26 June 2009

Iran: Vox Populi vs. Vox Dei?

A conservative member of the Guardian Council used his Friday sermon today to call for harsh penalties against anyone who rioted against the reported outcome of the presidential election. This ayatollah said, in effect, that to dispute President Ahmadinejad's re-election was to defy the will of God. From the Iranian Shiite standpoint, this conclusion is more logical than it seems to us secular humanists. The ayatollahs have power, and Ayatollah Khamenei has supreme power, according to Ruhollah Khomeini's ideology of the vilayet-e-faqih, the idea that the final acknowledged Imam of the Shiite tradition delegated authority to the leading religious jurist of the day during the time of his "occlusion" until his return as the Mahdi. Shiites as a whole believe in a divinely mandated line of succession, as opposed to Sunnis, who endorsed the spontaneous election of Abu Bakr as Muhammad's successor in spite of Ali's family-based claim to leadership.They do not all embrace the vilayet-e-faqih principle, but those who do apparently presume that the top jurist or Supreme Leader rules by divine right, though he is chosen (and may be replaced) by an assembly of peers, as is the Pope of the Roman Catholic church. I don't know if this official is presumed to be infallible, but when he endorses the official vote count, his loyalists certainly see that as a kind of divine sanction for the result. In turn, they demand acquiescence if not affirmation from the populace as proof of revolutionary solidarity if not just plain piety. In the end, with an objective verdict on the election still impossible, it looks like the Iranians, by revolting against the Shah, simply traded one form of divine-right rulership for another. Whether Khamenei's opinion of the election is objective or not is ultimately irrelevant; it will be valid because he says so with the voice of law.

The ayatollah also made the outrageous yet predictable claim that the dissidents themselves murdered the famous Neda in a classic act of provocation, no doubt aided by the perfidious West. But Iranian inquisitors aren't the only ones to make such a suggestion. Here is Kathleen Parker, a center-right Republican columnist, speculating on the same subject this week:

No one seems to know the identity of the rooftop sniper who pierced Neda's heart with a bullet Saturday. Was he a Basij sniper, as some witnesses have reported? Was it a mistake? Or did the shooter see an opportunity to create a necessary martyr? The thought is inescapable that the beautiful Neda Agha Soltan might have been selected from the crowd not to scare away protesters, but to unite them.

So we have two candidates for Idiot of the Week. Choose wisely.

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