Iran has a history of bullying its own people and the international community, an attitude exemplified today under the tight-fisted rule of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“A popular conservative newspaper critical of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been closed down for carrying a photograph of a temple of the banned Baha’i faith,” reported Reuters on November 24th, revealing the stranglehold the Iranian government has on media voice. This grip squeezes even everyday citizens with the fortitude to oppose the government. In June, more than 100 opposition figures were jailed following the election, accused of fomenting unrest. Consequently, on November 20th, a United Nations Committee approved a resolution condemning Iran’s human rights violations. Finally, threatening on a broader scale, over the past couple of months Iran has been playing cat-and-mouse with Western powers over its nuclear developments programs.
At a November 19th book discussion at the Heritage Foundation, Con Coughlin, author of Khomeini’s Ghost, argued that the totalitarian mindset of Iran was shaped by the constructs of former Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Iran has been “taken hostage by the Iranian revolution,” said Coughlin.
The Supreme Leader, an office Khomeini created as part of Iran’s constitution, appoints military, religious, and judicial heads. “Khomeini created the position of Supreme Leader for himself” in order to steer the democratic process, argued Coughlin. The Iranian constitution itself was formatted according to Khomeini’s personal interpretation of what an Islamic government entails, Coughlin also asserted. The preamble of the constitution says that “the awakened conscience of the nation, under the leadership of Imam [Khomeini], came to perceive the necessity of pursuing a genuinely Islamic and ideological line in its struggles.”
In order to maintain his power-structure even after death, Khomeini appointed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “a bit of a lightweight,” as the successive Supreme Ruler. It appears that Khomeini’s authoritarian structure has lived on in the role of the elected president, Ahmadinejad, instead, with Khamenei generally governing quietly behind the scenes. After the disputed elections which deemed Ahmadinejad the winner, Ayatollah Khamenei spoke out against the virulent protestors, saying that if the street demonstrations of the Green Revolution did not stop, “the consequences of the chaos would be their responsibility,” reported the New York Times in June.
Khamenei held the speech at Tehran University, transforming the university into a mosque as an “act by the regime to show who was in charge,” said Coughlin. Tehran University has been central to the trend of civil uprisings; major demonstrations occurred there in 1999, Summer 2003, and this past Summer 2009. Coughlin presented a grim outlook for the hopes of these idealistic students. “This is a very, very authoritarian state dressed up as a democracy,” he said, asserting that it would be difficult to challenge this “deeply entrenched authoritarian state.”
If the students in Iran alone lack the power, is there any entity strong enough to counterbalance Iran? Unfortunately, argued Coughlin, the world superpowers are unwilling to take control. Over the last ten or eleven months, there has been an erosion of authority in Washington, said Coughlin, calling the Obama Administration’s reliance on diplomatic talks a naïve belief that “so long as you’re having negotiations, nothing bad is going to happen.” Even Europe has developed a defeatist attitude; the sentiment in Europe has become one of resignation to living with a nuclear Iran, that of containment rather than prevention, he said.
Coughlin predicted that more secret nuclear facilities will be discovered in the future. Thus, he said, the Administration must “take the threat very seriously and do everything possible to prevent it from materializing.”