Hashem Aghajari

May 05, 2004

I see that the Iranian intermediate court has reaffirmed its death sentence against Hashem Aghajari, who had an earlier sentence removed by the Iranian Supreme court after appeals and widespread student protests.

What has Aghajari done that is so dangerous? Well, he teaches history. More than that, he tries to apply lessons from history to modern life.

Hashem Aghajari is a war veteran who lost a leg in the Iran-Iraq war. He is a long-time radical who participated in the seige of the US Embassy. He is a former member in the Tudeh, the Iranian Communist party. In other words, he is a nationalist, a revolutionary, and someone who has acted in the past to improve what he saw as a poor society. In some ways he reminds me of Martin Luther, only with a different accent.

A couple of years ago he made a speech calling for an Islamic Reformation. Where traditional Shiia is structured around religious leaders who issue injunctions or interpretations, and muslims who can freely choose which Mullah to follow but then bind themselves to adhere to that Mullah's interpretations of Koran and of the oral tradition, Aghajari argued that muslims should read the Koran for themselves and come to their own conclusions. He really does want to see an Islamic version of sola scriptura, sola sancta -- a turning away from intermediary authorities and towards a direct relationship between Allah and man.

The nineteenth-century dudes who I study took as a matter of faith that American democracy began with Martin Luther. They were, of course, engaged in some wishful thinking about the past, but they also hit on a very real connection: democracy depends on a continuous set of informed choices, and post-Reformation Christianity encourages people to make informed choices about their relationships to the divine and to others.

I agree with the neoconservative notion that the best way to create a long-term settlement in the Middle East is to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli crisis in a matter that most people on both sides find tolerable and to undermine the political and economic despair that fuels Islamic fundamentalism by promoting democracy and social justice. If I were in the State Department, I would not have pursued those goals by going after Saddam Hussein but by giving support and encouragement to Hashem Aghajari and his fellows; I would not have worried about Iraq and Syria but would have looked to Iran and Egypt, the large populous states that influence all around them.

But we are no longer in 2002, we are in 2004. Still, we all need to worry about the future of Hashem Aghajari and of people like him. Their road will not lead to Tocqueville's democracy, but it may well lead to a world where individual opinions matter, where democracy and religious freedom reign, and where the Islamofascists get the same disgusted response in the Middle East that Christian Identity radicals get in North America.

Posted by Red Ted at May 5, 2004 02:35 AM | TrackBack