Most Americans who oppose the neocon-Zionist push for war on Iran don’t like the Iranian form of government…mainly because they don’t understand it.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is called a democracy by some, a theocracy by others. In fact, it is both.
It is democratic in two senses. First, it has competitive and relatively honest elections for all relevant national, regional and local offices. In this sense its degree of democracy is somewhere between Europe, where elections are generally legitimate, and the USA, where black-box voting machines and propaganda specialists decide outcomes and voters are almost entirely irrelevant.
Some argue that Iran is undemocratic because certain opposition parties are not given free reign. This is true to the extent that those parties are not cats-paws of powerful foreign forces trying to undermine Iran. But the unfortunate reality is that Iran has faced a non-stop terrorist onslaught from the US and Israel since its 1979 revolution. Its republican form of government could not survive if foreign-supported entities were allowed to participate in power. Just as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez have every right to repress those who participate in US attempts to subvert their nations, so too Iran has the same basic right of self-defense against vastly more powerful, heavily-armed, and unscrupulous adversaries.
Iran is democratic in a second sense: Its theocratic elements are supported by a strong majority of the population.
What are those theocratic elements, exactly? In effect, Iran’s Islamic Republic follows the US model of the three branches of government – executive, legislative, and judicial – with one key difference: The head of the Iranian judicial system, the Supreme Leader (equivalent of the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court) has some of the powers that the US delegates to the executive. Since Iran’s legal system is, quite naturally, based on the indigenous Islamic system (just as the US legal system is based on its inherited system), the executive-empowered judiciary in Iran follows a version of Islamic legal tradition and is thus “theocratic.”
I think this theocratic element is a good thing. In fact, its survival is critically important for the future of humanity.
The basic political problem that confronts humanity is actually very simple: Those who want power are the last people on earth who should have it. In complex societies, power-hungry, congenitally-evil people tend to rise to the top of power hierarchies. See my essay “Twilight of the Psychopaths.”
The USA kept a lid on this problem through much of its history, thanks to its Constitutionally-enshrined division of power, and more importantly its Christian ethic of public service and public morality. Now the lid is off; today’s USA may be the most corrupt and evil nation ever to disgrace the face of the earth.
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There is only one solution to humanity’s political problem: The people must insist on being ruled by the best, rather than the worst.
This is the political lesson of Christianity. Jesus, the prophet, the real “King of the Jews,” was the one worthy of attention and obedience. The corrupt religious and political authorities were (as they always have been) worthless scum. According to Jesus, it was time to implement “The Kingdom of Heaven”: rule by the good, rule by the godly, rule by those closest to God…ultimately, rule by God alone.
This is also the political lesson of the birth of Islam. Mecca had become a complex society, and corrupt lovers of power and wealth – the Quraysh – reigned. Another prophet – Muhammad – appeared, with the Qur’an as a “furqan” or criterion dividing good from evil. After more than a decade of ruthless persecution, the forces of the good took up arms and vanquished the forces of evil…temporarily.
Within a few generations, Qurayshi greed-heads had re-established their misrule. This story, told beautifully in Barnaby Rogerson’s The Heirs of the Prophet, reveals something that most Muslims have never adequately understood: The Shi’a may have been wrong about details, but they were right about the central issue.
The split between Sunni and Shia was ostensibly over the question of who should have succeeded the Prophet Muhammad as leader of the Muslim community. The Sunni argued for leadership by consensus, and selected Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman before Ali, while the Shia argued for inherited succession and claimed Ali should have been the rightful successor in the first place.
In fact, both were right – and wrong.
The Sunni were right: Goodness is not inherited. But they were wrong in their choice of leaders; they chose the worldly and the popular, rather than the most righteous and spiritually-advanced.
The Shia were wrong: Goodness is not inherited. But they were right in their insistence that Ali was the best, and should have been chosen as leader. And they were right that the martyrdom of Ali’s son Hussain at Karbala was an epic tragedy that marked the end of rule-by-the-righteous, and the reinstatement of Quraishi rule-by-the-evil.
Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran carries on, however imperfectly, the Islamic (and universally human) ideal of rule by the righteous and spiritually-advanced. President Ahmedinejad is said to have no interest in worldly wealth; he even sleeps on the floor. And those chosen as Supreme Leader by their fellow religious scholars are likely to be individuals of notable piety, to say the least.
Yes, there is terrible corruption in Iran, as everywhere. And yes, sometimes the good has to be ruthless in suppression of evil, especially when it is surrounded by immense powers of evil that seek to consume it and establish a one-world Satanic dictatorship over the planet.
But despite its imperfections, Iran, more than any other nation today, carries forward that universal human ideal of rule by the good. Its system is a viable model for the re-united Islamic Nation of the future.
While I strongly opposed the Iraq war, and empathized with the Iraqi resistance, I could not have imagined giving my life to preserve the rule of Saddam Hussein.
If the Islamic Republic of Iran is ever seriously threatened, however, I will fully understand why millions will be willing to give their lives in its defense.