History matters in Iranian politics

By Simin Golestani

The name Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has become synonymous with hard-line rhetoric and religious fanaticism. Having won the majority vote in the 2005 presidential elections, it could be wrongfully assumed that his views represent those of the people of Iran. However, elections in Iran are anything but simple. I am by no means an expert on politics, but I feel that when it comes to Iran people have become hasty in forming their own judgments based solely on the negative media coverage that Iran is receiving. Learning more about the politics and the background of a country is an important step towards being able to form intelligent and informed conclusions. The elections of 2005 in Iran were exceptionally complicated. That year many of the reformist candidates had been disqualified by the Guradian council, and many people wishing for change boycotted the elections. After Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the front runners in the first round of elections there were many claims that the elections had been rigged. Rafsanjani had served as president from 1989 to 1997. He had spent his terms renewing international ties, and at the same time acquiring Swiss bank accounts and villas around Iran. He was intelligent but corrupt, and Iranians did not want to place him in the position of power again. Ahmadinejad appealed to the public’s desire of having a president who represented uncorrupt Islam and promised to defend the rights of Iranians. He spoke to the needs of families or war martyrs and lower class people who felt that their needs had been ignored among all the issues of foreign politics.

Most people had not anticipated the extent to which Ahmadinejad’s fundamentalism would effect the world’s view of Iran. The views that he expresses are disconcerting and alarming, as most fanatic views of any religion are. These opinions become threatening when they are expressed by someone who is assumed to represent and hold power over an entire country. However, neither of these assumptions is entirely correct. Iran’s system of government is a theocracy, meaning that in addition to a president the country has a religious supreme leader. Ayatollah Khomeini, the religious leader of Iran, has the final word in all aspects of foreign and domestic policies. He also serves as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, so unlike some countries where presidents are capable of declaring war on their own Ahmadinejad does not have this power.

The people of Iran understand the effects that Ahmadinejad is having on their image in the rest of the world. Following his return to Iran there were large demonstrations at the University of Tehran. In a recent survey over 70 percent of the population of Iran wanted improved relations with America. The current media stories focusing on Iran give the world the impression that everyday life is tumultuous and dangerous for all Iranians. Having lived in Iran for 16 years I know that this is not the case. Although politics, unemployment, laws and demonstrations are always on the Iranian people’s minds, everyday life continues in a peaceful manner. There will never be a news story stating “Today in Iran, millions of people woke up, had bread and cheese for breakfast, drove to work, did homework, and went to bed.” These stories would not gain media attention; however they would help the rest of the world gain a more realistic view of real life in Iran.

The rants of a politically uneducated president do not represent the views of the people of Iran, nor can they be considered an immediate threat to the rest of the world and used as an excuse for the United States or any country to invade or Iran. Yes there are political, economical and societal problems in Iran, as there are in any country, but the involvement of outside countries would only exacerbate the situation. The people of Iran do not pose a threat to the rest of the world, nor are they waiting to be given their independence.

Simin Golestani ’09 can be contacted at [email protected]