As the protests all over Iran continue, many Iranians are beginning to expand their hopes and aims beyond a potential Mousavi presidency. With growing comparisons between the current protests and those that ushered in the Islamic revolution, demonstrators are starting to realize that they too may be able to usher in an entirely new revolution, one that could topple the Islamic Republic and make way for a genuinely free secular democracy.
This isn’t to say that Iranians are looking for a new Shah. Corrupt monarchs are no more attractive, especially inside of Iran, than corrupt mullahs. Iran was no freer under the Shah, Reza Pahlavi, than it has been under the Supreme Leaders, Ayatullah Khomeini and his successor, Ayatullah Khamenei.
Many Iranians, including myself, have great respect for Ayatullah Khomeini. What Khomeini accomplished in 1979 was nothing short of a miracle. It represented a demand for independent rule and a statement to the world that Iran was no longer going to be America’s lapdog.
The greatest flaw of the revolution, however, was its ultimate creation of a theocratic, allegedly Islamic, state. In a country where over 95% of the population is Muslim, the use of Islam to unite the people seemed to make a lot of sense in 1979. Not so much today.
Countless Iranians who initially supported Khomeini’s revolution did not anticipate that it would turn out the way it did. The Qur’an teaches that there should be “no compulsion in religion.” Thus, many Iranians thought that Ayatullah Khomeini would follow this vital Islamic teaching and refuse to force religion onto the Iranian people by means of an actual theocracy. They were wrong.
Not only did the regime impose its twisted and self-serving version of Islam onto the people, it tarnished the name of Islam by doing so. Much of Iran’s very young historically Muslim population has turned its collective back on Islam entirely, having been largely misled to believe that the so-called Islamic Republic’s interpretation of Islam was in any way an accurate one.
Thus, a great deal of Iran’s disillusioned youth is caught in an uncomfortable position: they aren’t looking to go backwards and become the American puppet they were before the 1979 revolution (which occurred before many of them were born), nor are they looking to sit still and remain oppressed by a regime that fails to represent their views and interests.
If current unrest inside of Iran is to in fact transform from merely a call for fair elections to a call for a new secular revolution, then we as Iranians will have get organized quickly and find a true inspirational figure among us. It took Ayatullah Khomeini to lead us away from imperialist rule and toward bona fide independence, and it will take an equally charismatic and rousing figure to lead us toward secular democracy. Mir Housain Mousavi, a soft-spoken architect and admitted supporter of the status quo, is not that figure.
As an Iranian, I have given much thought to the matter of whether or not such a character exists, and I have come to the conclusion that she in fact does. The most viable figure to unite Iranians toward revolution may be Shirin Ebadi. As an attorney, a former judge, and the winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her long and noble fight for democracy and human rights in Iran, Ebadi is in a unique position to lead. She is a beloved figure both inside of Iran and internationally for her brave work; she understands the incredibly complex and convoluted Iranian legal system, and she has a solid reputation for advocating freedom and equal rights for all Iranians.
The fact that Ebadi is a woman, moreover, is not incidental. She is a living symbol of the potential power of one strong and feisty Iranian woman among many who have been silenced for far too long. If this new revolution is in fact to succeed on a large scale, Iranians will need someone like Ebadi to lead it. And I know of no other Iranian like Ebadi. She stands alone.
Having publicly called for new elections, as opposed to a recount, I pray that Ebadi will attempt to run in any such election. Should the powers that be refuse to allow her to do so, as I suspect they would, I hope she responds by claiming her legitimate place as one of the great leaders of our new revolution.
Ebadi has won far more than a Nobel Prize. She has won the respect of the entire global community and more importantly, the respect of the people of Iran more. If Iran is to embrace democracy, that process must occur from within. And were Ebadi to take on the current political system, we may just see the next miracle in modern Iranian history, one that Ayatullah Khomeini began, but one he certainly never foresaw.