When anger overcomes fear

If the reports reaching us are to be believed, Iran’s Islamic revolution is in a critical phase: Young people yearning to be free have been joined in the streets by religious conservatives angered by the government’s use of murderous violence against demonstrators on the holiest day of the Shiites. Since the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June, the regime has committed one mistake after the other, pushing Iran down a dangerous path. After initially trying to keep a balance, the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, decided to impose the regime’s will by ratifying Ahmadinejad’s re-election and coming down hard on the reform movement. Hundreds of people have been arrested and many are facing a possible death sentence. In its bid to cow the people, though, the regime has gone too far and has now provoked an angry backlash. In the last week a new cycle of martyrdom and protest has been feeding this rage and has fed off it. It was prompted by the death on Sunday, December 20, of the most prominent anti-regime religious leader, Ayatollah Montazeri. With his angry denunciations, Montazeri had become a rallying point for both secular reformists and religious opponents of the regime. His death gave the protest movement new life and prompted a violent crackdown. This resulted in the death of at least eight protesters last Sunday – the feast of Ashura, the anniversary of the death of Hussein ibn Ali, grandson of Muhammad and, according to Shiites, the prophet’s true heir. Among the dead was the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hosein Mousavi, who was reportedly killed by a group of men that hit him with a car and then shot him. The regime’s ruthlessness has pushed its opponents beyond the point of fear. This in turn has undermined the religious standing of the leadership, provoking a schism among religious conservatives and security services – members of which have reportedly refused to attack protesters. The Shah made the same mistakes before his downfall 30 years ago.

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