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Jewish World Review Dec. 9, 2002 / 4 Teves, 5763

Michael Ledeen

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Tom Friedman's Reformation: His Iran | The New York Times, actively campaigning to become our great national shame, should really ask Thomas Friedman to write their main editorial column, because at least he's got the right voice for it.

He speaks ex cathedra, seriously and imperiously, as befits a newspaper purporting to be authoritative. "The struggle in Iran is symbolized by one man, whose name you should know: Hashem Aghajari..." he wrote on December 4, in a column entitled "An Islamic Reformation." That's the way to talk to your readers: Tell them what they should know, and explain why.

However, Friedman's got it a bit wrong, for the same reason he's been getting Iran wrong for lo these many months: He thinks that the historic struggle now under way inside Iran is between religious fanatics and religious reformers, which he describes as "the war of ideas within Islam." That war certainly exists, as it has for many centuries. And it is certainly very important - he rightly says we have a big stake in the eventual triumph of reasonable Muslims over the fanatics. But it is not the main issue in Iran today. The Iranian turmoil is over the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic itself, regardless of the theology of the leaders.

In case you haven't been keeping score, Hashem Aghajari is a repentant Islamic revolutionary-turned-history-professor, one of the student activists of 1979 (and a former official who was a full participant in some of the most-brutal repression following Khomeini's seizure of power), who now challenges the infallibility of the ruling mullahs and calls upon Iranians to think for themselves instead of blindly accepting whatever is preached in Friday sermons. For this bit of common sense he has been sentenced to death, and he has been supported by the students and professors at most of the country's universities, as well as by tens of thousands of ordinary citizens, workers, and cultural leaders.

The students rallied around Aghajari because he is the most-visible target of the regime, but the demonstrators' demands go far beyond anything that Aghajari has said. He wants to reform Islam; they want a total separation between mosque and state. He wants an Islamic Reformation, as Friedman says, but the demonstrators are interested in the creation of a secular civil society. He is a reformer, but they are revolutionaries. And that is - or rather should be, if we had policymakers with the courage of our convictions - worthy of our support, because it lies at the heart of our own remarkable political success, and because it lies at the heart of the war against Islamic terrorism.

We lack standing in the internal Islamic debate. Interpretations of the Koran and Mohammed's reflections are matters for Muslims to debate among themselves. But we should have a lot to say about the separation of mosque/church and state, which is crucial to the proper functioning of democracy, in America and elsewhere. Both the Iranian secular revolutionaries and many leading ayatollahs agree that a similar requirement should be institutionalized in Iran as quickly as possible. These enlightened ayatollahs - many of whom are certainly not in favor of religious reform - recognize that the longer the conflict rages, the more likely it is that Islam itself will be a victim of the regime's eventual downfall.

Thus, the widespread demand by the demonstrators for a national referendum on the country's political system - a demand that all Americans should enthusiastically endorse. Aghajari is a marginal figure in this struggle, as is another of Friedman's heroes, the so-called President Khatami. Like Khatami, Aghajari is a hero of opportunity for the demonstrators, a vessel into which the rage of the Iranian people has been poured, but who is certainly not a leader of the revolution.

The revolution is being led by students, workers, intellectuals, and military officers and soldiers who can no longer bear the misery of the Iranian people, the corruption and hypocrisy of the Iranian leaders, and the awful degradation of the country. The battle for the minds and souls of the Iranian people has already been won by the opponents of the regime. The battle now underway - the battle that should be concerning our own leaders and intellectuals - is for the streets and institutions of the country.

Do something serious, please. Enough talk. Help these worthy people. They are far more important than the crowd at the U.N., the sly appeasers in Foggy Bottom, or even the star columnists at the Times.

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JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of, most recently, The War Against the Terror Masters. Comment by clicking here.


11/26/02: How Tyrannies Fall: Opportunity time in Iran
11/22/02: The Blind Leading the Blind: The New York Times and the Iranian crisis
11/13/02: The Temperature Rises: We should liberate Iran first --- now
11/05/02: End of the Road: Iran's Mohammed Khatami, on his way out
10/29/02: The Angleton Dialogues, Contnued: What George Tenet doesn’t know
10/24/02: The Iranian Comedy Hour: In the U.S., the silence continues
10/16/02: Sniper, Saboteur, or Sleeper? Channeling James Jesus Angleton
10/01/02: The real foe
09/27/02: The Iranian String Quartet: The mullahs get increasingly nervous
09/25/02: The Dubya Doctrine
09/23/02: Intelligence? What intelligence?
09/12/02: America's revenge: To turn tyrannies into democracies
09/10/02: Iran & Afghanistan & Us: We'll have to deal with the mullahcracy, sooner or later
09/04/02: Iran, according to the Times: All the nonsense that's fit to print
08/21/02: Life and death of Abu Nidal tells us a great deal about our enemies
08/08/02: Can You Keep a Secret?: The media silence on Iran
08/06/02: Fantasy Reporting: The latest disinformation from the Washington Post
08/02/02: Propping Up the Terror Masters: Europe's Solana on tour
07/16/02: Bush vs. the Mullahs: Getting on the side of the Iranian freedom fighters
07/12/02: The State Department Goes Mute: It's official: State has no message
07/09/02: History being made, but the West appears clueless
06/05/02: Is George Tenet endangering peace in Israel?
06/03/02: Ridiculous, even for a journalist
05/20/02: So how come nobody's been fired yet?
05/14/02: Open doors for thugs
04/20/02: Iran on the Brink … and the U.S. does nothing
04/16/02: It’s the war, stupid … someone remind Colin Powell
04/08/02: Gulled: In the Middle East, Arafat doesn't matter
04/02/02: Faster, Please: The war falters
03/26/02: The Revolution Continues: What's brewing in Iran
03/18/02: Iran simmers still: Where's the press?
03/05/02: We can't lose any more ground in Iran
02/14/02: The Great Iranian Hoax
02/12/02: Unnoticed Bombshell: Key information in a new book
01/31/02: The truth behind the Powell play
01/29/02: My past with "Johnny Jihad's" lawyer
01/21/02: It's Munich, all over again
01/08/02: What's the Holdup?: It's time for the next battles in the war against terrorism
12/11/01: We must be imperious, ruthless, and relentless
12/06/01: Remembering my family friend, Walt Disney
11/28/01: The Barbara Olson Bomb: Understanding the war
11/13/01: How We're Doing: The Angleton Files, IV
11/06/01: A great revolutionary war is coming
10/25/01: How to talk to a terrorist
10/23/01: Creative Reporting: Learning to appreciate press briefings
10/19/01: Not the Emmys: A Beltway award presentation
10/15/01: Rediscovering American character
10/11/01: Somehow, I've missed Arafat's praise of the first stage of our war on terrorism
10/04/01: What do we not know?
09/28/01: Machiavelli On Our War: Some advice for our leaders
09/25/01: No Room for the U.N.: Keeping Annan & co. out of the picture
09/21/01: Creative destruction
09/14/01: Who Killed Barbara Olson?
08/22/01: How Israel will win this war
08/15/01: Bracing for war
08/09/01: More Dithering Democrats
08/02/01: Delirious Dems
07/31/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit, cont'd
07/19/01: Be careful what you wish for
07/17/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit
07/05/01: Let Slobo Go
05/30/01: Anybody out there afraid of the Republicans?
05/09/01: The bad guys to the rescue
05/07/01: Bye-bye, Blumenthal
04/20/01: Handling China
04/11/01: EXAM TIME!
04/05/01: Chinese over-water torture
03/27/01: Fighting AIDS in Africa is a losing proposition
03/14/01: Big Bird, Oscar, and other threats
03/09/01: Time for a good, old-fashioned purge
03/06/01: Powell’s great (mis)adventure
02/26/01: The Clinton Sopranos
02/20/01: Unity Schmoonity: Sharon is defying the will of the people
01/30/01: The Rest of the Rich Story
01/22/01: Ashcroft the Jew
01/11/01: A fitting close to the Clinton years
12/26/00: Continuing Clinton's shameful legacy
12/21/00: Clinton’s gift for Bush

© 2001, Michael Ledeen