This is a guest post by Saideh Jamshidi, an Iranian-American journalist who is doing graduate study in journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Last month, I attended a conference at Lake Forest College about the “Future of Secularism and the Public Role of Religion in Iran,” where a group of intellectuals and university professors gathered to discuss the future of secularism in the Middle East and Iran’s role in shaping this phenomenon.
“Iran is the only country in that part of the world where we have a grassroots massive movement towards secularization”, said Ahmad Sadri, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Lake Forest College and the chair of Islamic World Studies.
Interview with Ahmad Sadri: [audio:http://insideislam.wisc.edu/audio/dStory/AhmadSadri.mp3]
Iran has become an important player in the secularism movement, particularly after the clash between the Islamic government and the Iranian masses in June 2009. For the past 30 years, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been faithful to both Islamic values by implementing Sharia laws in its constitution and republican values by conducting national and local elections in the country.
But the notion of democracy was violated in June 2009 when the government opened fire on demonstrators protesting the results of the presidential election. Many leading figures of the demonstrations as well as reformist politicians were arrested and imprisoned. The reports of inmates’ treatment in prisons evoked anger in the Iranian public. Now the public is questioning the legitimacy of the government.
“It is a dead man walking,” said Ahmad Sadri, “because it was democracy that was giving this theocratic government its legitimacy,” and now everything is destroyed after the government attacked the peaceful demonstrations, Sadri Said.
At the Lake Forest College conference, Iranian and American intellectuals argued their cases and represented their papers, discussing the future of Iran when the Islamic government would fall. “I have brought these people in this conference so we can knock our heads together and kind of figure out what do we do with the institution of religion and how do we reconcile the polarities that has been developed because of 30 years theocracy in Iran,” Sadri said.
Now things are rapidly changing in Iran. The government has become shakier than ever and the public has become less supportive. So, the question is whether or not this government can survive, and if it falls, what would be the future of Iran in its political spectrum? Can Iranians learn from their mistakes and head to a brighter future in the Middle East?