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The failure of Iran's Hezbollah paramilitaries to make "a serious attempt to break up" the peaceful reformist student protests over the sentence was thought to be associated with Supreme Leader Khamenei's implicit criticism of the sentence and the "impartiality" of his failing to side with conservative hardliners. - Source

According to Wikipedia, impartiality means "is a principle of justice holding that decisions should be based on objective criteria, rather than on the basis of bias, prejudice, or preferring the benefit to one person over another for improper reasons."

Despite considering the above definition, I have problem understanding the meaning of impartiality in the paragraph. I don't know if it says that the person in question has failed to be impartial, or has been impartial in failing to be side with conservatives. I am puzzled.

  • If he (Khamenei) sides with conservative hardliners, it would be partial (not impartial). But if he doesn't (fails to) side with them, it would be impartial. – user140086 Feb 28 '16 at 5:45
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It might help to follow the link to the source that Wikipedia cites:

That could be the time for Mr Khamenei to unleash his “popular forces”. These are the paramilitaries and bully-boys who were instrumental in putting down riots in 1999. So far, there has been no confrontation. Taking their line from the supreme leader, who has tried to put about his impartiality by implicitly criticising Mr Aghajari's sentence, the paramilitaries made no serious attempt to break up the peaceful student protests.

From this, we can see that the quoted word impartial represents a direct quote and not an ironic one.

The story is about a death sentence given to an Iranian who had criticized the theocrats running the country. Khamenei, the theocratic reactionary and "Supreme Leader" of Iran, ordered a review of the verdict in the face of protests. (The sentence was commuted to five years in prison.) Ordinarily, one would expect Khamenei to have sided with the hard-line conservative judge, but he didn't. (This is the "implicit criticism.") The article claims that the reason is that Khamenei has been trying to establish a reputation for being even-handed or impartial between the hard-liners and the reformers.

So Khamenei failed to side with the hard-liners (since he had the death sentence commuted) and he failed to side with the reformers (since he allowed a five-year jail sentence to stand). That's what passes for impartiality in Iran.

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The implication of the phrasing is that Supreme Leader Khamenei is also a conservative, and that he sides with the "conservative hardliners" as a matter of routine, so his failing to side with them automatically in this matter is taken as evidence of impartiality: he actually evaluated this situation from a more objective viewpoint and came to an independent conclusion instead.

Because the Supreme Leader agreed that the sentence was too harsh, the Hezbollah paramilitaries did not make a serious attempt to break up the protests (which were also saying that the sentence was too harsh); you don't need to go around shutting up people who are agreeing with the Supreme Leader, after all.

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