The vote takes place this Friday. The battle against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his politically conservative and culturally reactionary backers has turned into an unprecedented brawl.
Ahmadinejad’s leading opponent, Mir Hossein Moussavi, who led the country during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, attacks Ahmadinejad for "adventurism, illusionism, exhibitionism, extremism and superficiality," including his notorious Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism, all disgracing the country internationally.
Ahmadinejad and his supporters attack Moussavi because his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, a university professor of politics, has assumed a public role at her husband’s side in the campaign, and demands expanded higher education for women. They are also attacking corruption amid Moussavi’s establishment backers.
The campaign has included dramatic television debates on usually forbidden issues of policy and religion, and has taken to the streets in a way that Western correspondents compare with raucous and acrimonious Western presidential campaigns.
There are nightly street demonstrations and weekend stadium rallies with tens of thousands of young participants. To quote The New York Times, "Every night, parts of the capital become a screaming, honking bacchanal." This is unprecedented in modern Iran — and surely not the conduct of the "false democracy" that Washington likes to call Iran.
And just for kicks and grins--well, also to make the point that other people's politics are just a complex and convoluted as our own--the potential closeness of the election there could well make the 25,000 votes of Iran's Jewish citizens all of a sudden important:
Despite the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 and Ahmadinejad's controversial rhetoric on the Holocaust and Israel’s existence in the Middle East, Jews have chosen to remain in Iran where their community remains the largest among the Muslim countries. Iran's Jews are officially recognized as a religious minority by the government and are allocated a seat in Parliament.
I wonder how many of you knew that Iran had the largest Jewish population of any Muslim Middle Eastern nation?
Here's what Roger Cohen wrote (in part) in the NYT that got him heavily criticized in the American Jewish and Israeli press:
Still a mystery hovers over Iran's Jews. It's important to decide what's more significant: the annihilationist anti-Israel ranting, the Holocaust denial and other Iranian provocations - or the fact of a Jewish community living, working and worshiping in relative tranquility.
Perhaps I have a bias toward facts over words, but I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran - its sophistication and culture - than all the inflammatory rhetoric.
That may be because I'm a Jew and have seldom been treated with such consistent warmth as in Iran. Or perhaps I was impressed that all the fury over Gaza, trumpeted on posters and Iranian television, never spilled over into insults or violence toward Jews. Or perhaps it's because I'm convinced the "Mad Mullah" caricature of Iran and likening of any compromise with it to Munich 1938 - a position popular in American Jewish circles - is misleading and dangerous.
The world is far more complicated that our leaders--whichever branch of the Demopublican party they belong to--would like us to understand.