Reuel Marc Gerecht, a neoconservative with intellectual honesty and a real grasp of the region he studies, homes in on the core fact on Day 9 of the uprising, and Day 1 of the battle:
Until now, the Islamic Republic has had a propaganda heyday among devout Arabs, depicting itself as a virtuous state with a workable level of democracy just enough to give the regime legitimacy and stability. Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran’s Parliament and the wicked genius behind the crushing of the reform movement during Mr. Khatami’s presidency, loves to emphasize Iran’s democracy when he travels abroad, always highlighting America’s preference for secular dictatorships.
Now the clerical regime can no longer make this argument. As Iranians have come to know theocracy intimately, secularism has become increasingly attractive. Iran now produces brilliant clerics who argue in favor of the separation of church and state as a means of saving the faith from corrupting power.
It is hard to overstate the importance of this, which is why, in my judgment, this is potentially the most important positive moment in history since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Because it is the clearest and most promising sign that the Islamist Wall is breaking up. We have long wanted and needed a reformation of Islam and Islam's relationship with politics. The two are connected: without some civil space for dialogue, how can anyone do the intellectual and theological work to forge a new Islam more compatible with democratic norms and individual freedom. Iran is beginning to show us how that can happen.
This will not look like Western democracy, but that's the point.
These cultures are different and an Islamic republic with a thriving democratic heart within it, to adjust and callibrate its foreign and domestic policies, is a huge step forward from the autocracies of the region. And once this pioneer of Islamist democracy shifts towards more actual democracy and more actual civil space, it could take many other countries with it. I'm thinking of the desperate need Iraq has for support and a democratic mentor. And I'm thinking also of the state of Israel's security and future.
Since 9/11, we have waited for the people of the Middle East to take the fight against dictatorial, teror-spreading Islamism into their own hands. By removing the bogeyman of Bush (a moniker deserved or not), and electing Obama, Americans made this opening possible. Obama's Cairo speech undercut the regime's prime defense mechanism: demonization of America. The Internet did the rest.
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