To the delight of freedom-lovers and theocracy-haters around the world, Iranians are protesting the cruelty, corruption, and overwhelming ineptitude of their government. Despite heavy censorship of the media, the people understand quite well that they suffer from a lack of freedom and opportunity. They see their leaders fund terrorist thugs and quixotic nuclear programs to keep in power while the physical and cultural infrastructure of their once impressive civilization deteriorate ever further.
Luckily, conservative reporters and commentators see this as well and have said something about it. Predictably, the leftist media, which abets and legitimizes autocratic regimes more often than not, has tried to ignore this story. In response to the story becoming public and certain leaders commending the protesters, many in the leftist press and former minions of the Obama’s administration have responded by effectively telling everyone to be quiet and leave the protesters to die and suffer in obscurity, much like they did in 2009 during the Green revolution. Quite rightly, conservative critics have rightly called out the left for its hypocrisy and commend Trump’s vocal support for Iranian protesters.
However, something that is missing from the current argument—and from coverage of Middle Eastern countries in general—is what this event exposes in Muslim countries: they are often divided between a majority populist theocrats who are usually older and a minority of cosmopolitan secular democrats who are usually younger. Besides those in Iran, many of the latter groups have been frustrated by similarly oppressive regimes in Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan. They hope to modernize and make a life for themselves, but they face severe consequences for speaking out.
Most outsiders might not know this, and it does not help that people who do know tend to stay mum about it so that they can push their preferred narratives. For anyone who visits these countries for themselves, they will immediately see that they are not pits of endless deserts with angry peasants burning Trump effigies and Israeli flags. They will mostly likely see educated exceedingly genteel merchants speaking English, using their smartphones, eagerly working for their customers. They will see college students and professors either planning their escape or some kind of reform their society. It is these types who live in the cities and greet visitors.
What they might miss are the throngs of villagers outside the city who often cannot read, harbor a deep suspicion of those outside their tribe, and resist any kind of change. They embrace a fundamentalist form of Islam and generally accept the propaganda without any means to think otherwise. They are essentially Muslim hillbillies, and they are proud of their ignorance and squalor.
Oppressive regimes and terrorist groups thrive off of this second group. They offer easy solutions to their problems along with a scapegoat (usually Jews, Christians, and Westerners) to they blame when their efforts inevitably fail.
Islam aligns quite easily with this kind of rule since it works very much the same way. It too offers a simplified faith with a few concrete requirements and very little thought, and it also scapegoats and promulgates jihad against infidels when people start to question their authority. This system is Sharia law in a nutshell.
Provincialism, Islam, and autocracy all reinforce one another in a powerful way that holds down Middle Eastern countries. As the American forays in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven, penetrating and breaking up this triad is enormously difficult. Even if a stronger power or a reform movement topples the theocrat or dictator in charge, the Muslim hillbillies will simply replace him with another one. Similarly, Christians who try to evangelize and live according to their faith in these areas will automatically become targets of radicalized hillbillies and suffer widespread persecution.
The only way to counteract oppression in the Middle East is to form a counter-triad of education, Christianity, and self-government. The Muslim hillbillies need to finally see their world for what it is through impartial schooling and uncensored media. They need the freedom to either reform their faith or leave it for a better one, which only a tolerant Christianity, not an absolute secularism or “moderate Islam,” allows. When they have these two things, they finally need to stop looking for easy solutions and easy excuses, and finally rule themselves through limited government and free enterprise.
Naturally, this can only happen if the West models it first. Citizens in developed countries tend to take these conditions for granted and fail to see how easily they can fall into the same trap as Middle Eastern countries. America has its own hillbillies who believe the propaganda, scapegoat the other side, and desire a powerful state to make all their dreams come true—and these hillbillies have college degrees and call themselves progressive liberals! In supporting Iranian protesters and all other frustrated Middle Easterners, Americans and Christians can in turn support themselves and reaffirm the principles that made them great in the first place.