Iran's Tortuous Path Toward “Islamic Liberalism”
This article provides an overview of the intellectual and sociopolitical roots of Iran's tortuous path toward “Islamic liberalism” and reform. It analyzes the shift in the ideological orientation of a major faction within the political elite from a radical to a relatively moderate and liberal interpretation of Islam. The authors trace the roots of this ideological shift to a series of political developments since the triumph of the Islamic revolution in 1979, including various failures of the revolutionary regime to fulfill its populist and egalitarian promises; a considerable erosion in the legitimacy of the ruling clerics; the successful (though largely silent) resistance of the youth and women against the culturally restrictive policies of the Islamic Republic; the rise of a distinctly anti-fundamentalist, liberal-reformist interpretation of Islam by a number of Iranian theologians and religious intellectuals; and the precipitous decline in the popularity of revolutionary ideas in the 1990s. In spite of the increasing appeal of liberal-democratic ideas of individual freedom, pluralism, and political tolerance in the new reform movement and the overwhelming endorsement of these ideas in four recent national elections, including two presidential polls, the authors argue that the movement has had but a limited and, for the most part symbolic, influence on Iran's objective, and still repressive, political conditions.
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