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Debate

Chi fekr mikardim...
Chi shod!

May 29, 2003
The Iranian

[The following is part of a debate on "Donkeys Party" mailing list moderated by Abdee Kalantari in New York City. The debate started with comments on a picture of Ayatollah Hakim kissing an Iraqi boy. Roya Hakakian is a poet in New York and Mahmoud Sadri is a sociologist at Texas Women's University. Read Hakakian's comments here.]

The praise Roya lavished on me in the first paragraph of her response, nuanced, generous, and humorous as it was, made my day. So Thank you Roya! :)

In her second and third paragraph she goes on to de-couple my personality from the "type" she takes me to be: "Muslim Intellectual Religious Iranian", MIRI for short. I guess that makes her a "NoMoIrWo" or a "Non Muslim Iranian Woman" as she describes herself in a later paragraph.

I, however, can quibble with every one of the four designations she has reserved for my "type". The most obvious in this context is the third epithet: religious. It begs the question how qualified should the word "religious" be in the case of someone who is deeply suspicious of any kind of orthodoxy and organized religion?

But since I like the dance of distancing ourselves from our individual attributes, as Roya suggests, I'll play along.

In the late 70s, the MIRI and others, including a sizable number of NMIRI (non-Muslim Iranian Intellectuals) had a role in bringing about what Mangol Bayat has called "Iran's second revolution" and then 98 percent of the Iranians went to the polls to approve it.

What happened after that could be summarized by Max Weber's famous phrase: "the
paradox of unintended consequences." There is an off-collar Farsi joke whose punch line delivers the same message: "Chi fekr mikardim, chi shod!" ("What we hoped vs. what actually happened!")

So, in retrospect, and for an overwhelming majority of Iranians, it is not a question of who agreed or disagreed with the revolution at the outset but at what point each group, party, stratum, gender, class, and age group stepped off the Utopian boat of the revolution hurtling toward the distopia of clerical despotism.

(By the way, the excesses of this revolution have not included systematic "pograms" against minorities, as Roya suggests. Human rights groups as well as Bahai international bodies have documented individual disappearances and executions but no "truckloads of Bahais were hauled away from their dinner parties, never to return home." It is important that we remain sober, meticulous, and factual about the political realities as well as atrocities in Iran.)

Roya is correct about my attempt to bridge gaps and open channels of dialogue between Iranians of good will. I do not believe the "universes" of Iranians with different political opinions should be kept apart. We tried that for a decade after the revolution. We are moving on. And a virtual stable of donkeys chewing their cud and nodding or shaking their head as Roya and I bray at each other is proof of that.

Also, I do not advocate violent overthrow of the regime, angry, disappointed, and disillusioned as I am with its present state. Remember what Hanna Arendt said: Every regime that overthrows its predecessor by violent means ends up reproducing its relations of power. Now, at long last, we come to the gist of the matter.

My comments on the norms of homosexual non-erotic contact in the Middle East were not meant as an apologia for the clergyman who was depicted kissing the young boy. The fact that the man was a clergyman was, to me, incidental to the situation. It seems like I saw the Kiss while Roya saw the Kisser in that picture.

I should hasten to add that I have no desire to defend or justify the clergy, whom I consider as historically anachronistic and institutionally superfluous to the future of the faith. Nevertheless, as a student of sociology, I recognize them as a complex stratum of traditional intellectuals impossible to simply wish away:

Yes, there are pedophiles, even murderers in their number, some of them prominent
hangers on among Iran's ruling clergy (When I say "F" you go "Fallahian") but there are also heroes and martyrs. (Just review the history of Iran's constitutional revolution for instances of both.)

Roya's comparison of the Shi'a clerics to Catholic priests should serve as a further reminder not to lump saints and sinners together.

Today, as I listened on my car radio to the news of a 21 year prison sentence handed down to a priest for molesting 21 children, I was reminded of the story of a priest I recently read about. He lived in leper colony for twenty odd years and upon receiving his own positive leprosy test gathered the villagers and said: "Dear friends, today I am honored to finally call myself one of you." He died and was buried on that island. Not all priests are pedophiles and scoundrels.

This brings me to Roya's criticism of me, worth quoting at length: "You always remind others such as me how often you frequent Iran. What you obviously cite to further prove your credibility as a reporter, to someone like me who cannot travel to Iran, could indeed be not a measure of your familiarity but mere flaunting of your power."

Roya admits to have missed a posting or two on the donkey board. I assume the news that I, along with seven other Iranian academics were named as "anti-revolutionary elements" by the prosecutor during the vastly publicized Ghazian trial last November did not reach her.

In light of that indictment, my trip to Iran may be more aptly described as a defiance of the power of the Iranian judiciary than flaunting my own. Upon returning to the United States, I found out that my fellow "anti-revolutionary" colleagues who were following the progress of my trip in Iran with bated breath had come up with a new nickname for me: Mahmoud the trial balloon.

I leave Roya's suggestion of a vow of silence for MIRIs unanswered. Abdee has addressed that issue with the eloquence befitting the office of Ishak Aghasi.

Have a good one! Dare I to send a kiss? :)

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