A bridge from winter to spring

Reza Pahlavi's Misagh

February 10, 2003
The Iranian

Reza Pahlavi's Misagh (Covenant) with the Iranian People is a significant document for it aptly gauges the current political situation in Iran and contains ground-breaking strategies for safeguarding its democratic future. It was issued on the first of Bahman (21 January), in time for an anniversary that marks the frosty winter of our country's existence. It does not presume to lecture and patronize the Iranian people, but it echoes their collective cry for freedom and justice.

Reza Pahlavi believes that our nation has learned invaluable lessons from the crucible of its past affliction. It has clearly recognized for instance that religious government is the bane of both religion and the government. The instigators of the Islamic Revolution acted under the pretence of rectifying public morality and revitalizing religious belief, but in reality proved themselves to be unscrupulous self-servers, devoid of any ethical principles.

To all true believers of Islam, it should have been evident from the outset that to presume to establish a government mirroring the ideals of their faith was a terrible insult. How could the spiritual teachings of a great religion be incarnated in a government led by a narrow-minded and fanatical clergy?

The proponents of various political ideologies who also offered a formula for all that ailed the country could not keep up the pretence for very long. Tried at the litmus test of reality, they eventually revealed their sordid and spurious colors. Their bankruptcy and violence became blatant to everyone.

In Misagh Reza Pahlavi argues that the tragic experience of these betrayals has provided our people with a riper perception and greater maturity. He believes the excruciating marks of the past quarter of a century will be deeply engraved as a cautionary tale in our national memory. He writes:

Many of the notions that throughout our history, especially the history of the past century, have created a great deal of confusion and misconceptions in the country and have lured political forces into the trap of religious swindlers and doctrinarians of different ideologies have now lost their real basis and public appeal. In their place, the Iranian nation has gained such a degree of awareness to be able to clearly discern the distinction between the role of faith and religious belief on the one hand and the task of government on the other. This awareness is of crucial importance for the future establishment of democracy in our country.

This awareness of course, is not unique to the people of our country. One of the great advantages of living in the twenty-first century is that it is an era disenchanted with ideologies. No rational human being worth his salt would any longer make the mistake of seeking cozy comfort in ready-made and pre-packaged philosophical assumptions.

If some people needed the collapse of the Soviet Union as a proof to recognize the folly of constructing a state around Marxist philosophy, there were others also who required to witness the catastrophic consequences of building a republic based on Islamic doctrine. Those experiments were performed for the benefit of all those who lacked the imagination to foresee its deadly outcome.

Those Iranians who have lived through the calamitous experience of the Islamic Republic have no excuse but to recognize that religious extremism and political dogmatism are spent forces. They have been debunked and disgraced time and time again. The future belongs to those nations who are capable of producing the best thinking and analytical minds.

But what do we mean by thinking? We surely cannot mean the exercise performed by all those pseudo-intellectuals and so called academics of our country whose truckload of accumulated knowledge put on its screeching brakes and went belly up in the presence of a fanatical clergy.

Thinking refers to that mental discipline which in William Blake's words frees us from "our mind-forged manacles". An activity which in Forough Farokhzad's description will enable us "to burrow our way out from our hateful night, into the brightness of daylight." D.H. Lawrence, the great British novelist giving a definition of "thought" tells us that: "Man is a thought-adventurer. But by thought, we mean, of course, discovery. We don't mean by this telling himself stale facts and drawing false conclusions, which usually passes as thought. Thought is an adventure, not a trick."

Putting aside very few bright exceptions, what has come to be commonly viewed as the class of modern intellectuals in our country has, by and large been interested in thought as a "trick". It has been busy drawing false conclusions from stale facts.

We have to admit that if we had real disinterested intellectuals capable of measuring and evaluating what is truly significant in our culture and important for the future of our civilization, we would not so easily have fallen into the trap set by Khomeini and his maniacal cohorts. If we accept that what failed us in 1979 was a collective failure of perception the corollary then would be that what can save us from our predicament can only be achieved through an enlightened assessment of our situation and a sensible course of action.

That is why all through his campaign Reza Pahlavi's appeal has never been a call to arms but a summoning of our country's moral and intellectual resources. His efforts are not so much devoted to the restoration of monarchy in his homeland, as they are to the restoration of political sanity and intellectual clarity. He does not offer us a political bridge so afterwards he can fold it up and say: behold this is a fait accompli and the situation is unalterable and irreversible. He believes that political legitimacy should emanate from the people and no system in the future should be allowed to despotically perpetuate itself in power.

To ensure such a system he offers a democratic safeguard. If it happens that in a freely organized national referendum the Iranian people opt for constitutional monarchy, "the democratic legitimacy of this system can be protected from the hereditary system by putting in place a mechanism that would require the democratic approval of the future monarchs by the people. This should be done in a way to guarantee that the institution of constitutional monarchy will never see itself exempt from seeking a renewal of support from the people."

This is not the offer of a man making generous concessions on privileges he does not enjoy. It rather reveals the depth and insight of a political thinker meditating on various implications of liberty. His approach is the antithesis of a system which denies the legitimacy of the people's right to decide about their future and declares the citizens of the country mentally inadequate and in need of clerical tutelage.

A system which has curtailed the freedom of expression in order to keep people in darkness and fear like helpless hostages. The Islamic Republic took control of the country and has kept itself in power by the promotion of ignorance and dissemination of misinformation. It committed the unforgivable crime of abusing the laudable moral fervor of the population for its own ignoble ends.

Those who mastermind acts of terrorism and incite women and children to blow themselves up and massacre innocent people for various and sundry causes manipulate and mislead a noble sentiment in the consciousness of their benighted victims. For more than two decades our homeland has been hijacked by those who have perverted the naive and uninformed desire of the ill-educated or uneducated masses for putting an end to injustice in the world into a ferocious and blind force of destruction.

Will our nation be able to shake itself from this nightmare and find a rational course of action before it is too late? This certainly seems to be the worry of a prince who cannot stand by and see the annihilation of his country's hopes and dreams. He writes with profound anxiety of the means of mass communication being turned by mullahs into instruments of hate-mongering and propaganda:

The whole educational and cultural establishment of the country has been exploited by a group of clergy for diffusing ignorance and obscurantism. By their absolute monopoly of the country's means of modern mass communication they have imposed relentless control over the social atmosphere and the minds of credulous masses. Spreading dogmatism and superstition, they have gone even as far as inciting religious zealots to act as vigilantes, carrying out sentences in the name of enforcing the law of the sharia. For these people it is easier to kill a human being than an animal. They appear in front of television cameras gloating over how they have shed the blood of their compatriots whose only guilt has been poverty and destitution. This runaway fanaticism and barbarity that the regime is busy with all its power and available means to promote has become the conceptual wellspring of a new form of terrorism . It preaches securing political objectives inside the country and abroad by means of violence. In such a manner a very dangerous situation vis a vis the all-inclusive Western civilization has been created which might eventually lead into unpredictable events moving our dear homeland close to a perilous confrontation with those powers that perceive religious extremism as a threat to their national security.

What we can see described in the above passage is the depth and thoroughness of the destruction wreaked by the clerical regime. To put to right what they have systematically ruined will need a great deal of intelligent effort. For Reza Pahlavi the first big step comes with the unity of all political forces of the country whose common desire is to achieve democracy and representative government in Iran. He believes that in order to to pull our country out of the Dark Ages and take it into the twenty-first century, we need to "fundamentally alter our mode of political perception".

We ought to develop a new attitude that enables us to successfully meet the challenges of modern civilization. Our nationalism for instance should be informed by a thoughtful regard for the continuity of our great tradition and at the same time a dynamic readiness for advancement and change:

With a genuine understanding of our history and cultural identity, we need to embrace modern civilization with full conviction. We should find our real allies within those communities which have spearheaded this civilization and not amongst the primitive-minded desert dwellers who have no regard for the sanctity of human life and whose only claim to fame is to encourage people to oppose today's civilization by acts of suicide. Only in this way we can lay the foundation for rebuilding a country which is completely Iranian and at the same time in pace with the advancements of today's world.

One of the important implications of embracing modern civilization would be to relinquish domestic repression and seek peaceful means for settling international disputes. After the 1979 victory of irrationality over common sense, not only was Iran set back for decades but the whole region suffered a tremendous blow. A great country which was and could continue to be a source of moral and intellectual inspiration for the whole region and the developing world, all of a sudden was transformed into a center of political instability and a breeding ground for international terrorism.

The Islamic Republic turned into a great manufacturer and exporter of violence. Intimidation became the main fuel that ran its political machine. Today the mullahs are well aware that their fearful regime depends on violence for its survival. Many fearful regimes however have crumbled in the past when faced with the united and determined opposition of the people. Reza Pahlavi has promised again and again to see his people through this historical challenge and act as a unifying force for bringing down the clerical dictatorship.

While only the future can tell whether he will succeed in his plan to restore democracy to his country, it is very clear that he has already achieved a great moral victory. He has become the incarnation of that unyielding trait within the Iranian character which throughout the centuries has refused to capitulate to ignorance and tyranny. In Misagh he offers his people a bridge from the winter of madness and fanaticism into the spring of enlightenment and wisdom.

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