Last June, when I was in Iran to cover the presidential election for The Nation, I happened to run into a middle-aged Iranian war veteran on the street. I was on my way to President Ahmadinejad’s campaign office to in a vain effort to arrange an interview with his campaign manager. Nearby was Ahmadinejad’s presidential office complex, and the man who approached me worked in that office. He pulled up his shirt to show me his war wounds, suffered during his service in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Without much prompting, he told me what he thought of the clerical regime that controls Iran.
“The mullahs are like idols,” he said. “They must be broken!”
In today’s Iran, that is not an unusual sentiment.
A year earlier, during another visit to Iran, dozens of Iranians told me point blank that it was time for regime change. Walking into the vast and sprawling Tehran bazaar, a centuries-old marketplace, two brothers pulled me aside. “Do you know the mullahs?” one of them asked me. “We hate them. They are stupid.”
At rallies for Mir Hossein Mousavi, the former prime minister who led the Green Movement, it wasn’t uncommon for rallygoers to tell me that the problem wasn’t Ahmadinejad, but the whole concept of an Islamic republic. Many of the supporters of Mousavi supported the bearded intellectual and his activist, artist wife in spite of their professed allegiance to the clerical regime, seeing a Mousavi victory as a stepping stone to far more sweeping change.
The story in the New York Times today by Robert Worth reflects that sentiment. Called “In Iran, Protests Gaining a Radical Tinge,” Worth reports that many of the protestors in the current round of demonstations are adopting outright regime-change demands. In one case, he says, protestors did the unthinkable: they “burned an image of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of the revolution.” Last June, I flew into Tehran airport with Worth, who’d been assigned to cover the Iran story because Michael Slackman, the paper’s bureau chief in Cairo, was persona non grata in Iran, adn he now covers Iran from Beirut. Worth’s story today ought to be read in full, but here’s an excerpt:
“During Monday’s demonstrations, the civil tone of many earlier rallies was noticeably absent. There was no sign of the opposition leader Mir Hussein Mousavi, a moderate figure who supports change within the system, and few were wearing the signature bright green of his campaign.