Movement has penetrated key sectors of Iranian society based on the   SOCIOLOGY OF ISLAM &MUSLIM SOCIETIES  [5] existence of underground networks of activistsscattered in major cities who rely on the internet andmobile phone technology to spread their message.This also explains why the movement has been hardto crush, notwithstanding the best efforts of theregime.And finally there is the issue of hope. In arecent in-depth report on the state of human rightsIran after the June election, Amnesty Internationalnoted that “human rights violations in Iran are now as bad as at any time in the past 20 years.”(4) To date,the Islamic Republic has imprisoned almost everyleading opposition figure, human and civil rightsactivist, student leader and dissident journalist. Infact, it is hard to think of the name of prominentIranian pro-democracy activist that the regime has notarrested. In its desperation, it even picked up thesister of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shireen Ebadi,an apolitical figure, with the sole intention of intimidating her more famous sibling.Yet notwithstanding this repressiveatmosphere replete with show trials, torture, rape,death and threats of mass executions, Iranians whosympathize with the Green Movement today areexperiencing a deep sense of hope, cautious optimismand at times exhilaration about the prospects of a better future. There is a general appreciation that atransition to democracy will not emerge withoutsignificant sacrifice and a long-term commitment tooppositional activity. A rejection of violent revolutionand a commitment to a strategy of nonviolenceresistance by necessity demands patience, prudenceand time. In the words of Columbia UniversityProfessor Hamid Dabashi: “This is not sprint but amarathon.”A realization that there are no quick fixes tothe problem of political authoritarianism in Iran isinformed by the fact that the Iranian regime, despite being shaken and confused, remains firmly in controlof the key institutions of violence, the administrationof justice and economic production (largely oil).Evidence that this control has weakened is shaky at best. Moreover, the Iranian regime, in part due to itscontrol over the media, retains significant support inrural and poorer areas of the country including a coregroupof loyal devotees who dominate the upper echelons of the security forces, many of whom believe that Ali Khamenei is God’s representative onearth.The next stage of confrontation is set for earlysummer. Expectations are for a similar repetition of defiant street protests, a harsh government crackdownand then a wave of mass arrests. Meanwhile Iran’sGreen Movement continues its nonviolent resistance.Its future success will depend on whether the threekey ingredients for democratic change – effectiveleadership, a strategy for mass mobilization and hope – remain in place and grow stronger with time. Nader Hashemi teaches Middle East and IslamicPolitics at the Josef Korbel School of InternationalAffairs at the University of Denver. He is the author of Islam, Secularism and Liberal Democracy: Towarda Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies (OxfordUniversity Press, 2009) NOTES: 1) The full text of Khamenehi’s letter appeared in  Hamshahri (Tehran), 7 August 2000. 2) Nazila Fathi, “Iranian Leader Bars Press Bill of Reform Bloc,”  New York Times , 7 August 2000. 3) Statement No. 17 (January 1, 2010) taken from Mir HosseinMousavi’s Official Website:http://www.kaleme.org/1388/10/11/klm-7047(translation is mine). 4) I’m quoting from the press release available at:http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/post-election-iran-violations-among-worst-20-years-20091210. The fullreport’s uses identical language and is accessible at:http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE13/123/2009/en/1e69a8fb-dcf1-4165-a7fc-a94369e364bf/mde131232009en.pdf    SOCIOLOGY OF ISLAM &MUSLIM SOCIETIES
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