|Mass demonstration in Tehran on 2 December 1978 (Pic by XcepticZP / Wiki commons)|
It is clear that Iran is going through its worst internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Less obvious but more significant is this: Islam is no longer the dividing line between the proponents and opponents of the theocratic regime in Tehran.
The trend has been in the making for a decade. But it has manifested itself clearly during the crisis roiling the country since the contested results of the June 12 presidential election. If the trend holds, it would constitute the biggest political, religious and social change in the history of the Islamic republic.
The new battle line divides those in the regime who continue cracking heads to hang onto power and those who, in varying degrees, want the rule of law, human rights, greater personal freedoms and an end to Iran's international isolation.
The latter include Islamists and non-Islamists alike, and those in the regime and not. They are led, for the most part, by women and the young in Iran and in the diaspora.
This was evident in Saturday's rallies in Toronto and more than 50 cities around the world calling for reforms in Iran, said Sima Zerehi, 31, editor of the English part of the Toronto Farsi weekly Shahrvand.
Twenty cyclists, led by University of Toronto graduate student Ali Bangi, 34, pedalled to Ottawa to deliver an Amnesty International petition to the Iranian embassy. A group of hunger strikers was led by Fouad Oveisy, 24.
Rallies of the Iranian diaspora used to be dominated by the rabid, aging opponents of the Islamic regime: the monarchists, the Marxists and the terrorist-designated Mojahideen-e-Khalq. No longer.
Paralleling their decline has been the erosion of fervour among the backers of the regime and the increasing divisions in their ranks.
"People are moving away from religious and other fanaticisms towards liberalism, democracy," says Reza Baraheni, a noted Iranian author who came to Canada in 1998. He was among 30 Canadians who went to New York last week for rallies in front of the United Nations.
The nearly two-thirds of Iran's 75 million population that's under 30 has little or no memory of the revolution. That's truer of the young of Iranian descent in the West.
"They do not have the old ideological baggage," says Ramin Jahanbegloo, professor of political science at U of T. "The old divisions are dissipating. The post-ideological generation wants political, cultural and social change.
"They believe in non-violence, human rights, civil society and civil disobedience" - hunger strikes, silent sit-ins, spiritual retreats in mosques, and boycotting banks and bazaars. "They are Gandhian."
The fault line is no longer Islam?
"Yes. This is no more between Islam and non-Islam. This is not a clash between secular and religious forces. The issue in Iran and the diaspora is over state violence and those who reject it."
That's what is also dividing Iran's clerical establishment. Many are criticizing the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for siding with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and cracking down on dissent. They are demanding a new election or at least a referendum under independent auspices to see if the public thinks the June 12 vote was fair.
Khamenei is not likely to agree, thereby eroding his credibility further. This is dangerous for the velayat-e-faghih, whose authority is religious and moral. In theory, he can be replaced by the Assembly of Experts, headed by Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who has broken with him so openly.
So Khamenei may crack down some more, using the Revolutionary Guards, the ostensible guardians of the Islamic republic. They already stand accused of staging a coup - usurping the election, principally to protect their power and business empire accumulated mostly under Ahmadinejad.
A confrontation looms between an authoritarian regime that's becoming more so and those who have had enough of it.
The so-called Muslims accuse the believers, the true Muslims as "people of the book, Zionist etc.", as if it is a great sin to be so, and wage terrorism and ideological warfare against the believers. But how long should it linger? It's time to cease, James. Turn to the true Islam that existed in purity before the emergence of the perverts that destroyed the believers and drove them from their hearth and homes.
Regarding the gays, they are not to be laid at the doors of the people of the book. They are the product of their own lust and not byproduct of doctrine of the book, the believers' guide and protection... The land must be cleaned of the presence of gays and lesbians before they pollute the serene garden of delight the Lord created for our joy and pleasure ... James and Ahmad, prepare to defend your version of Islam against the people of the book. But entire of our ISLAM is in the book that continues to guide true Muslims...
Iran = ONLY TRUE ISLAMIC COUNTRY and the one who is fighting against the Kafirs and for the alleviation of Muslim sufferings.
God save Iran. God save the Iranians.
Pray that the people of Persia are not departed from the security of true ISLAM that existed before the dawn of the 6th century AD.