In Iran, Theocracy Is Killing Religion

When growing up in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Shay Khatiri recalls that it was fairly common to hear criticism of the regime expressed behind closed doors; criticism of Islam, however, was exceedingly rare. But after over four decades of theocratic rule, that too has changed. Khatiri cites ample anecdotal evidence that this is so—such as a friend’s elderly and once-pious father who declined to participate in an annual ritual with the words, “Son, I have come to realize that all these things are bullshit!” And these are not the only reasons to believe that the religious ideology that fueled the 1979 Islamic Revolution has taken a toll on Islam:

GAMAAN, a Netherlands-based center run by two Iranian political scientists that tracks public attitudes in Iran, reports that 67 percent of Iranians reject the idea of theocracy, and 72 percent reject having a religious figure as the head of the state. A 2020 report by the same organization found that only 32.2 percent identify as Shiite Muslims, with another 5 percent identifying as Sunni. (Contrast that with the CIA World Factbook, which reports that 90–95 percent of the country is Shiite.) Nearly half identified as some form of irreligious—none, agnostic, spiritual, or atheist. A whopping 7.7 percent called themselves Zoroastrian, far higher than the 0.03 percent of the Zoroastrian population inside Iran. It’s not that Shiite Iranians are converting en masse to the religion of their pre-Islamic forbears—Zoroastrianism doesn’t accept converts. The better interpretation is that a significant number of Iranians claim the ancient Persian religion as a method of identifying as Persian and shedding the Muslim identity they’ve come to hate.

Iran’s plummeting fertility rate gives more evidence of its declining religiosity. Iranians have been poor in the past, but they still had high fertility rates despite being high on the misery index. The return of poverty doesn’t alone explain why the fertility rate has fallen to 1.7 children per woman of child-bearing years, but it makes sense when one considers the rise of “nones.” Religiously unaffiliated people, on average, have fewer children than religious people. In 1989, when I was born, Iran’s average fertility rate was 5.1.

But none of these data are as astounding as the clergy under attack. Iranians used to respect the clerical class, either sincerely or begrudgingly. It wasn’t just fear of its power but also a tradition and a custom. Nowadays, the stories that populate the news are about how pedestrians, often without cause, physically assault random mullahs on the street.

Before the Islamic Revolution, Iran had an Iranian state and a religious population. Now, it has a theocracy and a population increasingly embracing the non-religious components of its national heritage.

Read more at Bulwark

More about: Decline of religion, Iran, Islam

Israel’s Retaliation against the Houthis Sends a Message to the U.S., and to Its Arab Allies

The drone that struck a Tel Aviv high-rise on Thursday night is believed to have traveled over 2,000 kilometers, flying from Yemen over Egypt and then above the Mediterranean before veering eastward toward the Israeli coast. Since October, the Houthis have launched over 200 drones at Israel. Nor is this the first attempt to strike Tel Aviv, only the first successful one. Noah Rothman observes that the Houthis’ persistent attacks on Israel and on international shipping are largely the result of the U.S.-led coalition’s anemic response:

Had the Biden administration taken a more proactive and vigorous approach to neutralizing the Houthis’ capabilities, Israel would not be obliged to expand to Yemen the theater of operations in the war Hamas inaugurated on October 7. The prospects of a regional war grow larger by the day, not because Israel cannot “take the win,” as President Biden reportedly told Benjamin Netanyahu following a full-scale direct Iranian attack on the Jewish state, but because hostile foreign actors are killing its citizens. Jerusalem is obliged to defend them and the sovereignty of Israel’s borders.

Biden’s hesitancy was fueled by his apprehension over the prospect of a “wider war” in the Middle East. But his hesitancy is what is going to give him the war he so cravenly sought to avoid.

In this context, the nature of the Israeli response is significant: rather than follow the American strategy of striking isolated weapons depots and the like, IDF jets struck the port city of Hodeida—the sort of major target the U.S. has shied away from. The mission was likely the furthest-ever carried out by the Israel Air Force, hitting a site 200 kilometers further from Israel than Tehran. Yoel Guzansky and Ilan Zalayat comment:

The message that Israel sent was intended to reach the moderate Arab countries, the West, and especially the United States. . . . The message to the coalition countries is that “the containment” had failed and the Houthis must be hit harder. The Hodeida port is the lifeline of the Houthi economy and continued damage to it will make it extremely difficult for this economy, which is also facing significant American sanctions.

Read more at National Review

More about: Houthis, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy