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Velvet Hand, Iron Glove in Iran

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democratic Donating Member (486 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat May-15-04 11:27 AM
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Velvet Hand, Iron Glove in Iran
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/15/opinion/15KRIS.html?e...

Velvet Hand, Iron Glove
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Published: May 15, 2004


The embarrassing point for us is that while Iran is no democracy, it has a much freer society than many of our allies in the Middle East. In contrast with Saudi Arabia, for example, Iran has (rigged) elections, and two of its vice presidents are women. The Iranian press is not as free as it was a few years ago, but it is now bolstered by blogs (Web logs) and satellite TV, which offer real scrutiny of government officials.

I was astonished that everywhere I went in Iran, people would immediately tell me their names and agree to be photographed and then say something like, "There is no freedom here."

All this means, I think, that the Iranian regime is destined for the ash heap of history. An unpopular regime can survive if it is repressive enough, but Iran's hard-liners don't imprison their critics consistently enough to instill terror.

Pet dogs, for example, are strongly discouraged in Iran as dirty and contrary to Islam, and traffic police regularly arrest dogs and their owners. But the number of pet dogs is multiplying, and Tehran now has dozens of veterinary clinics.

In one country after another (including Iran in 1979), repressive governments have tried to buy time by easing up a tad, and dissidents have used that as leverage to oust the oppressors. I'm convinced that Iran will be the same (although I should acknowledge that my Iranian friends, who know the situation much better, tend to be more pessimistic).

The crisis in legitimacy even manages to create nostalgia for the repressive shah. "Everybody longs for the good old days of the shah," said Amir, a peasant in a village north of Isfahan. "Prices were cheap, and he was good at building the country. If the shah built a road, it would still be good after 30 years. Now if they build a road, it cracks and falls apart in a few years."

Young people constantly told me how they scolded their parents for backing the Islamic Revolution in 1979. As a young woman, Sogand Tayebi, put it, "Those who backed the revolution are now sorry about that."

In the end, I find Iran a hopeful place. Ordinary people are proving themselves irrepressible, and they will triumph someday and forge a glistening example of a Muslim country that is a pro-American democracy in the Middle East.

I treasure a memory from the airport: after I was detained, a security goon X-rayed my bags for the second time and puzzled over my computer equipment. He snarled at me, "American reporters bad!" The X-ray operator, who perhaps didn't know quite what was going on, beamed at me and piped up, "Americans very good!"

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