The tragic earthquake in Bam, Iran has killed around 30,000 people and destroyed a world heritage site. At the same time, the disaster may be the beginning of a new shift in US-Iranian relations, although not in the way the Iranian government might think.
Already there’s been a major shift in attitudes in Iran away from theocracy and anti-Americanism and towards openness and democracy. It was precisely such a shift in popular attitudes tha collapsed the Berlin Wall and consigned the Iron Curtain to the scrapheap. With Americans now showing their true colors – flying across the world to an alien and hostile nation during the holidays to selflessly care for those in need, the image of America as an imperialist and degenerate nation has to be taking quite a beating in Iran. At the same time, this incident highlights the way in which the Iranian theocracy has enriched itself at the expense of the Iranian people. Those are the seeds of popular revolution and democratic change, and those seeds are only beginnng to bear fruit.
Despite what seems like the slow progress of change in Iran, change is happening. The Nobel Peace Prize win of Shirin Ebadi is as major an acknowledgement of the Iranian freedom movement as the acknowledgment of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was in 1970. The way in which worldwide communications technology has allowed Iranians access to ideas which had previously been surprised, and the growing Iranian samizdat movement is furthering that spread.
The days of theocratic totalitarianism are as stable as the ruined citadel at Bam, and it is only a matter of time before the political fault lines running under the surface of the Iranian state snap. Unlike the tragedy of the earthquake at Bam, however, this seismic event could very well reorder the world for the better.