For democracy to take root, we need a renaissance within
the Iranian psyche
March 10, 2005
“... This refers to those bureaucrats, party leaders, factory managers,
writers, and other elements of Soviet society who seek to re-impose upon the
country the kind of tough, police-backed, authoritarian, narrow-minded, anti-intellectual,
anti-foreign, chauvinistic, and paranoid style society characteristic of the
Stalin era... Many of these sincerely believe that Stalin’s way is
the only in which so vast and naturally disorderly and diverse a conglomeration
as the 230 million Soviet people can be governed. Many know no other way
governing except by the use of threat, force and fear. They have no experience
in participatory management... ”
This is an excerpt from the essay “Progress, Co-existence and Intellectual
Freedom” published in 1968 by Andrei D. Sakharov, an outspoken Russian
physicist, criticizing the Soviet system and the neo-Stalinists of the time.
As old as the subject may be, if we replace the word “Soviet” with “Iranian” and “Stalin” with “Clergy” the
paragraph seems to, almost equally and sadly, apply to Iran in the year 2005
As we witness throughout history, certain humans, or more accurately sub-humans,
tend to believe that they are different from others before them. There seems
to be a tendency for individuals who reach a certain level of power and fame
to be self-deluded into believing that they and their ideology are the final
answer. They disregard any self-doubt, close all doors to criticism, and live
out the entire process of autocracy and inadvertently finish the cycle with
the usual self-destruction from within.
Many such autocratic societies have come and gone in the past century but
what is remarkable is that upon approaching any supporters of these repressive
systems at any one time or place, it is extremely difficult to convince them
that they are NOT a special case and that they shall NOT survive the rational
and natural social forces which exist in all human societies.
Whether or not individual humans recognize these laws, human societies will
continue to evolve based on their own fundamental laws. The key is to discover
these laws and to design social policies around them and not around one’s
personal taste or interest.
Skimming across the Iranian political history in the past century, a repeated
pattern of the above cycle emerges. Beginning with the Iranian
Constitutional Revolution in 1906 a relative amount of progress was made and social freedom
was, to a certain degree, experienced. Then it was a downhill trend when a
naïve and a self-proclaimed autocrat, Reza Shah, applied his unjust rule
on a people who were just as naïve. In the name of modernization, he thoughtlessly
destroyed the foundations of a new-born democracy. Shamefully abdicated in
1941, he left a whole society in a wretched and abused state.
A few years of recovery passed before the next dictator, Mohammad Reza Shah,
fell into the same egotistical trap as his predecessor and began exercising
his “natural” rights as a king. As before, beginning with an initial
high level of social freedom decreasing gradually to the point of suffocation
and ending with the infamous Islamic Revolution, in 1979, the cycle was repeated.
Considering the trend, it is safe to state that the current regime’s
destiny is by no means any different from its predecessors or from the fate
of its northerly neighbor or any other dictatorial society for that matter.
From history, it seems that Iranian people are repeatedly seduced, by various
political individuals who sell hopes of a better future, into fervently desiring
a regime change. They fall into that trap every time and succeed in achieving
that goal, however, they live to taste the fruit of their hardships but only
for a short while.
What actually happens during that short time interval within the Iranian
society and the ruling parties and why do they repeatedly fail to maintain
their gained level of independence?
From the above trend in the past century one can with certainty predict that
should there be another change of regime in Iran in the near future a similar
cycle will be experienced by the next generation, only under a different auspice.
Therefore, it makes more sense to step back and stop pushing blindly for a
superficial regime change. Instead let us look more objectively at the roots
of this repeated failure.
As much as there is demand for group reform there is very little effort made
in addressing personal or individual reform. Consider the difference in the
value system of a modern day Briton and one from a century ago. Undoubtedly,
individual developments and social progress made by the British is immense,
by any standard. And the same holds for most other open societies.
In contrast, consider the difference in thinking of a modern day average
Iranian to one living about the time of the constitutional revolution, 1906.
In some instances, one might even find regression. In other words, Iranians
of a hundred years ago may be wiser than their counterparts alive today.
One of the reasons for the lack of progress and the inability to maintain
a free society may be due to the fact that Iranians do not have clear definitions
of relationships to oneself and to others.
At the personal level Iranians lack the ability to self-scrutinize and to
implement self-reform. The concept of “self” isn’t even defined
in the Iranian culture. This may be related back to Sufism where the concept
of “self” is actually interpreted as strictly “selfishness” and
At the social level they clearly lack the ability to co-operate, ranking
as the number one social disability in any Iranian community. Furthermore,
the concept of “team spirit” is non-existent and the art of debating
is not even part of the school curriculum.
Since the individual has no defined concept of “self” and does
not master the art of communication with his environment and community, consequently
that individual hardly knows what he wants and where he needs to be. He can
not properly plan and plans are never implemented properly anyways, therefore,
he can not have a future.
Similarly, as the culture of learning lessons from past mistakes does not
exist, his past is lost also. There is only the present and the aim is to survive.
The result is some 65 million people rushing to live for the next 24 hours.
It is naïve to think that any regime change will remedy these problems
over a decade, let alone overnight.
With this being an approximation to reality, it would seem wise to suggest
to those in favor of a physical regime change to vote instead for a fundamental
social change, disregarding the ruling party. Perhaps then people will begin
to realize that real progress and democracy is not just the tangibles such
as a room filled with 290 men and women called the “Parliament”,
but it is the intangibles. It is the mental thought processes of those men
and women that is the real gauge for progress.
With more than 30 parliamentary elections since its birth, the Iranian Parliament
is still only a subject matter for the minds of a minority. Unfortunately,
its ineffectiveness has rendered it as a modern day farce, a useless redundancy.
The failure may be linked to the key revolution which has yet to take place.
That is, the occurrence of a renaissance within the Iranian psyche without
which no democratically elected government will be successful in the long run.
Perhaps if Iranian political activists shifted their focus and became cultural
activists instead, some light may be shed into this recurring problem.
Our essay on “Progress, Co-existence and Intellectual Freedom” would
“... This refers to those, party leaders, factory managers, writers,
and other elements of the Iranian society who seek to spread upon the country
the kind of Moderate, Tolerant, Liberal, Open-minded, Intellectual, Co-operative,
Trustworthy, and Culturally Open society... Many of these sincerely believe
that the Iranian way is One of the successful ways in which so vast and naturally
disorderly and diverse a conglomeration as the 70 million Iranian people can
be governed... ”
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