I’ve always wanted to go to Iran. The names Isfahan and Qom curl like incense smoke through my mind. I’ve read of many travelers who, after loading up their Land Rovers with gear and crossing Asia, report that Iran was the most hospitable, beautiful, and undiscovered of all the places they visited. So I’m saddened to see the turmoil that makes travel to that country a dangerous proposition for someone with my skin color and passport.
Reading some of Iranian President Ahmadenijad’s speeches, so filled with acrimony and blame, I wonder what personal demons he’s battling. I’ve grown up with Iranians, and have been friends with Fatimas and Rezas, hearing the lilt of Farsi as a beguiling invitation to learn more about Persia. How are the beautiful people of Iran, abroad and in their home country, to reconcile with a system and leadership that seems built on anger and defense? What if President Ahmadenijad were to have his wishes granted, and all Western countries, Israel, and presumably any non-Islamic nations, were wiped from the face of the Earth? Should we believe he’ll be contented, a happy ruler who can celebrate life and diversity while following a pious path? No. Like other vitriolic and dogmatic dictators, he only exists for the fight. He could no more co-exist with peace than water and fire could share the same bed.
The election protests from Iranian reformists will never make sense to Americans unless we understand that Iran is not a state, it is a church with land holdings. A state, from my point of view, has a defined boundary and a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. A church may also own land, and have its own governing bureaucracy. However, a church exists within a state and must abide by those rules. People within a state may choose to be a part of the church. Indeed, if 100% of the residents choose to belong to a church, they may do so of their own free will. But the very fundamental rights of natural law should ensure that any citizen should be able to choose a religion, and should have a government separate from that religion that will guarantee their right to say “No”.
The people of Iran are not living in a state, they are living on church land. The government is not guaranteeing rights of natural law, they are reinforcing their own code. If you act in a manner that contradicts the code, such as showing your hair if you are a woman, you’ll be punished. For willing members of a church, this is perfectly acceptable. For citizens of a state, it is not. If non-Iranians accept that Iran is a church, we have no right to pass judgment on their code of ethics, or their internal operations.
This is where all the conflict begins. If Iran is a member of the United Nations, does that mean it is a part of a global state, and must agree to provide rights of natural law to its citizens? “Saudi Arabia does not,” Iran would say, “why should we?” And indeed the teeth of the U.N. have hardly burst from the gums and don’t have enough strength or edge to scare anyone. So the Church of Iran continues to operate in a way it sees fit, with a leader who is happy to provoke other nations. We can’t stop Ahmadenijad from saying the West is full of devils, and that Israel should be wiped from the map—it is his right to say what he wants. What we can control is how we respond. If all the members of the Church of Iran agree with their leader, we have no right to pass judgement. But as we’ve seen in the past few weeks, the people do not all agree. Some have not chosen to be members of the Church, and are forced to follow its code solely by geographic imperative. “Don’t like it? Move out.” For those born on church land, with family, friends, work, and love of their country keeping them there, this is not enough. Those people are on the streets, on the rooftops yelling “Allahu akbar”, and looking at the fading purple ink on their thumbs from the election, are wondering what happened to their church, their country.