Sunset Sketches of a Little Country

Monday, May 22, 2006

Mullahcracy & the PMO-PCO's Power Combo-Platter

Happy Victoria Day!

My goodness the observation of the Old Queen's birthday has certainly undergone some changes. Now there's nothing much done formally outside the members of the Royal Society of St George - except firecrackers and bottom of the driveway fireworks displays.

Hmmm, the Dominion of Canada (or should we say the Canada of Canada since even July 1st has been renamed) has put its British roots asunder. Pity. Pity indeed.

One good thing though, the Toronto Star delivered a 'complimentary' copy of its Holiday edition to my friend Edward's home and we all lounged outside on the patio and indulged ourselves on the 'extra time' that the Victoria Day Holiday had provided us.

This issue of the Star had an article on the "Mullahcracy" operating within today's Iran.

The author, Reza Aslan, characterizes the regime: " In truth, the Islamic Republic is neither Islamic nor a republic. It can be described neither as a theocracy nor as a democracy. Iran is something else entirely. It is a "mullahcracy," a bizarre hybrid of religious and third world fascism that, like the fascisms of the past century, has turned into an embarrassing example of populism gone awry."

The piece finishes with a question posed to the author's cousin's (Afshin) brother, Saleh, "Is this the Islamic Republic you had dreamed of? Is this what you fought for?"

Saleh shoots a quick glance at (his cousin) before stretching his gentle, bearded face into a gloomy half smile.

"No." He shakes his head. "This is something else entirely. I can't even remember what happened to that dream."

The article outlined a quick history of the post-Shah constitutional history:
"Too often, Iran's baffling, bipolar government is dismissed as a "theocracy." But Iran is actually not a theocracy. A theocracy suggests rule by God, and as any Iranian will tell you, God is noticeably absent in Iran.

In a theocracy, particularly an Islamic theocracy like Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan under the Taliban, the Qur'an is the only constitution. Yet the Islamic Republic is constructed upon a remarkably modern and surprisingly enlightened constitutional framework in which are enshrined fundamental freedoms of speech, religion, education, and peaceful assembly. (bold emphasis added, ed.)

Iran's constitution calls for equality under the law with regard to race, ethnicity, language, and even gender. It provides for a comprehensive amendment process as well as the opportunity to launch national referendums to decide the course of the country.

Most importantly, Iran's constitution stipulates that all domestic affairs must be administered "on the basis of public opinion expressed by means of elections," thus establishing an empowered legislature and a strong, independent executive.

All of this exists under the moral guidance of a single clerical authority - the faqih - who is appointed by an "assembly of experts" based in Qom, which, in turn, is directly elected by the people (if no single religious authority is qualified for the post, then the assembly chooses a "Supreme Court" of three to five clerics).

In theory, the faqih was intended to be a papal figure who would ensure the "Islamic character" of the state. However, in the chaotic aftermath of the revolution, the parameters of the office were dramatically altered as Iran's powerful clerical establishment - helmed by the overwhelming charisma of Iran's first faqih, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (who invented the post) - put into effect a series of constitutional amendments and judicial rulings that spectacularly extended the scope of their power.

They relied on their command of personal militias and extensive numbers of Orwellian subcommittees to wrest control of the provisional government from the hands of the capable, if rather dour, technocrats who had been appointed to lead Iran after the fall of the shah.

By the time Saddam Hussein invaded in 1980, the time for debate and dissent over the nature of the republic was over. What had begun as a vibrant experiment in Islamic democracy quickly deteriorated into an authoritarian quagmire - a state ruled by an inept clerical oligarchy with absolute religious and political power."

It goes on to talk about the revolution's supporters and their disenchantments:
"These days, there is a tendency, both in the West and in Iran, to view the revolution of 1979 as an Islamic revolution instigated at the behest of the Ayatollah Khomeini. This is a historical fiction that emerged out of two and a half decades of post-revolutionary propaganda.

The truth is, there were dozens of voices raised against the shah; Khomeini's was merely the loudest. In fact, a full 10 per cent of Iran's population actively took part in the overthrow of the shah, thus making it the largest popular revolution in modern history.

Feminists, communists, socialists, Marxists, secular democrats, Westernized intellectuals, traditional bazaari merchants, die-hard nationalists, religious fundamentalists, Muslims, Christians, Jews, men, women, and children: nearly every sector of Iranian society was represented in the revolution. Khomeini's genius was his intuition that, in a country steeped in the faith and culture of Shiism, only the symbols and metaphors of Shiite Islam could provide a collective language with which to mobilize a disparate coalition that had little in common save its virulent hatred of the shah.

By the time the shah was ousted and the Islamic Republic was born, both Afshin and Saleh had been lured away from their Marxist roots by Khomeini's mystifying Shiite populism.

In the 1980s, Saleh entered the Feyziyeh spurred by the dream of establishing a new kind of nation - one both democratic and Islamic, both quintessentially Muslim and uniquely Iranian - while Afshin fought on the front lines of the battle against Saddam Hussein to ensure that dream would survive.

In the 1990s, Afshin and Saleh were brought together again, this time as leaders in the energizing reform movement that gripped Tehran in the wake of the stunning 1997 presidential election of Muhammad Khatami, whose goal was to unearth the democratic principles of the constitution that had been blithely ignored for more than a decade.

But Khatami proved unable (some say unwilling) to propel the reform movement to its fruition. He withdrew his support, allowing the movement to disintegrate under mass arrests, torture, and murder. The reform movement fractured, and Afshin and Saleh went their separate ways. Saleh returned to the Feyziyeh to fight for democracy from within the system; Afshin now claims that the system itself is the problem and must be abandoned.

Just before the aforementioned closing paragraphs the author recounts the "theory behind clerical rule":
"There are many ways to get from Tehran to Qom," he says. "We could take a car, a bus, a plane, or we could walk. But the cleric is the one who has spent a lifetime studying the map. He has taken the trip many times. He knows with certainty which is the best way. And if he declares `by plane,' then everyone follows him."

"But if I choose to walk, won't I still get to Qom?" I ask.

"Of course. However, the path will be longer and more arduous."

"And if two clerics differ on the best path, which one is right?"

"Technically the senior-most cleric - the one who has taken the trip most often. But really, they are both right. It is up to you and me to decide which one to follow."

And therein lies the central paradox of the Islamic Republic. Shiism is a religion founded upon open debate and rational discourse. In its nearly 1,400 years of history, no Shiite cleric has ever enjoyed unconditional authority over another Shiite cleric of equal learning.

Nor has any cleric ever held sole interpretive powers over the meaning of the faith. The Shia have always been free to follow the cleric of their choice, which is in part why Shiism has blossomed into such a wonderfully eclectic faith.

It is also why the majority of Shia both inside and outside Iran no longer view the Islamic Republic as the paradigm of the Shiite state, but rather as its corruption."

So, with flagging patience, my friend's wife hesitantly asks, "What's that got to do with Victoria Day or the darn "Canada of Canada", as you've just started calling it? (The hesitancy was in case the query brought on a long discourse about abstract concepts and long-forgotten aspects of special interest to me - the usual format and subject matter of almost ALL my pontifications)

"Well, the same thing, albeit side-ways, has happened to the superbly-crafted governance system here!", I exclaimed, "Just look at the 'analysis' piece by Susan Delacourt, in the first section of our complimentary Holiday issue!"

In "PM needs to show respect on the job" we learn of the tough time the Rt. Hon. 'respect me, if you cannot like me' S. Harper had last week.

It seems Ms D and her pals in the press corps (who already were upset about the new rules he had in mind for scrums, press conferences and casual chats with his Cabinet & caucus members), thought Mr Harper was 'angrily pre-emptive' on Afghanistan, high-handed on withdrawing the whole concept of an Appointments Officer (til he had more guns in the House) and dictatorial for announcing both the windup of a registry for long-guns and withdrawal from the (third-world's cash-for-emission-credits) Kyoto protocol, without bothering to bring the later two issues up in the Commons.

Ms D. has taken such umbrage with the new guy's lack of respect for "those they see as mere obstacles to getting their way" that she trots out, the 'hidden agenda' card as the reason for Mr Harper's "obsessiveness about control" right after accusing him of "blatant mimicry" of dear, ol', Mr. 14%-in-the-polls, Myron Baloney's "style" towards the press.

Does the press corp forget the arbitrary, Cabinet decisions of past administrations? Have they forgotten how many Orders-in-Council have affected the lives of Canadians without a breath in the Green Chamber?

The only thing audacious about the current minority-PM is his willingness to assert himself and the obviousness of his agenda of event and legislation management geared to proving his administration worthy of a 50%+1 mandate.

If you were that close to being in virtually-unchecked power over a whole country, would you do anything differently?

Our friend and PM, Stephen (Alberta Wants In -or else!) Harper is within 18 months of BEING the Pierre Trudeau of Alberta, the Wm L.M.King of Calgary, the M. Baloney of Fort McMurray and he is NOT going to blow the opportunity.

The way convention-has-modified-constitution in Canada, being majority Prime Minister means YOU ARE the King - but more powerful than any king of England has been since 1688's "Glorious Revolution".

It may be disrespectful of me to bring up the past on Victoria Day, but since Mackenzie King decided he was wise enough to start 'managing the whole economy' (Economic Depression, WWII and, why not, thereafter), every Prime Minister has had far too much power.

More power than was ever decided to be allocated to the Leader of the biggest bunch of the 'lowest rung on the ladder' of Canada's triune "One Parliament" (BNA Act s.17) hierarchy.

Mackenzie King usurped the Governor General's Advisors, their supervisory role over his Cabinet and then undermined the independence and freedom-to-veto of the Governor General's Office itself - masterful done, but his revenge on Lord Byng resulted in too much power being concentrated in the Office of the PM for any one man.

Could Trudeau, Mulroney, Chretien have done what they did in any other country?

Most recently, if time (and trials) convince the Canadian public to strongly suspect that the PMO/PCO combo-power package was vitally involved in controlling the flow of (excess) funds created in exchange for not-much-work by contractors under the Sponsorship Program, surely ( some say shurely) the call will go out to rein in the power and double-check the powers of the King/PM.

I can see the pickets' slogan-boards now "Reverse Order-in-Council P.C. 1940-1121" and "Give the GG back Her Prerogative Powers" plus "There's no Shame in Withholding Assent on a bad Bill"

My lands, could it possibly happen here?

May the day be lovely
and the BBQ be heavy laden,
Enjoy the day that celebrates your country's British roots!