... no carrots
October 24, 2001
In the short span of a few weeks, we have witnessed the anguish and sorrow
resulting from the tragic events that began with the terrorist attacks on
the World Trade Center and which have continued with the retaliatory attacks
on Afghanistan (Taliban and Alqaeda terrorist network) to avenge the loss
of life here in the United States.
These and all related incidents have commanded our attention, as we have
watched and listened to news reports with an unnatural fascination. However,
I do not wish to address those events and related issues here at this time.
Rather, I would like to attract your attention to a couple of completely
different observations that have caught my attention as a result of this
horrific terrorist episode.
Our own example: what we are
For the most part, all of us, as individuals and as organizations, unanimously
condemned the massive loss of life and property. With some precious few
exceptions, not very many of us tried to argue that Iran was not involved.
Some of us were more than happy to oblige the media and provide some support
to the claim that the IRI's fingerprints could be found in some roundabout
It is apparent today that Iran has not yet been cleared of suspicion.
The Israelis and their cohorts who want to see Iran hurt are still pushing
the idea that "terrorism started in 1979 as a result of Iranian revolution
and will not end until the eye of the octopus in Tehran is taken out."
I do not need to elaborate on how disastrous and devastating this insinuations
and innuendoes, if taken seriously, could be to Iran and Iranians -- you
all know what it implies.
An Israeli example: What we could be
Within a few hours after the attacks, we saw and heard Ariel Sharon,
Benjamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres, and Israeli sympathizers and supporters
on every television channel trying to shape the agenda in the eyes and minds
of American public, media, and the government. Their main aim was to change
and deflect the discussion.
They did not want the discussion to center around Israel and American
Middle East policies, yet it seemed that anything else was acceptable. Therefore,
they all simultaneously proclaimed that these attacks on the US were the
result of hatred for the "US democracy and the American way of life."
They claimed that the people engaging in the current terrorism hate America
and Americans because they are free and wealthy. Arabs/Muslims are jealous
of American military, economic, and political successes, they proclaimed.
These statements would have been laughable under any other reasonable
circumstances. Yet, lo and behold, these arguments were picked up by every
print and broadcast news group, were repeated day and night, and now, after
a month has gone by, they continue to be repeated as valid explanations.
The avoidance of innuendo directed toward Israel has even occurred in
fictional programs. For example, the other night the popular "West
Wing" show on NBC devoted a program to an evaluation of terrorism.
Every concept and every country was touched upon except one, Israel, of
which no mention was made, good or bad. One way or another, attention was
deflected away from Israel and the Jewish people altogether.
Why am I rehashing this general knowledge? It is because I want to attract
your attention to our own behavior in the aftermath of this tragedy. We
must learn from it.
Collective actions in progress
We have been struggling with the idea of forming an association of sorts
to deal with the IRI's infractions with regard to individual freedoms and
human rights in Iran. I am sure all of us, one way or another, have been
involved in activities against human rights abuses, restrictions on free
press, violations of the Constitution by the judiciary, inability of the
Majles and the President to deal with the right-wing political monopolists.
Among us, there is, and rightly so, an abundance of critics of the IRI.
But up until now, Iran (not the IRI) and Iranians have lacked a base
of support in the West. As a friend proclaims, Iran is basically an "orphan
country. Iran's enemies are more than willing to provide ammunition for
her demise, but it seems a great many of us consider it beneath our personal
political and social standing to speak in defense of Iran -- either because
we are afraid or because we have come to the conclusion that "they
deserve what they get."
Since the IRI government does not behave according to the norms and standards
that we believe to be an acceptable modus operandi, we conclude that it
is reaping what it has sowed. To take a phrase from George W. Bush "either
you are with us or against us." Bin Laden says either your are with
the Muslim brothers or with the infidels. IRI says you are either darooni
(insider) or birooni (outsider) and to the Iranian expatriates you are either
a lackey of the IRI or in the opposition -- the choice is between black
and white and nothing in between is acceptable.
Why Iranian Diaspora needs to chart a new course?
We need to come up with a better alternative for at least three reasons.
Our children do not have a place to call "the old country" because
of our relationship with our motherland. This has robbed our children of
a sense of identity. Mindful of their parents' sensitivity and perhaps out
of respect for them, they cannot show the emotional vacuum they feel relative
to other children from other parts of the world who proudly express their
Somehow, and I do not yet know how, we need to make sure that our children
can connect to the old country without being fearful of hurting our feelings,
and without being ashamed. We need to set the example by finding a way of
defending the old country without associating ourselves with the repressive
elements and factions of the IRI regime.
Jewish Americans chastise the Israeli government when it does something
unacceptable and defend it when it is attacked. For example, a few days
ago, when Ariel Sharon put his foot in his mouth with regard to the Israeli
interests in the coalition building of President Bush, Jewish Americans
publicly and privately forced him to apologize.
The Israeli government cannot afford to do without its American cousins,
and both sides know that. We, on the other hand, have never been on the
side of the IRI government, whatever the case might have been. We are all
sticks and no carrots. While our critical words and deeds might be irritating
to the IRI regime, except for the technical advices that they need to run
they country, they are mostly inconsequential.
This should, of course, be not taken to imply that we should stop our
human rights advocacy at all. It would be more than disastrous if we do.
However, since the Iranian Diaspora is not an asset to the IRI, the government
can choose to ignore its valid critical arguments, as it has done for the
most part, or to use our input when it serves them.
The other reason is our responsibility to Iran and Iranians. Can we invite
disaster to the people of Iran just to hurt the regime, like Reza Pahlavi
and similar "patriots" have been suggesting? Or, is it our responsibility,
at the very least, to raise our voices in an attempt to be heard, to interpret,
clarify and protect the people of Iran, and to attempt to communicate our
concern and insights to the governing leaders of Iran? Do we owe Iranians,
at least, our protecting voices in the face of global attacks?
Why haven't we had a good relationship with Iranian regimes?
With the exception of the first couple of years after the revolution,
Iranians living abroad have historically had no inclination to identify
with Iranian leaders, as a whole or with a subset, even those that might
have been considered progressive. During the Pahlavi regime and continuing
into the current Islamic regime, neither the government nor the Iranian
Diaspora trusted each other.
The Pahlavi regime tried, in some cases successfully, to persuade and
co-opt individuals into its circle. But due to its authoritarian nature,
it could not unconditionally open the system to all people from all walks
of life. The case is more difficult for the Islamic Republic, which is totalitarian
in nature. It is composed of a closed and close-knit circle, and it is more
difficult, if not impossible, for a person with a different ideology to
break into the inner sanctum (darooni) and be trusted and taken seriously.
This does not mean an individual (birooni) could not be used as a technocrat
in the service of the regime. In all likelihood, a birooni individual would
not be given a chance to become part of the system. Something like a second
class citizenship would be the most that could be attained by those who
are outside the inner circle of the system.
As long as an individual might be useful, he/she could stay and provide
a service, and, if and when the individual loses his/her usefulness, he/she
would be discarded like a piece of used trash. We have seen too many instances
wherein those who were rising stars of yesteryears were disqualified for
the offices that they had held before during the vetting of the candidates
for the Majles and Presidency elections. So, most Iranian Diaspora has viewed
neither the Pahlavi regime nor the current regime with affinity.
For Iranian Diaspora, and that includes almost all of us for whom return
to Iran is no option, the ideal government that is characterized by openness,
transparency, and equal rights, and that offers opportunity for all is only
important in terms of what it would mean for the Iranians back in the old
country. For us, a vital and prosperous country is a source of pride and
That is why we argue for a government of the people, by the people, and
for the people. It is within an open society that we would see much less
abuse of power, fewer violations of individual freedom and human rights
(now rampant in Iran and other less open and democratic countries like Saudi
Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Iraq, among others).
What do we need to do:
In order for our critical voices to be valued by the IRI, we need to
become a collective asset to them. Presently, we expect to hit the government
on the head with a stick all the time and expect it to respect us and value
our critical voices. This has not been very fruitful. There are two questions
before us now.
The first question pertains to our relation with the Iranian authorities.
Should we reevaluate our own approach to the IRI? Do we continue to reject
the regime in its entirety until the "judgement day?" Or, is there
a way of supporting what we consider to be progressive individuals or factions
without being supportive of the regime in general? That is, how could we
chart a new course without losing our independence and credibility? We all
know it is very easy to take the high ground and be anti-whatever. But how
do we transform this into a service for Iran and Iranians?
The second question pertains to our own community here abroad. In the
last few years, partly due to a new level of maturity and partly due to
our needs, Iranian Diaspora has created civil organizations for various
purposes. We have been able to take advantage of the opportunities that
a civil society provides its citizenry; something that we aspire for Iran
and Iranians to have back in the old country.
However, the organizations we have created are fragmented and their powers
are defused. There is no organizational structure to bring all of us under
one umbrella, with a strong and powerful voice in society. Rather, we each
dance to a different tune, and our lack of cohesiveness is neither useful
nor helpful in times of crisis.
We need to create a web of independently controlled and operated organizations
that are connected to a few regional units, with a national center, all
with elected Boards and Directors whose terms are limited. International
confederations could share information and resources.
These international / national / regional centers, could provide forums
for us to engage in dialogue, and achieve a unified voice with which we
can seek to protect and defend our interests here abroad, and to communicate
vis-à-vis our homeland, Iran, and Iranians. These independent organizations
would be serve as a bridge to Iran and the Iranians. If interested in perusing
this idea please contact me by electronic
Hamid Zangeneh is professor economics at Widener University, Chester,
Pennsylvania. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of