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Signs of panic in Iran

The regime uses public executions to intimidate protesters


Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks to members of a paramilitary force in Tehran on Nov. 26. Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via Associated Press

Signs of panic in Iran
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Iran’s ruthless regime is in panic mode, as evidenced by its decision to publicly execute protestors after accusing them of various crimes, including “waging war” against Allah—a charge that immediately draws a death sentence. In the past two weeks, the regime executed at least three Iranians, in public.

One of the executed was a 23-year-old Majidreza Rahnavard. The authorities ran a “secretive” trial, accused him of murdering paramilitary soldiers, and ordered his hanging from a crane in public. According to The Guardian, Rahnavard was not free to choose his own lawyer, nor was he permitted a public trial or even allowed to challenge the evidence against him. Some activists report he was forced to confess to crimes he never committed, all while under torture.

A secretive trial is a mockery of justice. The Iranian regime does not want the world to witness its scandalous judicial system, which is completely controlled by the Shiite Muslim authorities.

But why does the regime employ public executions?

The aim is chiefly to intimidate Iranian protesters and to force them to retreat from the streets. After three full months of continuous protests, this move shows the regime’s anxiety and loss of control. Still, the use of public execution is not new for the ruthless Shiite government and is actually supported by Islamic law. In the 1980s, there were several uprisings against the Supreme Shiite leader, the Ayatollah, and in 2009 many Iranians disputed the election and took to the streets. In both cases, the Iranian regime resorted to public executions to destroy the uprising and silence the dissenters.

Dictators resort to violence to save their struggling regimes, and modern history makes this fact clear. We witnessed similar violent actions against protestors by dictators in other recent uprisings (e.g., Egypt and Tunisia in 2011). In these cases, a regime, in an attempt to save itself, resorted to violence against its own people. Today, the Iranian regime is indeed floundering, as this revolution is unmatched in Iran’s modern history. The regime is probably preparing to execute scores more protesters if the protests continue.

In order to subjugate ordinary innocent Iranians, the regime holds fast to a theological Islamic ruling established by ancient religious texts.

But why does the supposedly “Islamic” regime seek to execute Iranian Muslims?

It is a matter of life or death for the dictators. For them, the matter is not about human rights or freedom of expression, but precisely about the survival of the regime. The survival takes priority over public lives. This Islamic value is completely different from values cherished in Western democracy, where there is a much higher view of human rights.

Still, the matter has a further theological dimension to it.

The Shiite authorities see themselves as representing Allah and working for him. They deploy theological and religious claims to quench any opposition. It can be quite shocking to Western readers to know that, according to trusted Islamic rulings, it is not halal (legally permissible) to rebel against any ruler, even if he is unjust. Obey the ruler—Period is an Islamic foundation repeatedly established based on statements in the Quran, traditions in Muhammad’s sayings, and rulings in Islamic jurisprudence.

The Quran states, “obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you.” Since the verse places obeying the ruler at the same level with obeying Allah and Muhammad, the Iranian regime can thus claim to be fulfilling the laws of Allah against rebels. In fact, some Islamic traditions reveal that a Muslim man once came to Muhammad and asked him, “what do you think if we have rulers who rule over us and demand that we discharge our obligations towards them, but they (themselves) do not discharge their own responsibilities towards us? What do you order us to do?” Muhammad stated, “Listen to them and obey them.”

Thus, in order to subjugate ordinary innocent Iranians, the regime holds fast to a theological Islamic ruling established by ancient religious texts. The Iranian authorities view the protestors not as humans who have rights for freedom and dignity, but as disturbers of peace and order who must be silenced. Islamic texts and traditions support that.

But major Iranian influencers are not silent any longer, even as the government cracks down on them more and more. Living under a theocratic tyranny for four decades is all that was needed for Iranians to seek a secularized society. The irony is that the “Islamic” government seems now to lead masses of Iranians to reject anything Islamic. The regime has become odious in the eyes of many Iranians.

The current Iranian uprising is too inspiring not to be supported and backed by the international community. A revived Iranian Shiite regime will only be emboldened if the uprising fails. That is one of the sad lessons of history.


A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim, born and raised in Egypt, holds two PhDs with an emphasis on Islam and its history. He is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught at several schools in the United States and the Middle East, and authored A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad (Baker Academic, 2022), Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018), among others.


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