The news out of Iran is great—if you're a fundamentalist Muslim delighted by Tehran's pursuit of nukes and regional hegemony or a fundamentalist Christian eager for the End Times on a battlefield called Armageddon. With the missiles flying and the nuts cheering, it's hard to remember this may merely be one of several pauses in Iran's slow and by-no-means-inevitable move toward democracy. That evolution might be traced to a moment exactly 100 years ago, when Nasser ed-Din Shah auctioned off Iran to Western interests, largely to fund his expensive tastes in clothes, furniture and travel. The result was a bankrupt monarchy and a once-great empire reduced to a colonial outpost. Then as now, some Iranians looked to the West—not as the source of their trouble, but for a solution. In the fall of 1906, they created a constitution; democracy crept through the country's bustling bazaars, crowded avenues, luxurious palaces and government buildings. All social classes had a role to play—not just merchants and pointy-headed intellectuals, but also minorities, powerful tribesmen, even religious leaders. But the democratic impulse runs deep in Iran, from the first declaration of human rights by Cyrus the Great (who liberated the Jews from their Babylonian captivity in what is now Iraq) to the millions of Iranians who fled the Islamic revolution for the West; many of them settled in and are prosperous members of the Orange County community. This weekend, we'll have a rare chance to hear top-notch scholars from around the world as they reflect on the movement of 1906—and why 1906 haunts the nightmares of fundamentalists of two great religions.
The Centennial of the Persian Constitutional Convention, Chapman University, Kennedy Hall 237, 1 University Dr., Orange. Sat.-Sun., Sept. 16-17, 9 a.m. Free, but limited seating, so arrive early if you know what's good for you.