Sunday, September 10, 2006

Khatami: A Textual Analysis

Writing for the Weekly Standard web site, Joseph Loconte explains why former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, currently in the US on a two week visit, isn't quite the "moderate" he is portrayed as:

WHEN MOHAMMAD KHATAMI emerged as president of Iran in 1997, many liberals swooned in delight at the appearance of a self-styled Islamic reformer and moderate. The New York Times announced that Khatami was "dedicated to relaxing or eliminating . . . political and religious repression." Here was a reasonable man, it was argued, who sought to steer a course between "regressive" Islam and absorption by the secular West.

As the former Iranian president concludes his "dialogue" tour of the United States--he is the highest-ranking Iranian official to visit since the 1979 revolution--his cheerleaders should reflect on his book Islam, Liberty and Development. Released just after he came to power, this political tract illustrates why "reformers" in Iran should not be taken at face value.

To be fair, Loconte makes clear that Khatami is not a radical in the mold of his successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Still, he is anything but a democrat:

ALONGSIDE ALL THIS, however, there's another Khatami on display: the revolutionary Shia Muslim determined to fulfill "the utopian vision" of an Islamic kingdom "inside and outside Iran." This Khatami sounds less like a Jeffersonian democrat and more like an al Qaeda operative. The West, he claims, has only one objective: to compel people everywhere "to surrender to its wishes" and to seize the world's resources "to serve the imperialist power." Khatami goes on to describe Iran's struggle against Western values as "central to our survival." Any compromise, he warns, would lead to "nothing but debasement and trampling on our pride." Any attempt at reconciliation would be exploited by an opponent who would "stop at nothing" to subjugate all who stand in his way.

A careful reading of Khatami's book reveals his rejection of the core political-religious creed of Western democracy: the inalienable, God-given rights of the individual against the coercive power of the state.

In his chapter "Religious Belief in Today's World," for example, there is not a hint of the modern concept of freedom of conscience. Khatami insists that true religious experience "flows from the depth of the soul"--but offers no assurance that he would leave the soul unmolested in his quest to construct an Islamic utopia. In his "Observations on the Information World," Khatami regards access to communication technologies as essential to economic development--yet says nothing about freedom of speech, the cultural engine behind such advances.

Khatami may not be a truly radical Islamist, but he is far too wedded to Khomeiniist ideology to be a true reformer. As president of Iran, he did little more than put a moderate face on a brutal Islamist agenda.


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