Question: What’s worse than having a radical Middle-Eastern regime on the nuclear threshold? Answer: Having a radical Middle-Eastern regime on the nuclear threshold in which Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is considered “too moderate”. It may sound like a tired rendition of some old gag, but in reality, it is no such thing. Rafsanjani has been hounded out of his position as head of the Assembly of Experts, the powerful Iranian clerical body, following increasing pressure from hardliners who felt the ex-president was simply not radical enough to sit at the table.
Let’s get one thing straight: the scope of Rafsanjani’s liberalism was not and is not all that far reaching. Sure, he may have implemented an “economy first” policy during his presidency, pushing back against the leftist economic inclinations of Iranian politics; he may have opposed harsh Islamic penal codes; and he may have promoted better employment prospects for women, but the latter two in particular are hardly deserving of prolonged recognition; they’re basic human rights which should be expected, not overtly applauded. After all, would a real moderate uphold a fatwā instructing the execution of Salman Rushdie? You get the point.
Worryingly, it wasn’t so long ago that Rafsanjani was actually considered a hard-liner and a reliable aid to Khomeini. So what does this sudden change of labelling really tell us? That Rafsanjani has undergone a major transition and that the margins of Iranian politics are so slim that divergence from, say, allowing the active harassment of women to ensuring that they are harassed less is sufficient enough to push one into the category of moderate over radical? Not likely. More probable is a different and more sinister implication that looms ominously over this whole episode: radicalism is getting worse in Iran and revelling in its role on the centre stage.
Perhaps we should call this the “bad-ish” news, because there is worse to come. An increasingly radical Iran is one thing, but tally that with nuclear ambitions and you have a real mess. The prospect of containing a nuclear Iran has always been a daunting one – and one that should be avoided at all costs by preventing its acquisition of the bomb – due to the complexities of Middle Eastern politics, not least its geopolitical stance toward Israel. But the more radical Iran becomes and the more polarised from the West, the more daunting this task will become.
We’ve heard incessant reference to the Iranian revolution of 1979 over the last month given the on-goings in the Middle East today. Perhaps our best hope is to wish for events to come full circle and take to the streets of Tehran once more; only this time, for real democracy.
by Dane Vallejo
This blog was originally posted by The Henry Jackson Society, 09/03/11, accessed at http://www.henryjacksonsociety.org/thescoop.asp?pageid=106&poid=1128