During the Iranian revolution of 1979, the deep-seated religious feeling of an overwhelmingly traditional and pious population was a major factor in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s success in establishing an Islamic state. But paradoxically, the effect of totalitarian theocratic rule has been a growing hostility toward religion—the consequences of which are apparent in the ongoing anti-hijab protests. Shay Khatiri argues that these results should be a lesson to anyone who believes that religious coercion can help restore traditional morality and social cohesion:
The reaction against Islam has also turned Iranians away from what American conservatives call family values. The fertility rate is 1.7, below replacement. Fewer people are getting married each day. Instead of traditional religion, the growing nihilism among younger Iranians has made pagan ideals popular. Just for a couple of examples, orgiastic sex parties are popular, and the public attitude toward out-of-wedlock birth is in transition from openness to celebration, both expressions of “the Western openness” of Iranian minds.
In sum, trends American conservatives worry about as signs of a declining civilization are being embraced by increasingly secular Iran as a demonstration of their “open-mindedness” against “rotten” religious mentality. The logic is as follows: whatever Islam stands for is bad, and so the opposite must be good. The integration of Islam and government has meant that Iranians associate the religion with totalitarianism. They don’t just see Islam in its political form as problematic, but rather Islam in itself.
[It is true that] many of America’s contemporary problems are partially the result of the decline in religious practice. The hope for religious revival is a noble one, but using the heavy hand of the state is the best way to accelerate, not reverse, current trends toward secularism. In Iran, religion became the ideology of a failing and oppressive state. Therefore, Iranians want to punish the mosque because it is a symbol of tyranny.
The late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks articulated why politics and religion cannot be integrated: in politics, compromise is a necessity, while in religion it’s a sin. The integration of politics and religion in Iran has led to absolutism in government and compromises in the mosque, making the former tyrannical and the latter corrupt and hypocritical, ultimately making both unpopular and unjust.
More about: Freedom of Religion, Iran, Jonathan Sacks, Religion and politics, Secularization