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An Interesting Exchange from The Rachel Maddow Show Last Night

Yes, you’re reading the title correctly.  Maddow interviewed Reza Aslan, author of How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror on what’s going on in Iran.  I have the entire exchange below, but I’ve highlighted what I thought was the most interesting part.  It’s the fact that Mousavi was one of the founders of the ‘79 revolution and he’s basically following the same playbook, but this time the target is the existing ruling structure.  I found the interview to be rather informative, considering the rest of the MSM has decided to use Twitter as its main source of information.

Joining us now is Reza Aslan. He’s a senior fellow at the Orfalea Center on Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He’s also author of a new book, “How to Win a Cosmic War:

God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror.”

Mr. Aslan, thank you so much for joining us tonight.


MADDOW: As I just mentioned, there are reports that Iran’s Assembly of Experts has called for an emergency meeting. What are your sources inside of Iran telling you about that and how significant do you think it would be?

ASLAN: Well, just the very fact that the meeting is being convened is significant. The Assembly of Experts, as you said, gets to decide who the next supreme leader will be, and they also get to decide whether the current supreme leader is still qualified for his position. The head of the Assembly of Experts, of course, is Ayatollah Rafsanjani.

Now, Rafsanjani is probably the second most powerful man in Iran after the supreme leader. He’s certainly the richest man in Iran. He was also Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s main opponent four years ago. And Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this year, really went after Rafsanjani hard, accused him of corruption, of graft. And Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad really went at it in a very public way that you don’t normally see in Iran.

And once the elections were called for Ahmadinejad, Rafsanjani has been working behind the scenes to try to get those elections annulled. And this goes back to an earlier point that you made, is that this isn’t about, you know, the mullahs versus the people, or even, you know, the clerical regime versus the reformers. This is something that goes to the very heart of the legitimacy of the Islamic republic. It’s the government, itself, that’s beginning to crack apart.

MADDOW: And as we see, senior members of the regime start to split, as we see senior clerics come forward in support of the opposition, as we see this meeting convene-is it possible that that changes the way that the government can crackdown? I mean, if it’s just students or it’s just a specific class, or if just some sort of regional uprising, it seems to me that the government would have more options than if it is some sort of resistance movement that spans right-that splits even right through the heart of the power structure.

ASLAN: No question. You know, we saw something similar to what’s happening now in 1999, the so-called “Tehran Spring,” where college students poured out into the streets by the tens of thousands demanding greater freedoms, and ultimately, the regime responded with bloody violence.

That’s just not an option this time because this isn’t-as you said

it’s not about college students. We’ve got-you know, this is a movement that is essentially cutting across all the traditional borders and the traditional divisions in Iran.

You have some of the most important and influential people within the Iranian establishment, not just Rafsanjani but the former president, Mohammad Khatami. The Grand Ayatollah Ali Montazeri is one person that you mentioned, but also, the Grand Ayatollah Sanei who’s issued a fatwa calling election fraud a mortal sin.

And these are people whose religious credentials go way beyond the supreme leader’s religious credentials. They are not exactly equals by any means. Montazeri and Sanei, they’re grand ayatollahs; they are way above Ayatollah Khamenei, the current supreme leader.

MADDOW: Reza, we are in day five of following this. And in terms of what to expect next and to watch for next, we are expecting another major demonstration tomorrow. It’s not just a demonstration but it’s a planned day of mourning for those who have been killed in the protests thus far.

What should we watch for tomorrow? And how important, do you think, tomorrow is going to be?

ASLAN: What’s really fascinating about what’s happening right now, in 2009, is that it looks a lot like what was happening in 1979. And there’s a very simple reason for that. The same people are in charge. I mean, Mousavi, Rafsanjani, Khatami, Mehdi Karoubi, the other reformist candidates — these were all the original revolutionaries who brought down the shah to begin with. So, they know how to do this right.

And so, what you’re going to see tomorrow is something that was pulled exactly out of the playbook of 1979, which is that you have these massive mourning rallies where you mourn the deaths of those who were martyred in the cause of freedom. And these things tend to get a little out of control. They often result in even more violence by the security forces and even more deaths-which then requires another mourning rally which is even larger, which then requires more violence from the government-and this just becomes an ongoing snowball that can’t be stopped. That’s how the shah was removed from power was these mourning ceremonies.

And so, Mousavi, very smartly, calling for an official, not a rally, but an official day of mourning tomorrow. I think we’re going to see crowds that we haven’t even begun to see yet, and then follow that, on Friday, which is sort of the Muslim Sabbath, the day of prayer, which is traditionally a day of gathering anyway, this is just beginning, Rachel. This is just the beginning.

(The AP is reporting hundreds of thousands of mourners on the streets today in Tehran)

MADDOW: Wow. It’s a story that we’re nowhere near getting our arms around in terms of understanding it and events preceding faster than we can really understand, but we’re trying.

Reza Aslan, senior fellow at the Orfalea Center on Global and International Studies at UC-Santa Barbara-your insight here is just really invaluable. Thanks, Reza. Thanks for joining us.


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