“Everything is true; nothing is permitted.” That statement can often be not just the Supreme Leader’s opinion but his edict as well. It is the obverse of a cryptic phrase attributed to Hassan’e Sabah, the eleventh-century Persian leader of the Nizari Ismaili Shia sect (better known as the “Assassins”), which he uttered on his deathbed at his fortress at Alamut and which the American beat generation, most notably William S. Burroughs, widely propagated in its original form: nothing is true; everything is permitted. Which can also be the Supreme Leader’s edict, when it suits his purposes.
While the names given to the governmental bodies sound Orwellian, their functions, at least as originally intended, were meant to ensure a form of mardomsalari, or democracy. “Supreme” is a word added on in English; in Farsi the title of the Leader is just that, Rahbar. He is the jurisprudent at the head of the velayat-e-faqih, the “guardianship of the jurisprudent,” or as some prefer in the practical case of Iran, “rule of the jurisprudent.”
The Guardian Council is arguably the one body (other than the Guards, who are loyalists by definition and are by law to remain neutral in political matters) that is effectively appointed directly by the Supreme Leader, and it has always reflected his conservative bias.
The truth about the summer of 2009 is that there never really was a revolution, or even the beginnings of a revolution—green, Twitter, velvet, or otherwise—no matter how hard some, on both sides, tried to Tiananmen-ize the protests, ascribe sedition and insurrection to the opposition, or contort the unrest into analogies with the Iran of 1979. Putting a Western face on the unrest, one that viewed the teeming masses of Iranians as agitating for a liberal democracy and freedom from the rule of the mullahs, was never going to tell the whole story. Initially, the Iranians who marched, protested,...