Many of us feel numb after the last few weeks of anticipation, euphoria and horror. And it will take time to absorb and plumb what really went on, what will happen next and how all these things will change our world. But it seems totally clear to me that the curtain has been pulled from the Islamist Wizard. Theocratic regimes require some base level of reverence, and watching the old Supreme Leader lose it at Friday prayers a week ago, and the bare-faced martial law that has been effectively imposed since, you realize that the mystique has gone for ever. In fact, the whole notion of a democratic Islamist state just hit a wall of contradictions.
It strikes me that this is a much bigger deal than what has happened in Iraq. Iraqis did not dispose of their dictator and did not rise up against him. America did it. And the conflict since reveals just how contrived a "country" Iraq is, how sectarian it remains, and how fragile its current status quo is. Readers know that I expect the worst, while hoping for the best. And it remains a brutal fact that a similar number of innocents were murdered in Iraq last week as in Iran. We barely notice, of course. And as the US leaves, the civil war will continue. There is no question about that. The question is simply at what level of intensity.
But Iran is different, as we have seen. How different we will only find out in the coming weeks and months. It is easy to suspect that tyranny will prevail at the barrel of a gun. It is harder to see this as a turning point for the good right now. But I was struck by this missive from the great BBC reporter, John Simpson, upon leaving this great country at such a time. Read the whole thing. But this anecdote tells us a lot:
For reasons best not explained, I've come to know a former member of the Revolutionary Guards really well. He's done some pretty dreadful things in his life, from attacking women in the streets for not wearing the full Islamic gear to fighting alongside Islamic revolutionaries in countries abroad. And yet now, in the tumult that has gripped Iran since its elections last week, he's had a change of heart.
He's become a backer of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist candidate who alleges fraud in the elections. He's saved up the money to send his son to a private school abroad, and he loathes President Ahmadinejad. He's not the only one.
I had to leave Iran last Sunday, when the authorities refused to renew my visa. But before I left, another former senior Revolutionary Guard came to our hotel to see us. "Remember me," he pleaded. "Remember that I helped the BBC." I realised that even a person so intimately linked to the Islamic Revolution thinks that something will soon change in Iran. The 11 extraordinary days I spent there was my 20th visit in 30 years. I've been reviewing the material we recorded, taking a second look at what was really going on. I think that these last weeks may turn out to be as momentous as the Islamic Revolution I witnessed there 30 years ago. The Revolutionary Guards with second thoughts illustrate some of the deeper forces driving a crisis which I believe could change Iran forever.
(Photo: Olivier Laban-Mattei/Getty.)