The old saying “two Jews, three opinions” is not a cultural canard. In fact, Jews have long known that it is not only permissible, but in fact admirable, to have a reasoned point of view – or maybe several points of view. Coupled with religious injunctions mandating civility, Jewish teachings have helped propel us into discussions and debates on many of the major issues of the day.
Last week, the U.S. political system borrowed from our long tradition, bringing two opposing sides together for the sake of the union (just as we are taught that Hillel and Shammai debated for the sake of heaven).
If this interpretation seems a bit romantic – after all, we’re dealing here only with the televised Q & A session that brought President Obama to the House Republican retreat – our enthusiasm is understandable. What we saw here was a refreshing, dramatic, and enlightening exercise in free and productive discussion, and one that gave the public real information, as opposed to posturing.
Contrast that with what is happening in Iran.
Last Thursday, Iran executed two men who had protested against the country’s June elections, challenging the legitimacy of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory. Last Friday, extremist cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati called for the immediate execution of more opposition activists, perhaps to forestall planned rallies coinciding with the Feb. 11 anniversary of the 1979 revolution. In all, 11 protesters have been sentenced to death for “waging war against God.” (See the editorial above for other actions taken by those who claim to know what God wants.)
Mir Hossein Mousavi, the defeated reformist candidate in the country’s recent presidential election, has said he will continue his struggle. It will be hard, and it certainly will be dangerous. The bravery of those who continue to speak out against the tyranny of the Iranian government is breathtaking and should be commended.
But if Iran is an extreme case, we must remember that open debate, discussion, and protest are not characteristic of most world political systems. That we enjoy these rights is a blessing.
President Obama has said he would like his conversation with the Republican Party to continue. For the sake of our country, our ideals, and our precious democracy, let’s hope that it does.