21 November 2007

Pluralism in Iran?

The BBC reports that an Iranian newspaper has shown some spine, or has borrowed some from the supreme ayatollah, and published an editorial that rips into President Ahmadinejad for a speech he made recently. The President apparently had a McCarthy moment and accused any Iranians who opposed his nuclear plans of being traitors. Despite assertions from America that Ahmadinejad is a "dictator," there are still people in Iran capable of calling him out when he does or says something asinine like this.

I'm not sure how unusual this is supposed to be. Ahmadinejad is the head of a particular political party that hasn't fared well since his election in 2005. We know that was a contested election, complete with competing advertisements. Liberals around the world griped that Iran's guardian council ultimately determined who could run, but that fact didn't mean that there weren't real differences between the finalists for the presidency. The Iranian condition is somewhat similar to ours in the United States; while dissidents can complain, with justice, that the "real" issues, or those they think the most real, aren't being debated in most elections, the privileged parties that get to decide things seem convinced that the issues that distinguish them from each other, rather than those that unite them as a class from the excluded parties, are the real ones. It's a matter of perspective. Most opinionated Americans suspect that real issues aren't debated in Iranian elections, because they think the existence of the Islamic Republic itself should be subject to debate, and the guardians aren't likely to allow anyone who proposes dismantling the republic to run for office. Similarly, while American dissidents might argue that the usurpation of power by the Bipolarchy should be subject to debate, the nature of the Bipolarchy is such that no debate is likely to happen under current circumstances, outside of your friendly neighborhood blogosphere.

Some observers are likely to be unimpressed by the Iran story for different reasons. They'll note, as the reporter did, that the paper that published the attack on the president enjoys some sort of sponsorship from Ayatollah Khamenei, the so-called Supreme Leader, and they'll recall that the same Leader has ordered newspapers closed down and editors jailed for publishing opinions he doesn't like. Perhaps we shouldn't be impressed if an opinion appears only at the pleasure of a Supreme Leader. However, this story is a timely reminder, especially if American media pick it up, that pluralism of a kind exists in Iran, and the country is not a dictatorship -- certainly not under any dictatorship of Ahmadinejad. If Americans think that he has absolute rulership of the country in the Saddam sense, they need to see stories like this one before they endorse any policy premised on the "evil" of Iran.

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