Obama vs. Khomeinism

07/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I was watching Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi on one of the cable news shows. Seeing him brought to mind Ted Koppel and Nightline; also his regal father, the Shah of Iran; and of course the Iranian Hostage Crisis.

Iranian blood money and snobbery maintain the prince's title -- but today's Iranian, empowered by television images of America's civil rights movement and cheap technology, just as in 1979, will no longer be subject to tyranny and lies.

Using the Crown Prince as a marker I was in effect witnessing the evolution of a civilization. The evolution of an idea.

Changing Society

Rigged elections are nothing new -- I'm a native Chicagoan. Rigged elections happen because the corrupt know the "jig is up." Right ideas make right people.

In Chicago it was the election of Harold Washington as Mayor. The Daley Machine was trumped because the people had become imbued with the idea of a new order. Even those (the Vrdolyak 29) who fought so hard against Mayor Washington and what he represented had been impregnated with this new idea, that's why they fought so hard to abort the process. They did not want to change.

The deposing of the Shah and his regime was orchestrated and executed by a man who came to symbolize the idea he promulgated -- the Ayatollah Khomeini.

The following is from a story entitled, "Khomeinism" in the December 17, 1979 edition of Time Magazine:

"Our nation, in the process of its revolutionary development, cleansed itself of the filth of despotism and shed off an alien culture and mode of thought." So says the remarkable 175-article constitution that the Iranians approved last week by a claimed margin of more than 99%. Instead of any alien mode of thought, the new constitution gives all power to a Faqih, or supreme religious figure--that is, Khomeini. This Faqih is supposed to be "respected by the majority of the people as their undisputed leader," but there is no provision for his being elected. While filling this lifetime post, the Faqih "will assume all the duties and responsibilities of the country." He is the supreme commander, approves the choice of President and appoints all judges. He also names the twelve-member "guardian council" of six clerics expert in Islamic law and six Islamic lay lawyers, which has veto power over all legislation. Warns the constitution: "The clergy will safeguard against any deviations by various government organizations from their true Islamic functions and obligations."

The charter makes bows to such Western-style rights as freedom of the press and political parties. It also endorses equal rights ("There is no distinction on grounds of race, color, language or creed. Men and women have equality before the law"). Yet in each case there is a variation of an important proviso: these freedoms will operate only if "Islamic principles of the Republic are not flouted." As one Tehran resident acerbically put it, "The new charter creates the world's only 20th century theocratic nation."

Theocracies of course are nothing new. We pray for one every Sunday in church, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." So we need to be careful when we assert our post-Christian modernity and superiority -- it comes off to those places in the world that take religion seriously as self-righteous and sacrilegious.

The 21st Century Makes the Man

America's crucible of troubles precipitated an idea for which Barry Obama was particularly suited. He became Barack Obama when we pinned our hopes on him.

His campaign made promises. All campaigns make promises. His promises however were dipped in a powerful charisma and the head shaking possibility of a non-white president.

He's a better speaker than George. A better husband than Bill. He wants us to be red, white and blue instead of just red and blue. So then what's the problem? His unbelievable election and Lincolnesque integrity won't allow him to participate in the myopic political games of the establishment.

Obama's critics are showing their political colors. Obama campaigned and populated his administration with persons from both sides of the aisle. He excited Americans with the promise of living up to our first name, "United." But for too many politicians it's never about the people and always about getting re-elected.

The current strategy is to make him look weak when it comes to foreign diplomacy. Enough! He didn't start the trouble in Iran -- Ahmadinejad and crew stirred that pot.

Senator Feinstein is right. America doesn't want her fingerprints on Iran. Again the promise of the Obama administration is showing the world that we believe in feeding the hungry, healing the sick and helping the poor. In spite of our differences.

How should we deal with Khomeinism? Listen to the Iranian people. Are they asking for our help? Their signs are written in English because they want the world to know their struggle. Their struggle. English guarantees a universal audience. The partisan players don't listen. They just divide and conquer. With which the Iranian people are all too familiar. If they need our help they know how to contact us.

Obama's presidency points America in a direction beyond such fragmenting partisanship. It points to Martin King's "Beloved Community." President Obama has become the iconic progenitor of such communities here and around the world. His critics accuse him of being naive and idealistic. Obama is not naive. Thank God he's idealistic. As president he's in a better position than his critics to know that all births are bloody.