'How can 59,054,087 people be so dumb?' cried the British mass circulation Daily Mirror referring to the election of George W Bush for a second 4-year term as president of the USA. A similar question has been asked by many young Iranians of their parents' support for the Islamic revolution a quarter century earlier.
What makes the two events strikingly similar is that in this election the “war on terror” or the debacle in Iraq or even the economy were not the number one factor for people to vote for President Bush, but the “moral values”.
This reminds one of the famous saying of late Ayatollah Khomeini that the Iranian people did not support the revolution for “bread or melon” but for Islam. What we are facing in today's America is a Christian Revolution with far reaching consequences for decades to come…
The election of President Bush for a second term surprised most people of the outside world as well as a great many in America. However, the real shocker came when it was revealed that what clinched this comfortable victory was not mundane questions of war on terror or the effect of the American invasion of Iraq and the high casualty rate now being inflicted on the American soldiers.
It was also turned out that even the unsatisfactory economic conditions (to put it mildly), the huge budgetary and trade deficits, the steep fall in dollar, the deteriorating job market, the fall in social security and medical insurance cover for millions of Americans, and the looming economic troubles emanating from the trillions of dollar deficit created by the double whammy of tax cuts for the rich and the expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, did not feature large in the reasons why people voted their president in.
True to the spirit of a devoted people “sacrificing” their material needs for “higher moral values”, the American people went for issues like abortion, gay rights and stem cell research.
These moral issues seem to have been the driving force for both the high turnout of the voters amongst the devoted Christian Americans and their overwhelming support for George W Bush. They were convinced that their society is threatened by corrupt proponents of liberal tendencies, that a “cultural attack” is under way, that they have to take a stand against this threat, and that the God-fearing and devoted President Bush is the best person to provide them with the salvation they need.
To that end, they were quite happy to ignore all the telltale signals coming out of another four years of the neo-cons policies that have cost them so much so far. As true believers, they were ready to pay the necessary price for their beliefs, to put their values higher than their material and worldly needs. True Christians.
The millions of Iranians who answered Ayatollah Khomeini's call to support the revolution and his Islamic Republic had similar motives. They too were outraged by a “corrupt culture” (hajmeh farhangi) making inroads into the Iranian society manifested in the western way of life, emancipation of women, and collapse of the traditional values of the Iranian people.
They saw in Khomeini and his preachings a salvation for all the ills of the society and a promised land wherein not only they can live their Islamic values but would also benefit from a better worldly life. It is intriguing to note that many Americans who voted for George W Bush too believe that he would also provide them with a better life with his economic policies.
The Iranians who voted for the Islamic Republic were of course in for a big shock. They had to suffer terrible consequences of their choice for a generation in terms of a devastating war, rampant poverty, economic disaster, cruel suppression of their basic rights and freedoms, and widespread social ills such as addiction, prostitution, crime and corruption.
Not only that, but they got much worse than what they had bargained for in return: instead of an Islamic utopia where their moral values will be safe, they had to come to terms with all sorts of moral decays, hypocrisy at the highest levels of the Islamic regime, and a breakdown of the fabric of society at its root level. They could not expect much in terms of improving the economy — a subject Khomeini regarded as “belonging to donkeys” — but they could not imagine that their moral values, too, would be so trampled on.
The American society of 21st century is of course much different from Iran of late 1970's. But the choice the Americans made last Tuesday may have also more far reaching consequence than they have imagined. They have already had a taste of what the new-cons have for them in terms of engaging Americans in bloody and costly wars in foreign lands.
But a second term for President Bush with a higher number and bigger margin of votes than the last will act as both an endorsement of his policies in the past and an encouragement to do so more in future.
The same applies to other policies of the President, most importantly in the economic fields. These policies will have consequences for much longer than the 4 years he will be in office. He will also have the chance of putting his stamps on more permanent bodies of the US institutions such as the Supreme Court, when he is given the task to appoint new members to replace one or more judges who will be leaving the Court soon.
In short, the effect of this week's vote by the devote Christians of the United States of America will chart the course for a generation of Americans. Its effect on the outside world too may not be less dramatic or short-lived. The Americans have in effect opted for a revolution based on faith – a Christian Revolution.
The 59,054,087 people who voted for George W Bush may not be so dumb as the British daily suggested. Neither can it be said of the vast majority of Iranians who welcomed the Islamic Republic. It is the power of faith and religion, combined with the leaders with religious zeal who use and abuse this faith for their political ends. And true, religion is intoxicating and one may do things under the influence of religion that otherwise may found them unreasonable to say the least.
The Iranian people have seen the terrible outcome of being led by their blind faith – and regret what they did to the core. Obviously, the effect of the American experience will be of quite different kind and magnitude (both locally and internationally). But the Americans too may live to regret this act-of-faith, and then start a long battle to reclaim the secularism and freedom that have been the cornerstone of American democracy and enjoyed by generations of Americans for over two centuries.
Hossein Bagher Zadeh is a human rights activist and commentator on Iranian political and human rights issues. He is a spokesperson for Manshoor 81 (Charter 2003). His weekly column on Iranian affairs (in Persian) appears in Iran Emrooz and Iranian publications. He lives in England.