A Look At Divisions Underlying Iran Protests After a tumultuous day of protests, deaths and arrests in Iran, the streets of the capital city remain relatively quiet Sunday, but further protests are planned for the coming week. Author Reza Aslan talks to guest host Guy Raz about the political and ideological divisions underlying the current conflict in Iran.
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A Look At Divisions Underlying Iran Protests

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A Look At Divisions Underlying Iran Protests

A Look At Divisions Underlying Iran Protests

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GUY RAZ, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

The streets are relatively calm today in Tehran, but the echoes of yesterday's violence between authorities and protesters, which killed at least 10 people, continue to reverberate.

Amir Silimani(ph), an English teacher, tried to get to his Tehran home once the fighting died down.

Mr. AMIR SILIMANI: Yesterday, I couldn't return home because Tehran's streets were militarized, so I had to stay in my uncle's house. At 10 p.m., people just move to their roof and start shouting something like this: (Foreign language spoken) which in Arabic means God is great.

(Soundbite of chanting)

And this has become the symbol of Iran's protests, meaning other than God, there is no one here to protect.

RAZ: We turn now to Reza Aslan. He's a professor at the University of California at Riverside and the author of "No God but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam."

Reza Aslan, welcome to the program.

Professor REZA ASLAN (Islamic and Middle East Studies, University of California, Riverside; Author, "No God but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam"): Thank you, Guy.

RAZ: Describe the confrontation in Iran as it stands today. Is this an election dispute?

Prof. ASLAN: Not anymore. This is now a dispute about the very legitimacy of the Islamic Republic and the whole idea of clerical rule, which is why we're seeing not just students and young people and even Mousavi supporters on the street, but now these strange new coalitions are forming between some of the establishment figures of the Islamic Republic: Rafsanjani, Khatami. Even Ali Larijani, the speaker of the parliament has thrown in his lot with the reformists in some way.

So there's a real split at the very highest levels of the Iranian regime over the future of the country.

RAZ: So this is not primarily a struggle between those who want a more liberal Iran and those who support the conservative vision of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Prof. ASLAN: Well, I have to say that the old paradigms that we've been using to understand Iran over the last 30 years, the mullahs versus the kids, the secularists versus the theocrats. Those things have completely broken down in this uprising.

At stake right now is what many in Iran feel is the militarization of Iranian politics. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as a member of the Revolutionary Guard, is really the puppet for the Revolutionary Guard; represents for many this strange, almost dangerous military coup that's taking place in Iran. And so in many ways, the clerical establishment itself, at least certain members of the clerical establishment, feel threatened by Ahmadinejad.

They feel as though their very power is being taken away from them, that Iran is increasingly starting to look like a military dictatorship ala Egypt or even Pakistan; countries in which regardless of who's in charge, it's the military that calls the shots.

RAZ: Many of these young demonstrators want a different kind of Iran. They want liberal reforms. They want to be able to travel. They don't want so much religion in their lives, and yet they're in coalition with religious figures who feel that they don't have enough power.

Prof. ASLAN: Right. It's the enemy of my enemy, right? You know, this is exactly the issue at stake here is that we don't know what kind of Iran is going to emerge from this crisis, but what we do know is that it will not be the same Iran as before. Whether that Iran will be more militaristic and more isolationist, that could very well be the case, but it could also be the cast that it'll be much more democratic and much more accommodationist.

Mousavi has become really little more than just a figurehead for this uprising, the swelling of support for a different kind of Iran, an Iran that doesn't look the way that it did over the last four years.

That's why, I think, you know, we have to constantly talk about this as an anti-Ahmadinejad uprising more than a pro-Mousavi or even a pro-reformist uprising.

RAZ: Reza Aslan teaches at UC Riverside and is the author of the new book "How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization and the End of the War on Terror."

Mr. Aslan, thanks for your time.

Prof. ASLAN: It is my pleasure, Guy.

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