Democracy in Modern Iran: Islam, Culture, and Political Change

Democracy in Modern Iran: Islam, Culture, and Political Change

Democracy in Modern Iran: Islam, Culture, and Political Change

Democracy in Modern Iran: Islam, Culture, and Political Change


Can Islamic societies embrace democracy? In Democracy in Modern Iran, Ali Mirsepassi maintains that it is possible, demonstrating that Islam is not inherently hostile to the idea of democracy. Rather, he provides new perspective on how such a political and social transformation could take place, arguing that the key to understanding the integration of Islam and democracy lies in concrete social institutions rather than pre-conceived ideas, the every day experiences rather than abstract theories. Mirsepassi, an Iranian native, provides a rare inside look into the country, offering a deep understanding of how Islamic countries like Iran and Iraq can and will embrace democracy.

Democracy in Modern Iran challenges readers to think about Islam and democracy critically and in a far more nuanced way than is done in black-and-white dichotomies of Islam vs. Democracy, or Iran vs. the West. This essential volume contributes important insights to current discussions, creating a more complex conception of modernity in the Eastern world and, with it, Mirsepassi offers to a broad Western audience a more accurate, less clichéd vision of Iran's political reality.


Today, there is a broad public movement committed to democracy in Iran. It is supported and sometimes opposed by a diverse spectrum of Iranians from nearly every walk of life for a wide and changing variety of reasons. The vivid and widely publicized images of mass demonstrations do not represent merely a spontaneous adventure in public action, but also a coherent and self-conscious politics that has evolved within the Iranian public sphere over a long time. Historically, Iranians have tended to assert their political presence in public when they come to believe that their rights are being openly violated and their voices silenced by existing authority. Recent events in the Islamic Republic of Iran—young Iranians demonstrating peacefully en masse and risking their lives in the streets to demand, “Where is my vote?—reveal the continuity of this Iranian tradition of appearing in “public” and “shaming” the authorities.

It is significant that the central demand of the protestors focused on their lost rights, which referred in this case to their missing votes. They demanded that the authorities respect their rights and shamed those in power for breach of the social and moral contract underpinning the social world. This tradition of democracy in the streets has been a consistent and powerful aspect of Iranian protest movements throughout modern times, and it constitutes an extended narrative of direct popular action in the Iranian public consciousness.

The post-election events in Iran are to a considerable extent consistent with previous social events in the long history of struggle for democracy by modern Iranians. This book makes two central arguments about such moments in the popular democratic tradition in Iran. First, these moments illuminate the historical background to contemporary Iranian events, and, second, the specific nature of this long-standing democratic tradition is best understood through temporally grounded and concrete social analysis rather . . .

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