The specter of nonviolent democratic Islam is haunting the suicide bombers and religious zealots of every stripe. The fear of democratic civil society among Islamist fundamentalists grips the entire Middle East region with the realization that the Iranian dissidents have outgrown both the ultra-left and the religious right—the two forces responsible for the anti-democratic subversion of the 1979 revolution’s emancipatory promise. It is possible this might only apply to Iran, and that the situation in other Islamic countries is more complex, especially regarding the relationship between Islamism, civil society and democracy; yet crucial for my point is that the Iranian dissidents, within the framework of Islam, now embrace nonviolent change and what Karl Popper and George Soros call the open society. Iranian dissent has become, like the Central-East European and Soviet underground before it, the laboratory for imagining another possibility, a future world that would wed the most spiritual resources of religious life with the most advanced forms of democratic and economically-just institutions...
the pro-democracy yet deeply religiously-inflected dissent in Iran is underscored by its radical nonviolence and opposition to all religious terror (whether by a totalitarian state or by religious fanatics).
This whole thing reminds me of a prescient analysis by Thomas Friedman (really!) about five years ago. He described the Iranian political ranks as divided into three components:
Iran has three power centers. There is Iran-E -- the evil conservative clerics, intelligence services and shock troops of the regime, who still have a monopoly on all the tools of coercion and are responsible for Iran's support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and the killing of Iranian intellectuals a few years ago.
Then there is Iran-C -- the rational conservatives among the clerics and bazaari merchants, who backed the Islamic revolution out of a real revulsion for the Shah's secular despotism, but who favor democracy and the rule of law. For now, Iran-C is aligned with Iran-E.
Finally, there is Iran-R, all the reformers -- the economically strapped middle class, the rising student generation and former revolutionaries who are fed up with clerical rule. They want more democracy and less imposed religion, and they are leading the opposition in Parliament but they have the least power.
That's why the key to peaceful change in Iran is a break within the conservative ruling elite. The key is to get Iran-C, the rational conservatives, to break with Iran-E, the dark conservatives, and forge a new alliance with the reformers. It's not impossible.
Of course it is much less possible if the threat of war with America unites the patriots within these power centers against a common external threat. Ironically, a nuclear Iran might well be much less hostile; much like China considerably cooled its rhetoric once it attained nuclear status.
As before, the key is soft power; engaging the Iranian reformers on the merits and logistics of freedom, and framing liberty in the proper Islamic context to entice Iran-C - a good start is Qur'an ayat 2:256.
Incidentally, have I really been blogging at UNMEDIA/City of Brass for over five years? woah. I'm too lazy to actually check/keep track of my blog anniversary. What is really disturbing is how five years ago we were talking about Iran and since then nothing has really changed. Five years wasted.