Saturday, July 02, 2005

Last May, I wrote:
When it comes to planting the seeds of Democracy, the United States does not have a green thumb. It's not like growing squash. You can't just pull up a few weeds and pat a little soil down over the seed of Democracy. Everytime we try it, instead of getting squash, we get the bride of Frankenstein: Vietnam, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq.
But last week in The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote two columns describing the current political mood of Iran, and both were surprisingly upbeat. Left to themselves, Iranians seem to be finding their own way to democracy and changing their minds about the Great Satan.
These days most Iranians love America. Kristoff pointed out: "One opinion poll showed that 74 percent of Iranians want a dialogue with the U.S. — and the finding so irritated the authorities that they arrested the pollster. Iran is also the only Muslim country I know where citizens responded to the 9/11 attacks with a spontaneous candlelight vigil as a show of sympathy."
Young Iranians, especially, are disgusted with repressive mullahs and determined to enjoy life. And since the mullahs themselves exhorted people to be fruitful and multiply, sixty percent of the population is now under twenty-five. Young women have found ways to make their chadors and headscarves sexy. For example, they slit the chadors up the leg to the hip and sew elastic around them under the bust. Kristoff wryly observes that "young women in such clothing aren't getting 74 lashes any more — they're getting dates."

But despite changed attitudes toward the West among the youth, the mullahs aren't giving up the top dog slot without a struggle. They engineered the recent election to give themselves absolute power. The problem is that, if one includes those who boycotted the rigged voting, seventy percent of the electorate doesn't want the mullahs in power and ignoring their wishes carries consequences. First, it has created the most serious rift among the ruling mullahs since the revolution. Perhaps even more important will be the economic consequences. Because of high unemployment, Iran needs large infusions of capital, but the new president has criticized stock markets as gambling, something that has no place in a true Islamic society. The day after Ahmadinejad's election, the Iranian market took its biggest plunge ever. If the mullah's policies create a continuing downward economic slide, it'll be harder for them to keep their grip on power.
The hardliners are determined to stay on top, but they should take care lest they find themselves astride an untamed stallion with the bit in its teeth.
By the way, do you notice any parallels between their hardliners and ours?


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