Saturday, September 25, 2004

"Answering Only to God"

“Answering only to God: Faith and Freedom in Twenty-First Century Iran,” by Geneive Abdo and Jonathan Lyons gets at the problems Popper speculated about in “The Open Society and Its Enemies.”

“Answering Only to God” is billed as, “An inside look at the battle for faith and power in today’s Iran.” And we get a brief history lesson:

“In 1979, Islamic revolutionaries set out to create a new kind of state from the ashes of the Shah’s U.S. backed monarchy — one that was both religious and democratic. But the result was the modern world’s first theocracy, an authoritarian state run by conservative clerics.

“Hope emerged … with the landslide election of President Mohammed Khatami in 1997. Like Islamic reformers throughout history, Khatami argued that the needs of modern Muslims could be met if reason and rationality were introduced into the practice of the faith. His ideas energized parts of the Muslim world yearning for free expression, the rule of law, religious and political tolerance, and increased participation among women and minorities.”

The book goes on to explain how the writers “found themselves chronicling the collapse of this republican leader under the weight of Iran’s religious and social traditions.” Should Iran be a Muslim state ruled by clerics or a republican state ruled by the people? “Unable to resolve this conflict, the clerical establishment has come to rely on repression to maintain power,” shattering the dreams of millions of Iranians who want a state that’s both religious and free.

End of excerpt.

And so that’s the problem: How do you have a state that’s both religious and free? You don’t if you’re “Answering only to God.” Instead of decrying all the problems of the open society, the devout American should remember where his religious freedom comes from: the open society. We seem to be drifting away from this crucial understanding. In short, the Bush presidency is the closest thing to a theocracy I’ve ever experienced in my 53 years of being an American.

Even the most devout believer has to assume at least some responsibilty as a guardian of freedom and friend of the open society.


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