Chi fekr mikardim...
May 29, 2003
[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
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
What happened after that could be summarized by Max Weber's famous
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
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
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
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
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
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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