Islamic societies are capable of embracing democracy, New York University Professor Ali Mirsepassi maintains in his forthcoming Democracy in Modern Iran (NYU Press, May). The book comes just prior to the one-year anniversary of last year’s controversial June 12 election in which incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner after only two-thirds of the votes had been counted. The result set off weeks of demonstrations in the country.
Mirsepassi, a professor at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, posits that Islam is not inherently hostile to democratic ideas or institutions. In Democracy in Modern Iran, he provides a new perspective on how such a political and social transformation could take place, arguing that the key to understanding the integration of Islam and democracy lies in social institutions of everyday experience rather than pre-conceived ideas and abstract theories.
Growing up in Iran, Mirsepassi recognized the abuses of the Shah and, seeking to help bring democratic reform to his country, participated in the revolution in 1977 and 1978 as a graduate student. But after the Shah’s ouster, Mirsepassi and other advocates of democracy were forced out of the revolutionary movement by Iran’s religious fundamentalists.
Mirsepassi left Iran in 1979 for the United States, where he obtained his masters degree and doctorate at American University. Since his arrival in America, Mirsepassi has been involved in democratic and human rights movements in his native country and devoted much of his scholarship to the analysis of democracy. He was last in the country in winter and summer of 2008. At that time, he interviewed several reformist politicians, activists, and intellectuals and also gave several lectures at the Tehran University and at other cultural institutions. With his research and work within the country’s reform movement, Mirsepassi is now considered one of the country’s most significant intellectuals whose work on democracy has influenced its educated class.
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