Liberalism is corrosive in a revolutionary collective. It eats away
unity, undermines cohesion and creates dissension.
— Mao Tse Tung
Following our 1998 visit to the Islamic republic, Mohammad Khatami was re-elected to a second term as president of Iran with an even larger majority. Most of his support came from women and young people, and verbally he did not disappoint them. Addressing an audience at Teheran University, the president spoke to ten thousand students. “Freedom of choice and freedom of thought have been frustrated,” he said. “Liberty is suffocated in the name of salvation.” Speaking of women, Khatami went on, “The traditional outlook based on the erroneous notion of supremacy of men over women does injustice to men, women and humanity as a whole.” Younger women were delighted. But that was not what the mullahs were teaching in the mosques. There were mutterings that Khatami was challenging the Holy Writ of the Koran.
President Khatami himself was an ayatollah. But he railed against the mullahs’ resistance to change and the excesses of the religious police. “If the clergy distance themselves from the factual realities of present day, they won’t be able to fulfill their role,” he said in a radio broadcast. This was a courageous stand in a land where one person in twelve serves at one time or another in his life as a member of the clergy or assistant in the mosques. And the Council of Guardians took umbrage. Unlike Khatami, they rejected the notion that church and state can be separate. Iran is theocratic state. The word of God and his priest takes precedence over any elected president.