The civil war in Iran shows why religious governments don’t work


by Sunny
24th June, 2009 at 6:25 pm    

Most of the serious newspapers today are going big on the civil war on the streets of Iran, although BBC News still seems to be obsessed by F1. There’s no point doing in me doing a running commentary on the Iranian elections (though I’ve tweeted various links) because there is enough already out there. See this Guardian blog, the NY Times Lede blog and Andrew Sullivan’s coverage.

Some people also seem to think that just because I haven’t written enough about Iran indicates that I’m tacitly supporting Ahmedinijihad. Sigh. Well, we all know about the games that certain people like to play.

I’m interested in other angles to the saga. Asim Siddiqui from City Circle has an excellent article hinting at I think the biggest learn lesson to learn from those who already haven’t: that countries based on religious authority sooner or later turn authoritarian when the voice of the people is over-ruled, and riots follow.

I support the riots not because I think Moussavi is great. I support them because if they succeed in their goal then there is a good chance the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic and the Imams who rule it with a tight, dictatorial grip, collapses with it. That would ultimately be good for the people of Iran.

PS – I’ve been invited to play in a charity cricket match on 1st August in Walthamstow to support leftists in Iran. Come down!


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  1. pickles

    New blog post: The civil war in Iran shows why religious governments don’t work http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/4959


  2. ahuramazda

    Latest from Iran: The civil war in Iran shows why religious governments don’t work (Pickled Pol.. http://tinyurl.com/my5hl4




  1. Denim Justice — on 24th June, 2009 at 6:27 pm  

    Are the “not doing enough to support Iranian’s leftists” crowd happy now, or are they measuring Sunny by pixels?

  2. chairwoman — on 24th June, 2009 at 6:36 pm  

    “Some people also seem to think that just because I haven’t written enough about Iran indicates that I’m tacitly supporting Ahmedinijihad. Sigh.”

    If you meant me, Sunny, I just thought you hadn’t written enough about Iran. But why supporting only leftists? How about supporting all those who want freedom of/and choice?

    Denim Justice – Look out for small rodents.

  3. Don — on 24th June, 2009 at 8:06 pm  

    Sunny,

    When desperate and angry people take to the streets against an repressive theocracy (a near tautology)it will be no surprise where my sympathies and admiration lie, but how exactly do we ‘support’ them? Serious question, given that the last thing they need is for the regime to have ammunition for claims that the protestors are stooges for malign outside forces.

    Yes, the internet has, so far, ensured that what is happening on the streets is visible to the world and this may have had some effect on inhibiting a more massive violent response, but the regime is not threatened by Moussavi. If it came to the point where the regime really faced a threat wouldn’t Moussavi most likely bail, leaving the protestors twisting in the wind, to be quietly picked off later?

    I’m looking at these people on the streets and they are people with whom I feel an affinity, but what practical measures do you suggest?

  4. Don — on 24th June, 2009 at 8:12 pm  
  5. Leon — on 24th June, 2009 at 8:33 pm  

    One small thing to help them if you’re on Twitter is to change your location to Tehran as the security services are searching for Tweets from Iran by searching location (rather than via #tags which give you a stupid amount to sift through).

  6. Roger — on 24th June, 2009 at 9:55 pm  

    “countries based on religious authority sooner or later turn authoritarian when the voice of the people is over-ruled”

    The astonishing here is that there was vey little choice to begin with: out of over three hundred candidates only four met the Supreme Leader’s criteria for suitability as President of Iran and were allowed to stand for election. What astonishes me is why the rulers bothered to arrange a fix among four such similar candidates and why people bothered to vote or to riot over such a minimal choice

  7. blah — on 24th June, 2009 at 10:17 pm  

    Roger
    “The astonishing here is that there was vey little choice to begin with: out of over three hundred candidates only four met the Supreme Leader’s criteria for suitability as President of Iran and were allowed to stand for election”

    True. But one could equally argue the same exists in the US or the UK.There are only two parties that can ever win power and both essentially are the same.

  8. munir — on 24th June, 2009 at 10:25 pm  

    I agree with you about religous government if only from a selfish perspective. The mismanagement of the government by the Islamic regime has turned large numbers of Iranians who were a deeply devout people into people who only a minority of whom still practise Islam and many of whom dislike it. In fact the exact opposite to the rest of the Muslim world.

    Likewise the Shia clergy in Iran who were looked on as people of integrity who helped the poor against the powerful are now disliked and seen as symbols of corruption and venality. The opposition always look better. Remember how keen people were on Labour in 1997? Wait 30/40/ 50 years or so and Iranians will probably be clamboring for Islamic parties again. Its the way humans are.

    But the issue occurs what to do when people elect a religious governemnt as they would in many parts of the Muslim world if there were free elections.

  9. munir — on 24th June, 2009 at 10:28 pm  

    Perhaps we could just say totalitarian governemnts dont work . Religious totalitarianism doesnt work but neither does secular totalitarianism. Look at Turkey.

  10. Roger — on 24th June, 2009 at 10:31 pm  

    “There are only two parties that can ever win power and both essentially are the same.”

    Really? Compare the Democrats and Republicans or Labour and Conservatives of fifty years ago withhose of today. That’s leaving aside the fact that others can stand- for better or worse, Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate, made a big difference in 2000. The S.D.P. made every British election in the 1980s a three way race, which meant that the Conservatives were elected with disproportionate- even in a system designed to be disproportionate- majorities.The fact remais that the iranian candidtes were carefully vetted and made ure to be as similar as peas in a pod on every- absoloutely every- major matter

  11. munir — on 24th June, 2009 at 10:41 pm  

    Faisal
    “Sunny and I are thick as thieves. I’m just disappointed in the way he’s turned PP into a common room for Islamists and their fellow travellers.”

    Sunny has no say over who posts on the threads and its not as if he had an “islamist (sic)” post an article. Since all manner of BNPers, hinduvata and zionist wingnuts post on here your singling out “Islamists” (sic) is symptomatic of your own demons and hatred.

    What do suggest Sunny does? Delete any post that defends Islam or Muslims or groups you dont like?

    Yeah thatll show the “Islamists” (sic) the wonders of progressive politics and free speech you pay lip service too. Since you “write” alot about poltical Islam the fact you dont want to even engage with people who might be involved in it and instead run along to another blog just reveals what a pointless individual you are. The Quillaim Foundation operate similiar tactics ducking tactics but they are smart enough to get millions out of the government to do so.

  12. Shatterface — on 24th June, 2009 at 10:58 pm  

    Theocracy and democracy are incompatable: authority has to come from EITHER god – or more specifically, his ‘representatives’ – or from the people. It can’t be both.

    And if you believe that rewards will come in the next life but punishment can’t wait you’ve got a recipe for cruelty and tyranny.

  13. fug — on 24th June, 2009 at 11:41 pm  

    ‘civil war’

    you wish

  14. Amrit — on 25th June, 2009 at 1:20 am  

    Unswerving, imposed idealism of any kind = epic fail. It simply is incompatible with human hardwiring, which as any science-studying fule kno, is geared towards change. Ultimately, you’ll get hypocrisy, disillusionment and discontent. As evidenced by Iran.

    Don:

    If it came to the point where the regime really faced a threat wouldn’t Moussavi most likely bail, leaving the protestors twisting in the wind, to be quietly picked off later?

    Chillingly, that seems to be EXACTLY what is happening right now. Perhaps Moussavi’s supporters believed him to be more revolutionary than he actually is? A bit like some people got with Obama?

    Shatterface @ 12: amen! Thanks for putting the contradiction so neatly and sweetly.

    Apparently, ‘Alistair Crooke of Conflicts Forum’ was told by a former Hezbollah leader that ‘the Iranian Revolution’ meant ‘that Muslims were free to think Islamically once again’ (linked via HC: http://heresycorner.blogspot.com/2009/06/torn-on-fourth-of-july.html) What is ‘free’ about a Supreme Leader who has ‘exclusive access’ (= authority) over the religious belief of a country of individuals? More like allowing them NOT to think Islamically. Just do as the Supreme Leader says!

  15. platinum786 — on 25th June, 2009 at 8:49 am  

    It’s a bit much to call it civil war, at some point the Ayatollahs army is going to put the boot in and end it all. Anyone in the western world can’t really support the Iranian opposition parties as western governments are biased against the Iranian government and hence it adds fuel to the fire that this is a “western engineered” movement, hence it losing popularity.

    Iran also has no real allies in the Muslim world who can influence what Iran says or does. They’re barely on speaking terms with the arabs, and Pakistan is not about to get involved in other peoples business, especailly considering our own track record.

    Might is right, and in Iran the ayatollah holds all the might, there is nothing anyone can do about that. As tempting as the liberation of the Iranian fossil fuels must seem to some people, an almost certain military defeat prevents that idea.

    Ironically Iranian democracies best hope, is a military dictator.

  16. fugstar — on 25th June, 2009 at 9:50 am  

    Given the historical sunni arab support of saddam and the way pakistanis kill iranian engineers i doubt surrounding countries will be taken with much weight. i suppose thats what scares whiteys so much, an asiatic nation that isnt incredibly economically strong, but which has political autonomy.

    This is my nonsecular political dua (prayer)

    Oh Allah, assist the sisters and brother in Iran in their struggle for truth and life
    Protect them from the plots of eachother, and foreigners
    Prevent the reckless from wrecking things
    Promote just, creative resolution, whatever that may be
    because you know best, I dont really have a clue.

  17. platinum786 — on 25th June, 2009 at 10:14 am  

    ^^^ Pakistani’s kill Iranian engineers?

    That would be your Taliban buddies.

  18. platinum786 — on 25th June, 2009 at 10:51 am  

    ^^^ Since we have no edit button, i can’t delete the last line.

    I didn’t mean your buddies, but you must admit, at times you do kind of get all sympathetic for them…

  19. Imran Khan — on 25th June, 2009 at 8:09 pm  

    Sunny – “I’m interested in other angles to the saga. Asim Siddiqui from City Circle has an excellent article hinting at I think the biggest learn lesson to learn from those who already haven’t: that countries based on religious authority sooner or later turn authoritarian when the voice of the people is over-ruled, and riots follow.”

    What nonsense! Any system of government including democracy is reliant on the people who run it to implement it fairly and justly.

    It was democracy that brought Hitler and Mugabe to power and they abused that democracy to establish authoritarian rule but you won’t say much about the failure of democracy in those cases.

    But when it comes to religion then you charge in.

    The first question is if the implementation of law in Iran is Islamic – it isn’t as it lacks tghe basic principles. Asim should know that and its quite poor he doesn’t.

    The clergy in Iran have manipulated the system for years and most people know that and they have manipulated in the name of survival not religion.

    Religion is a disguise here as democracy was in the case of Zimbabwe. In one case you say it shows it doesn’t work but what about the cases where democracy is used to work towards totalitarian rule why isn’t that a failure of democracy then?

    Democracy in France, Germany, Belgium etc. is now being manipulated to dictate and establish an authoritarian policy of deciding what people can and cannot wear so is that a failure of democracy or the people who run that system?

    Shame Asim didn’t have the vision to write about these issues heh?

  20. Naadir Jeewa — on 25th June, 2009 at 11:06 pm  

    Iran will eventually become a liberal democratic ‘constitutional theocracy’. Discuss.

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