walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
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A Picture from the Nightmare in Iran

A remarkable photo taken just before dawn in Tehran on Sunday is making its way around the web. In it, a 23-year old man sentenced to death for armed robbery lays his head on the shoulder of his executioner; the hangman, masked and covered in black, embraces the condemned with his arm. The stirring scene comes not from one of Iran’s many prison hangings, but from a rare public execution in the middle of the ancient capital.

Some pictures are worth at least a blog post, if not more. The two young men hanged in Tehran’s Park-e Honarmandan (Artists Park) on Sunday were convicted of stabbing a man, stealing his bag, and taking $20. During the trial, one of the men claimed that poverty drove them to crime. A judge convicted them of “waging war against God,” and sentenced them to death.

This kind of “war against God” is nevertheless spreading. The weakness of the country’s economy—intensified by U.S.-led sanctions and compounded by the regime’s chronic mismanagement—is creating an alarming level of desperation among ordinary people. In any country, acute poverty can lead to more criminal activity. Iran’s revolutionary Islamist regime is particularly ill equipped to deal with such a situation; that petty thieves are hanged in public squares for crimes against God, rather than rehabilitated in prisons for the sake of the public good, suggests the regime is more concerned with fortifying its power through fear and awe than with feeding and employing its people.

In a way we’re witnessing the ugly side of successful sanctions. As the Iranian rial continues to fall, the economy struggles to breathe, and a wedge drives the regime and its citizens even farther apart. But the mix of economic hardship, legal cruelty, and political paranoia we’re seeing is combustible and worrisome.

The press often caricatures Iran as a country of religious zealots marching inexorably towards a nuclear bomb. The picture taken Sunday paints a much more complicated scenario, and hints at the pain most Iranians are forced to endure.

Ordinary Iranians deserve better than the regime and economy they currently have. Via Meadia hopes the regime will look around at the misery it has wrought, come to an agreement with the West on nukes, and make this mess a thing of the past.

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