The Fracturing Iranian Theocracy: Exploring the Secular Student Movement in Iran

For Immediate Release: July 9, 2005
Contact: Jefferson Seaver, Communications - (207) 358-9785

AMHERST, NY (June 9, 2005) – A new trend appears to be developing; a growing majority of young, secular students are rejecting “Islamic democracy” in favor of Western-influenced liberal democracy. Dissatisfied with the current theocratic regime, these students are at the forefront of fundamental shifts now underway in Iranian society. Today a pro-Western, media-savvy, anti-“fundamentalist reformist,” and explicitly secular student movement is afoot to dismantle Iranian theocracy. Largely ignored by the international media, recent polls show that an overwhelming majority favor a new referendum asking one question: theocracy or democracy? Student activists who have been exiled to America and Britain and in Iran are disseminating calls for secular democracy through street demonstrations, Web sites, and radio and satellite-TV programs that broadcast in Iran.

“The Next Secular Revolution,” a special section in the June/July 2005 issue of

Free Inquiry

magazine—on newsstands now—investigates this student movement. Contributing authors include Roya Hakakian, a writer, producer, and documentary film-maker who has worked with

60 Minutes

, and the Discovery and Learning Channels; Soroush Danesh, a student in Tehran; and an interview by noted scholar Ibn Warraq, research fellow at the Center for Inquiry, with Michael Ledeen, foreign policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute.

In “Portrait of the Activist as a Young Man,” Hakakian charts the rise and fall of student activism in Iran. Hakakian documents its development from its origins as a pro-theocracy movement—one that was largely an oppressive arm of the state—to the recent emergence of a new pro-secular movement, centered around Iran’s many new universities.

In “A Secular Student in Tehran,” Danesh, a student activist inside on the ground, tells us that “secular organizations cannot operate openly and freely under the current regime. For this reason, students are attempting to establish chapters, and plan activities at their campuses across the country.” Danesh points out that while many Islamic students were once supportive of religion, many are now being attracted to secularism.

In his eye-opening interview with Ibn Warraq, “Islam and Terrorism,” Michael Ledeen expresses dismay at the worldwide media establishment’s lack of coverage and blatant disregard for the current secular student uprising. Ledeen considers this “scandalous” and believes that an anti-American, anti-Bush sentiment along with a professional fear of being expelled or even killed for reporting the truth may be contributing to the media’s reluctance to acknowledge the increasing rage of the Iranian people towards theocracy.

Just what remains to be seen from the burgeoning student movement, no one knows for sure, yet Ledeen doesn’t believe that a move toward democratic revolution in Iran will be a student revolution; rather, it will be a popular uprising that will include most of Iranian society; “I’ve always believed that, if we were serious, the Iranian people ought to be able to win their freedom within a year or two. With a bit of luck, even faster.”

To arrange interviews with authors or to request copies, contact Free Inquiry's press office at

or phone Nathan Bupp or John Gaeddert at (716) 636 7571 x 218/x 219. Excerpts of this special report in Free Inquiry are posted at

Free Inquiry

magazine is published bimonthly by the Council for Secular Humanism, a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization dedicated to the promotion of science and reason. Free Inquiry features thoughtful and provocative commentary from such leading political and social commentators as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Wendy Kaminer, and Nat Hentoff.

# # #

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at