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Secularizing the Mullahs

I can’t say I agree with Jeffrey Goldberg on this one:

Yesterday, on Meet the Press, Netanyahu told David Gregory that recent events have “unmasked” the true nature of the regime, and this is undoubtedly true: No one, not even the regime’s apologists, believes that these men are secret moderates interested in seeing Iran rejoin the civilized world. So in one way, the regime’s murderous response to dissent helps Netanyahu make his case that this is indeed a fanatic regime. But recent events also cut against Netanyahu’s analysis, I think: The Iranian regime has exposed itself as interested mainly in self-preservation. Netanyahu told me earlier this spring that Iran is run by a “messianic, apocalyptic cult.” But I think there’s an argument to be made that Khamenei and Ahmadinejad are grubby men mainly interested in perpetuating their power. In other words, they seem to behave like rather quotidian dictators, not religious fanatics. A confrontation with Israel would certainly threaten the stability of their regime, and the stability of their regime is something they quite obviously cherish.

This is like saying a novelist who lives to write may be “exposed” as interested mainly in self-preservation once diagnosed with cancer. The Ayatollahs can’t very well hasten their eschatological aims if they’re rousted from power. It’s unclear what sort of response Goldberg would interpret as credibly fanatical. Khamenei has declared the elections to be the will of God, added the United Kingdom to the “Death to” iterations, blamed the riots on infidels, and announced plans to incorporate the Basij militia into this Friday’s prayers. If there is a more efficient symbol of this dictatorship’s non-quotidian nature than this last development, I’m unaware of it.

A confrontation with Israel may or may not threaten the regime, but what’s more critical is whether the mullahs think it will bolster the regime. They are of the Iran-Iraq mindset, which dictates that war is the surest path to national unity.


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