March 28, 2001
Facing our demons
Dear Mr Hoveyda,
I read your article, "Shah
or president?", with interest. What is perhaps missing is the
prerequisites for a political solution to the Iranian situation. The political
solution will come in time and it will come from within. I agree with
the principal point that any society that reaches the sufficient maturity
to bring democracy, by definition will not need a strong man in this day
But before we get there or before we can establish a lasting secular
democracy, we Iranians need to face some of the demons that are part of
our national character. It is because of these fundamental shortcomings
that we have made the same mistakes throughout our modern history and
caused the failure of all our attempts at democratic rule since 1906.
No one likes criticism, least of all emotional people such as ourselves.
But given the scale of the problem, unless we are prepared to admit and
rectify these fundamental issues then we are bound to repeat the mistakes
of the past and will not make any progress. Analysis of specific periods
although helpful will not help address the recurring problems.
You touched on one such problem in your article, namely the lack of
civility. I would suggest to you and such issues are more fundamental
to our lack of progress than clever political and economic analysis. We
get very angry when Westerners accuse of being uncivilised, justly so
as the Anglo-Saxons love putting down others. Yet if we are true to ourselves,
we are not civil to each other. We are quick to judge and intolerant of
Given the last point, it explains a lot about one contributing factor
to the failure of brief periods of democracy in Iran: politics by innuendo.
As someone who grew up in exile, it is impossible reading our history
to trust anyone. The reason is best described by Sir Reader Bullard the
British Ambassador to Iran during World War II. He is typical of the mean,
anti-Iranian colonial civil servant: 'I continue to wonder how the very
few honest Persian refrain from committing suicide. There is a dead set
against any official who wishes to be honest, because he shows up the
others, and as the common weapon in such cases is a FLASE ACCUSATION,
THE FOULER THE BETTER....'
Or his description of the Press: 'The venom in some of the newspapers
would be surprising if one did not know that a large number of them only
print a few copies and live by blackmail. I admit that the problem of
the press and the Parliament in a country like this, where the people
are irresponsible and almost to a man corrupt, is beyond me, and that
I do not see HOW THE COUNTRY CAN ESCAPE THE CHOICE BETWEEN ANARCHY AND
DESPOTISM.' The capitals are mine.
Setting aside his bias, there is a truth about us in the substance
of his words which we have experienced time and time again throughout
our nation's history. The words have the same effect on one as Rostam's
letter to his brother in Shahnameh. Bullard of course fails to mention
that Her Mahesty's Government made full use of this shortcoming of ours
as a people who are too quick to cast the first stone. The superpowers
unleashed the same venom against any honest Iranian politician and did
their best to destroy their reputations.
I quoted Bullard on purpose to bring me to my next point, which is
escapism. Something in our psyche makes us shut our eyes to the truth about
ourselves. Maybe it is because we are tired of the cycle of construction
and destruction through our history and we respond by apathy. We seek
refuge in conspiracy theories and to blame anything except ourselves.
If we allow Johnny foreigner to manipulate our affairs, then that is our
fault. We must bear the responsibility; it is naive to expect foreigners
to behave any differently.
The most unfortunate characteristic of ours is putting our own interests
above all else. It is so rare to see Iranians organise themselves using
cooperative principals to either lobby for our interests to help the less
fortunate Iranians. We are prepared to sacrifice little of our own comfort.
Neither are we prepared to agree to a set of principles covering basic
democratic code of conduct to allow an effective opposition to be formed.
Despite the tragedies, which have befallen our country, Iranians in
Iran have learnt valuable lessons. The main one being self-reliance. Only
time can tell how soon the evolution process in Iran will result in change,
barring any disruptive externally driven events, or stepping up of the
repression. Unfortunately we Iranians in exile, despite our success in
the West, seem to have learnt little and to hear us talk you think everyman