IN HIS 1998 speech to the American people, Iran’s reformist president, Muhammad Khatami, said he prayed that “at the close of the 20th century, people would . . . begin a new century of humanity, understanding and durable peace, so that all humanity would enjoy the blessings of life.’’
Khatami’s address marked a stunning departure from the anti-Americanism that had fueled the Iranian revolution. A scholar of The Enlightenment, he praised Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,’’ which “reflects the virtuous and human side of this American civilization. In [Tocqueville’s] view, the significance of this civilization is in the fact that liberty found religion as a cradle for its growth, and religion found protection of liberty as its divine calling. Therefore, liberty and faith never clashed.’’
By insisting on the compatibility of religion and liberty in America, Khatami laid a philosophical foundation for bridging the political divide between Iran and the United States. He did not vilify the United States as the “Great Satan.’’ Instead he held the United States as a model for emulation - a democratic civilization whose success reflected the ingenious combination of the principles of religion and the virtues of liberty.
The promise of hope abounded. Like the mythical Persian Phoenix, Khatami and the reformists carried many dreams on their wings.