Luma Simms is a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center; her essays and articles have appeared in First Things, Public Discourse, The Federalist, Institute for Family Studies, and other publications.

The Road to Iranian Democracy

Democracy values human life; and the goal of democratization is to transition from a system of categorical inequalities where human life is cheap and disposable, to one that respects it. Iran has been on that journey since the Constitutional Revolution that took place there from 1905 to 1911. The road has been fraught with obstacles. Iranians have not yet attained their aspirations.

Misagh Parsa’s Democracy in Iran: Why It Failed and How It Might Succeed focuses on the stretch of the journey since the revolution of 1979 but also weighs the factors that lead to democratization via revolution, versus those that lead to democratization via reform. The book is a comparative analysis of South Korea’s successful democratization through reform and the democratization through revolution of Egypt, Tunisia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. After a thorough examination of the 1979 revolution, the reformist Green Movement, and the now almost 40 years of the Islamic Republic’s rule of Iran, Parsa concludes, academically and dispassionately, that the democratization of Iran can only happen through revolution.

The professor of sociology at Dartmouth College writes that the choice between reform and revolution may depend on “the nature of the conflicts, the historical possibilities, and the available options. The conditions and variables examined in this work point conclusively in one direction—that is, that a route to Iran’s democratization through reform is not available.”

A great deal of the analysis centers on Sayyid Ruhollah Mūsavi Khomeini (Ayatolla Khomeini), and rightly so. Only by understanding how Ayatollah Khomeini’s ideology is inscribed in the Islamic Republic’s very core, can we truly understand the struggle for democracy in Iran. What Parsa shows early on is that the majority of Iranians who mobilized for revolution in 1979 were not seeking a theocratic state. This is why the dissection of what Ayatollah Khomeini did and said is so crucial.

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