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Will Iran's Uprising Trigger An Islamic Reformation Across The Middle East?


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World Crunch

The showdown between Iranian protesters and the clerical regime is another episode in a decades-long clash of theocracy and Western-style secular modernity. Its outcomes will reverberate across the entire Islamic world, so the West needs to pay attention.

Elahe Boghrat
November 19, 2022

The Middle Ages returned to the Middle East in 1979, when Iran became an Islamic Republic. Like Europe in previous centuries, this regime, which succeeded a secular, Westernizing monarchy, turned religion into "a business”, as described by the 20th-century Iranian writer Ahmad Kasravi — who was himself murdered by a fanatic.

Islamists were present in the region before the ayatollahs took power in Tehran, but they had no government with which to impose their dogmas — excluding certain traditionalist countries such as Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.

In Europe, modernity arose in reaction to the Catholic Church's oppression and crimes. But in the Middle East, the mosque became the response to an influx of Western modernity that made traditional, and mostly Muslim, societies face certain historical contradictions. Traditionalism and religion — and even superstitions and bigotry — were briefly hidden behind a thin, modernizing façade, the values of which were barely understood, let alone put to use for social progress.

In Iran, this contradiction became an opportunity for the fundamentalists who followed their leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, into power in 1979. Wielding state power for the first time, they set up a medieval regime, inspired by the depths of Islamic history but with some of the trappings of a modern society, such as a constitution, three branches of government and the superficial institutions of a republic. Its essence, however, was the absolute rule of an authority (Vilayat-e mutlaqe-ye faqih).




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