Overdosing on Islam
Nicholas D. Kristof
- In the offices of an Ayatollah here,
I was jokingly introduced as coming from the Great Satan.
a young man responded immediately. “
is only Baby Satan. We have Big Satan right here at home.”
to the left, turbans to the right --
is the religious center of
, but even here, there is anger and disquiet. One of the central
questions for the Middle East is whether
’s hard-line Islamic regime will survive. I’m betting it won’t.
officials change their methods and give freedom to the people, and stop
interfering in elections, or the people will rise up with another
revolution,” Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri told me.
is no freedom,” added Ayatollah Montazeri, who is among the senior
figures in the Shiite world but is excluded from power in
because of his reformist ideas. “Repression is carried out in the name
of Islam, and that turns people off. . . . All these court summonses,
newspaper closings and prosecutions of dissidents are wrong. These are
the same things that were done under the Shah and are now being
repeated. And now they are done in the name of Islam and therefore
Ayatollah Montazeri was a leader of the Islamic Revolution, and was
initially designated by his close friend Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to
be his successor as supreme leader of
. Everything he says carries immense credibility, for he is a more
senior religious figure than any of
’s present leaders. (I’ve posted comments by Ayatollah Montazeri,
along with a video of the interview, at www.nytimes.com/kristofresponds,
Shiite leader outside the club of power, Ayatollah Jalaledin Taheri, has
denounced the regime as “society’s dregs and fascists who consist of
a concoction of ignorance and madness. . . [and] those who are convinced
that yogurt is black.”
the Islamic Republic is increasingly vulnerable to the most devastating
accusation of all: that it is un-Islamic and is alienating its youth
from Islam. The mullahs have even made beards unpopular.
sorry -- I’ve been too busy to shave recently,” said Ashkan Almasi,
a musician, mortified at having a faint beard and not wanting me to get
the wrong idea about his politics. “In contrast to what [leading
Islamic philosophers] say, this regime is the very opposite of Islamic
government,” Mr. Almasi said. “It has made Islam unpopular.”
the 1,100-mile round trip between
in the south, I did meet some staunch supporters of the regime. But my
experience at a teahouse in a smalltown was more typical. With a small
crowd around me, I asked people what they thought of the government.
can you have hope for life anymore?” said Abdullah Erfani, a plumber,
adding, “If there were a free vote, 99 percent would oppose this
system, and only the 1 percent within the system would support it.”
20-year-old, Hadi Zareai, working hard to look cool in his leather
jacket, said: “There will be a Judgment Day, and all of us will meet
up. Then I’m going to find those who launched the Islamic Revolution
and go after them.”
much of the world, young Muslims are increasingly religious, but
compulsive Islam has soured some Iranians on religion. Fewer people go
to Friday prayers, and Western-style clothes are the hottest fashion.
young woman I met, Elaheh Falakmasir, is religious and inclined to
support the regime. But smoke was almost pouring from her ears because
she and a couple of friends had been kicked out of an exhibition a few
hours earlier for being floozies: one wore a red vest over her black
overcoat, and Ms. Falakmasir herself wore a silver nose stud.
like it,” she said hotly. “It’s beautiful. God likes it. But they
complained.” And so the regime alienated three more constituents who
want to be good Muslims -- but also want to live in a modern world.
a useful lesson here for George Bush’s
as well as for the Ayatollahs’
: when a religion is imposed on people, when a government tries too
ostentatiously to put itself “under God,” the effect is often not to
prop up religious faith but to undermine it. Nothing is more lethal to
religious faith than having self-righteous, intolerant politicians (who
wince at nose studs) drag God into politics.