I didn't spend much time in the Arab world, and I could only read Muslim sources in translation. Nonetheless, I read as many as I could and I spoke to anyone who would speak with me. These interactions left a lasting impression. I know, for example, that there are deep contrasts and contradictions between the Arab world (al umma al arribiyya) and Iran (or Persia) which was a world power long before Mohammed was born.
Kemal Attaturk, a wise and practical Muslim leader who created the secular state of modern Turkey by strictly separating religion from government, once wrote: "it takes man a long time to accomplish what Allah has decreed."
Of course, it's always very hard to determine what exactly Allah has decreed. But at the same moment that one of Al Quaeda's fools tried to blow up an international flight by setting fire to his underwear, many other Muslims were taking to the streets of Iran demanding what Al Quaeda or the Taliban would never let them have, simple freedoms like speech and choice. Both kinds of Muslims think they're right. Both kinds of Muslims think the other is tragically mistaken. Still, one kind tries to enter paradise by a side-door that involves committing suicide while killing a plane-load of strangers. The other kind would like the representative government promised to them in what they naively assumed were free and fair presidential elections.
Whether you're Muslim, Christian, Hindu or Jew, if ask yourself honestly which kind of Muslim is more acceptable to God, you'll get a similar answer. It's hard not to sympathize with the people of Iran, who were ripped off in the same way that America was ripped off by the elections in 2000. But America did not riot. Sometimes I wonder if this means we're more civilized or simply softer. What did happen was that after eight years of impossibly stupid policies, America elected Barack Obama, a radical choice that can be directly attributed to the arrogance of the GOP, Dick Cheney and the lesser Bush.
But back to Iran...Months after their corrupt election, crowds across the country are finally arming themselves and pushing back against the merciless forces of what used to be a monolithic, integrated, seamless governmental power. The theocracy is torn from within. Now weak men who achieved the topmost levels of power as compromise candidates are pitted against more responsible clergy who believe the people themselves should choose their own governance. This, after all, was the principle of the revolution that ousted Shahanshah.
The good news is that both religious factions are alienated from the Revolutionary Guard, which wants absolute moral and physical control in a country where many sophisticated young people have already outgrown the authoritarian restraints of a theocratic state. Hijabs. Modesty. Humility. Obedience. These tools of the spiritual life have been seized and corrupted by power mad theocrats and military police. The most thoughtful Iranians are shucking their obedience to religiously-empowered interest groups. It would be condescending to say that say democracy is coming to Iran as painfully as a toddler cuts his first teeth. This toddler happens to be 5,000 years old.
The civil disruption of this ancient country, I hope, promises a better future. Repression cannot last. Reconciliation and accommodation have to come sooner or later. Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Jews should now be praying that it comes sooner rather than later, and that with it will come a better neighbor and a better leader among Muslim states. The world has exiled Iran for far too long. When they show their ability to self govern responsibly, we should welcome them as a powerful new ally in a troubled region.