Assigned Reading: Sharif University Student to Khamenei: Why Can’t Anyone Criticize You?
What many Americans don’t understand about the Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979 is that – in the beginning – it wasn’t purely Islamic. The Iranians who opposed the Shah’s despotic regime came from the left, right, and center of the political spectrum:
Other opposition groups included constitutionalist liberals — the democratic, reformist Islamic Freedom Movement of Iran, headed by Mehdi Bazargan, and the more secular National Front. They were based in the urban middle class, and wanted the Shah to adhere to the Iranian Constitution of 1906 rather than to replace him with a theocracy, but lacked the cohesion and organization of Khomeini’s forces.
Marxists groups — primarily the communist Tudeh Party of Iran and the Fedaian guerillas — had been weakened considerably by government repression. Despite this the guerillas did help play an important part in the final February 1979 overthrow delivering “the regime its coup de grace.” The most powerful guerilla group — the People’s Mujahedin — was leftist Islamist and opposed the influence of the clergy as reactionary.
Many clergy did not follow Khomeini’s lead. Popular ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani supported the left, while perhaps the most senior and influential ayatollah in Iran — Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari — first remained aloof from politics and then came out in support of a democratic revolution.
In this respect our own President and the original Supreme Leader of Iran have a lot in common: they each pulled off a successful con of their respective nations. The Persian people voted for hope and change in 1979, but the change they got wasn’t what most of them had in mind. Sort of like what we’re going through in the United States these days, although so far to a much lesser degree.
And – as the widespread street protests after the most recent election showed the world – the Iranian people are getting tired of it. The one-time revolutionaries of the 1970s have become the counter-revolutionaries of the new millenia, and a new generation of Iranian youth are rising up to challenge their autocratic overlords.
Consider Mahmoud Vahidnia – a Shariff University student and winner of the International Math Olympics. When the current Supreme Leader (Khamenei, not Khomeini) came to hold a conference with students it was supposed to be like an Obama town hall: only pre-selected friendlies allowed. But when Mahmoud got his chance at the microphone his questions were not friendly. Here is a partial translation of his comments:
Why can’t anyone criticize you in this country, isn’t that ignorant? Do you think that you make no mistakes? Why have they made an idol out of you that is so unreachable and that nobody can challenge? I have never read an article about your performance in any newspaper because you have shut down all the media that is against you in the country. Why does national TV show all the events untruthfully? For example all the events after the election. Why do you support them [national TV shows], when everyone knows they are lying? Since the president of national TV is directly selected by you, then you are responsible for all this.
That is what I call courage, and my prayers go out for Mahmoud tonight. According to Persian2English’s blog post, the rumor is that he has already been arrested.