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Dreaming of democracy
Be careful when you wish for freedom and democracy, because you may just get it


June 13, 2007

In a country like Iran where there is a small minority who rules over the rest, the majority is always dissatisfied one way or the other. So, the majority is tempted to desire freedom from the ruling class; Islamists as it happens to be at this moment. The majority of the people, observing that there is an abusive and favoured minority, feels disgruntled and angered, asking for change. And it is common practice to be idealistic when you are disadvantaged. Idealism attracts others and opens the possibility to creating a forceful action against the favoured, therefore improving the probability of change.

However this does not mean anything beyond that. Opportunistic idealism does not necessarily mean true and profound idealism. The disadvantaged majority adopts idealistic and pluralistic theories, promoted by the most charismatic and probably opportunistic leader, while their own social and personal state remains not farther than one simple step ahead (one way or the other) from the existing ruling class. In case the masses are disgruntled enough and the ruling class is weakened enough, so that there are just the right circumstances for change, change may just take place, but the replacing force may not turn out as idealistic and pluralistic as its initial slogans had portrayed.

Some simple suggestions can open the way for understanding the reasons behind this often popular failure to achieve a free or a democratic society.

Are we ready to give our women all the equal rights? What if then they will abuse their powers and reject their men, reject sexual intercourse, reject working at home, raising children, taking care of the household etc? In a society in which women do not have exactly the same freedoms as men they are normally obliged to go by the existing legal or social codes and be more timid in their personal desires. However completely free women will be more assertive. They will personally refuse to do a lot of the things men take for granted now (in many countries including Iran). Are the majority of men (or even a very large number of conservative, often older, women) in favour of giving women equal rights? Really?

Although Iranian men are mostly unhappy about having their own personal freedoms limited by the government, they are not necessarily in favour of lifting the limits imposed on the freedoms of women. Because many men will think that letting women free will open up the Iranian society to the perceived perversions of the West. I believe that a large majority of Iranian men disapprove of the freedoms women enjoy in the West. They may not acknowledge it outright but it is very much possible that an overwhelming majority of Iranian men (who also think that they are far more civilised, or even much smarter, than their Arab or non-Arab Middle-Eastern peers) are opposed to letting women be truly free simply fearing their freedom, and the choices free women may face, and the actions free women may take. Their fear is legitimate in a way, keeping in mind that they feel what they believe is right for a clean and more spiritual and family-oriented society. However, freedom has its own costs, and not everyone can accept those costs.

The difficulty of freedom is not limited to women's rights. It is a general concept that is extremely hard to swallow, and often does not stop anywhere. What about seeing homosexuals parading in Tehran, Mashhad, Tabriz and Isfahan? Can the average Iranian accept letting homosexuals express themselves freely? There is no place for any unambiguity here, and the answer is definitely a resounding "no way" from Iranians, male and female. And probably those who would be supportive of letting homosexuals be free would be none but homosexuals themselves, and very few supposedly retarted perverted Westernised individuals, such as myself (you get the irony).

The list of unacceptable subjects can go on and on. Iranians would not accept many of the perceived negative sides of a free and democratic society, and surprisingly would rather have a dictatorship, and abusive one, than a 'perverted' free one. Not that the majority of Iranians will fill a form denying themselves democracy and vote for a tyranny instead, but the fact of the matter is that they would not accept the details of a true democracy and therefore vote for a non-democracy by their attitudes. This is not all as bad as it sounds. It is just a reality that practical men, and women, need to live with.

The list of the holy and sacred are so many in countries such as Iran that the only alternative to an abusive tyranny can be a forced freedom for all. How can you have a forced non-democratic free society? That in itself would mean a tyranny indeed, but a hypothetical political system in which the ruling class is not elected by the people, but at the same time lets women, religious and even sexual minorities, be free, can indeed bring about a free society in which the only crime would be to question the ruler's authority. But isn't this exactly the same thing Iran had always had just before the Islamic revolution?

Iranian ruling dynasties came close to such ideas but they feared the masses just enough in order to be at least a little bit pro-Shiite. And Iranians revolted often enough in order to bring down two of the last dynasties (the Qajar were just weakened by popular revolts, but the Pahlavi were practically removed). And the result has been a sort of democracy especially tailored for the needs of the majority of Iranians, keeping them unhappy as usual, but also allowing them to vote in and out individuals according to their desires.

The current Iranian system is just about the democracy Iran can socially afford. And it is a dysfunctional and unpractical one, failing to improve the present and future conditions of the Iranians, and also failing to ensure pragmatic foreign policies that would benefit the country for the longer term. So long as Iran had dictatorships it almost never confronted too powerful countries head-on, at least for too long, such as the British Empire, Russia, or even the Ottoman Empire. Iran's Islamic semi-democracy though, not being able to sort out its profit-and-loss account (because there is no single king fearing for his own authority or even life), has been uselessly putting up with the world's most powerful country for almost three decades.

Iran's democracy has indeed failed, but the good side of all this is that Iranians are learning, and the next generations of Iranians will have the mistakes of their parents within their genes, and will probably be able to make better choices, or maybe even try to accept freedom and democracy, with all its 'nasty' bits! So, the Islamic regime isn't that bad after-all. There is a good side to many evils, and even not-so-smart democratically elected rulers (maybe George Bush too??!!) learn from their mistakes and understand that not all countries are ready for full-fledged democracy yet, and should be allowed to go through their natural course. Comment

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To: Ben Madadi

Ben Madadi



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