Thoughts on the situation in Iran

2009/06/22

Iran continues to be in the news, and with good reason, given that street protests continue today, more than a week after the disputed elections that caused said protests. I had, of course, previously mentioned that we should refrain from entangling ourselves in this entire affair, and I stand by such statements, even in the face of increasing pressure for the President to be more forceful in his statements (and possibly, actions, as well). As previously mentioned, this is an internal affair for the people of Iran, and while the situation could have repercussions throughout the region, it is difficult to argue that such consequences would be worse than throwing the entire nation into chaos, which would likely happen were we to take some kind of military (or even heavy diplomatic) action in this instance. Such consequences could not come at a worse time, considering our continuing obligations in Afghanistan and, more importantly, in neighboring Iraq. Like it or not, the Guardian Council provides a (relatively) stable government, and we should be wary of openly challenging the legitimacy of the council, especially if we do not have any contingency plans for what to do if the Council falls without a clear successor.

It is also worth mentioning that it is not our job or the job of our government, in our name, to police the world. No one granted such responsibility to our Republic, very few nations around the world like the idea, and the notion is mentioned nowhere in the Constitution. We should not be so quick to lay claim to such a task, particularly when there are so very many domestic problems for Fedgov to handle. Ultimately, the choice of governance in Iran should be left up to the people of Iran, unless they specifically request assistance from us – and even then, we should be wary of how to approach such a request. In the end, if a change in government occurs, it must be by the consent of the people of Iran, else there will always be speculation from extremist agitators that the government was not one of Iranian choice, but one imposed by American imperialism – granted, this latter claim would likely occur, regardless of whether or not we are directly (or indirectly) involved, but I would prefer being able to truthfully claim that such is the case, and let history decide whose claims were correct.

Additionally, while I know that many in Iran would be hesitant to heed words from a decadent Western source, the following might be worth considering:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, [sic] that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security. – Thomas Jefferson, The United States Declaration of Independence. [Emphasis added][1]

Of course, these words were heavily influenced by Enlightenment philosophies that were primarily restricted to Europe, but it is worth pointing out that Jefferson clearly denotes that such a change in government (as that which was under consideration in the Colonies prior to their declaring independence) rightly begins with the governed (i.e. from the bottom) and not from within the government (i.e. the top). Additionally, I do not know to what extent the concept of Consent of the Governed played a part in the original Islamic Revolution in Iran, though I would not be surprised if the clerics paid lip service to the notion when they took power, if for no other reason than it sounds politically sexy, and tends to be a good way to get the masses on your side. [2]

Again, all of this may be irrelevant, considering that all four of the candidates in the election were approved by the Guardian Council, so, at least nominally, they all also support the latter. On the other hand, one cannot simply rule out the possibility that Moussavi, for example, may have only done this so that he could get himself to the national stage, and subsequently, pursue an independent agenda apart from the whims of the Guardian Councils. One can always hope for such possibilities, and with the large body of supporters he seems to enjoy, it is conceivable that he could focus that energy into a force capable of overthrowing the established government and reforming it into something better. Again, this is purely speculative, but one can always hope. It would be nice to see a moderate Islamic nation; there were ones in ages past, [3] and it stands to reason that a nation so conceived would stand a much better chance of thriving in our modern world. Hopefully, matters will turn out for the best.

Notes:

[1]: I have italicized the relevant sections of the text that deal with altering or overthrowing an existing government, and the rationale for why one should do so. It is also worth noting that Jefferson correctly indicates that Men are “more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed,” and that “Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes,” hence, the intentional difficulty in altering the subsequent Federal Constitution. Nor was he (or any of the signers of the document) ignorant as to the potential cost of changing an established government; each signer of the Declaration clearly accepted this cost, when they pledged to each other “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” They knew that in order for their efforts to succeed, each and every one of them might have to sacrifice everything up to and including their very lives, and that the cost of failure meant the forfeiture of the same.

[2]: Hence, the propaganda commonly used by most despots and tyrants, particularly those in the 20C, such as the various socialist / communist states, who proudly (and inaccurately) claim to represent the will of the People.

[3]: While the modern version of the Islamic state is generally quite oppressive, it should be remembered that throughout history, Islamic states were not always so hard-line in their beliefs and methods. While the Medieval Islamic states were generally on cautious terms with the European powers (when they weren’t at each others’ throats fighting over the Holy Land, that is), they were also notably more “progressive” in their treatment of outsiders than the current incarnation of such states. Of course, one can also argue that the modern incarnation is a repudiation of what the extremists saw as decadence in the previous incarnations, but it is still worth noting that Islamic theocracy is not necessarily incompatible with a global community.

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