Jewish Journal


June 17, 2009

Islam at war with itself in Iran



I haven’t touched the Iranian election story—I’m sure you’ve read and seen plenty of reports about it at this point—but Karmel Melamed, an Iranian American Jew living in Los Angeles, has been all over it, interviewing Q&A with activist Frank Nikbakht and writing this piece about the local reverberations.

But what I wanted to draw attention to were the reflections of Bill Keller—yes, the editor of The New York Times—who made a surprising trip to Iran to report from the streets of Tehran. In a co-bylined article, Keller wrote:

The jokes among Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s detractors are legion. In one, he looks in the mirror and says, “Male lice to the right, female lice to the left.” In the West, one American tabloid rarely misses a chance to refer to him as “Evil Madman” and in the days before his re-election here he was taunted as a “monkey” and as a “midget.”

But the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was announced winner of a second four-year term this week is no cartoon character.

Whether his 63 percent victory is truly the will of the people or the result of fraud, it demonstrated that Mr. Ahmadinejad is the shrewd and ruthless front man for a clerical, military and political elite that is more unified and emboldened than at any time since the 1979 revolution.

As president, Mr. Ahmadinejad is subordinate to the country’s true authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who commands final say over all matters of state and faith. With this election, Mr. Khamenei and his protégé appear to have neutralized for now the reform forces that they saw as a threat to their power, political analysts said.

“This will change the face of the Islamic Republic forever,” said one well-connected Iranian, who like most of those interviewed declined to be named in the current tense climate. “Ahmadinejad will claim an absolute mandate, meaning he has no need to compromise.”

This is, of course, a scary thing, what with Ahmadinejad being an anti-Semitic, anti-Western loon. But what does it say about the future of Islam in the Islamic Republic? Reading Keller’s analysis and another story filled with man-on-the-street reactions, TMatt at GetReligion sees a familiar phenomenon. TMatt writes:

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