Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Gonna change my way of thinking.

One commentator (thanks for the tip, Stef!) recently suggested that the Iranian Constitution’s vesting of ultimate authority in the Supreme Leader is analogous to the Divine Right of Kings. One respondent (number 3) to that commentator has cautioned that “the Iranian Constitution… has rather deep intrusions of democratic principles[; it] repeatedly references democratic ideals in interesting and somewhat surprising ways,” citing, for example, the importance attributed by the Constitution to the public will, as it is expressed by public elections. This basic tenet of democracy -- self-determination by popular electoral will -- is indeed decidedly sophisticated from the viewpoint of institutional political maturity. However, I would argue that the very existence of a Supreme Leader whose final judgment is unquestionable because it is explicitly tied to the pronouncements of a higher-than-human authority reduces the “deep intrusions of democracy” in the Iranian Constitution to an aspirational ideal at best, and at worst - to mere lip service.

The recent electoral crisis in Iran is an illustration: despite extensive and strenuous protest by the very people who are supposedly empowered to self-determine their political fate, so far it is the word of the Supreme Leader that is prevailing. Some have pointed out that the recent unrest in Iran is likely to spell a serious change for the Iranian regime. Indeed, determination by the authority of the people, by its very nature, is incompatible with determination by the authority of a being other than the people and it is precisely this basic incompatibility that is behind the intuition concerning the impending regime change in Iran.

However, it is unclear exactly what kinds of (presumably democratic) institutions will replace Iran ’s current irreconcilable marriage between democratic choice and divine power, or, perhaps more importantly, how that change may be peacefully implemented. It is ironic enough that the people’s revolution of 1979 replaced an actual king with a leader possessing a divine right of kings; it would be more ironic and possibly quite tragic if another (armed) revolution were necessary to purge the remnants of divinity (that currently controls the armed forces) from the political framework to make room for rule of truly democratic (read: non-divine, people-controlled, in a word - secular) law, even if that law makes a respectful nod to religion (as it would have to in Iran). Allahu Akbar because the people's votes count.

Ultimately, what this discussion aims to stimulate and preface is a rethinking of certain aspects of international law, especially those aspects pertaining to nations’ rights to interfere in the affairs of other nations (see also previous post re: need for a flexible definition of national sovereignty during times of internal national violence.) Certain philosophical considerations do indeed justify, and in fact demand international attention to (and I would argue, at times, intense international involvement in) major transformative political events within any particular country, to facilitate the peaceful and lawful nature of these transformations, minimizing violence and loss of human life that too frequently accompanies them. International law can and should be used to challenge the necessity for coincidence of major political transformations with civilian bloodshed.

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