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Revolution is a word that's out of favor in today's Tehran

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (UPI) -- TEHRAN, Iran Revolution is a word that's out of favor in today's Tehran. Enghilab, its rough translation in Persian, is tied to the country's recent grim past, stirring memories of the upheaval of 1979, the violence in the streets, the abrogation of contracts and the purges that followed. "We want the Mullahs to leave," a business student named Ali tells me. "But we don't want violence."

One writer, who was 10 years old during the revolution that ushered in the mullahs' regime of Ayatollah Khomeini, and who eventually spent three years in jail during the purges of the early 1980s, recalls her experiences with horror. "There were no formal executions but many people were dying," she said. " It was terrible to see the dead bodies in the street. Normal people were dying."

Whether or not the leadership of this member of President Bush's "axis of evil" will be forced out is a perennial question among policymakers in Washington. The National Security Council, while maintaining channels with both hardliners and the reformers in Tehran, sees little likelihood that President Mohammed Khatami and his reformers can succeed in making the legislative changes inside Iran that would wrest power from the nation's unelected Supreme Council.

On the eve of a likely war with Iraq and in the middle of a larger war on terror, the question in Washington is whether a change is coming in Iran that would radically tilt the government towards the West. And should Washington aid those students, trade unionists, intellectuals and disenchanted mullahs in speeding up the demise of the Islamic revolution?

It is obvious from talking to Tehranis and spending time inside the city that Khomeini's Islamic revolution is a spent force. Ayatollah Khomeini, whose photograph still graces most shops, restaurants and large murals throughout the city, created a government that intruded on the very soul of its citizens.

But Tehranis celebrated Yalda, a Persian festival of the longest night of the year, with fortune telling and other very un-Islamic activities. Many of the city's bookstores are featuring books on the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism, a clear slap at the face of a government that defined the country's national identity through Shiite Islam.

At the same time, many opponents of the regime here say they are not willing to throw their country into anarchy in order to remove most of the harsh Islamic laws from the books. Seyyid Taha Hashemi, a mullah and the editor of the reform minded Entekhab Daily, says, "I don't think people want to see revolution and conflict. Even during what we witnessed recently, even these people demonstrating who don't agree with the government, they do not want to see a crisis."

To be sure, Sayyid Hashemi is a reformer who told me he believes it is possible for the Mosque to play an active role in the state, albeit a less active one. But he has risked also the survival of his own paper in a recent editorial criticizing the death sentence of history Professor Hashem Aghajari, who was sentenced so harshly for giving a speech suggesting Iranians should not follow their religious leaders blindly.

Throughout November and December security police clashed in several street battles with students protesting the government's arrest and treatment of Aghajari.

When I brought up the subject of the demonstrations in Tehran, the mood in a café I was asked not to name became much darker. In this home away from home for the city's dissidents, with its original prints on the wall and thick bamboo blinds to prevent people from looking in, many intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals gather to talk of a better society. When I asked my table for their thoughts on when and how fast the government would change, Suha, a 20-year-old student with a bright orange streak in the hair that peaks out of her head covering says, "I don't think we will have revolution this time. Maybe it will be our children's generation."

I can't imagine this would have been the sentiment in early December when news outlets reported the streets and universities were alive with protestors bearing signs comparing their leaders to the Taliban and calling for a referendum. But much has changed in the last month.

Many of those protestors were arrested by riot police. One woman told me she still did not know the fate of some of her classmates who were caught up in the demonstrations. The government used warehouses outside the city to detain many of the demonstrators, in some cases for more than two days. It is not uncommon for the Etallat, the internal intelligence agency, to try to infiltrate student organizations, in some cases posing as journalists. Almost all of the organizers here I am told are now in hiding.

Meanwhile, the government-approved press has gone out of its way to demoralize those seeking political accountability. Many papers gave prominence to a story last month based on a background comment from a European diplomat in Washington. The unnamed source said in effect that the while Bush includes the Islamic republic in the axis of evil, the U.S. government will not put up any opposition to Iran having diplomatic ties with European governments. The message is clear -- the rest of the West will still do business with the ruling clique.

The major story in Tehran in late December was the trial of Abbas Abdi. At a televised news conference he admitted his guilt in selling polling information to the Gallup company that showed, among other things, strong public support for improved relations with the U.S. government. The significance of the story is that the man was a friend of reformist President Mohammed Khatami and one of the men who held Americans hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979.

The Abdi trial should send a message to Washington as well. As the administration debates whether or not the U.S. government should send money to striking oil workers in southern Iran, or whether or not to provide more support than the rhetorical variety -- the Broadcasting Board of Governors last month launched Radio Farda, a pop music station aimed at young people -- they should know that the clerics in the holy city of Qom suspect that people organizing pro-reform protests are working in concert with American intelligence. Many people who count themselves as opponents of the religious authorities believe American material support for their cause could put them at risk. "This strategy would get many of us killed," one student told me.

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