Passion & tolerance
We must elevate to the higher plains of tolerance in political
By Behrouz Enayati
April 16, 2001
As Iran prepares to vote in the upcoming presidential election, there
is a noticeable change in the temperature of the political discourse amongst
Iranians abroad. It is as though we can all sense what's at stake and what
hangs in the balance. In gatherings large and small, formal and informal,
people are beginning to engage in lively exchanges on the current and future
state of affairs in Iran.
Those who had for years expressed little interest in politics (myself
included) are once again drawn into the debate. What are we to make of this
seemingly sudden resurgence of political interest amongst the diaspora?
It is in some respects reminiscent of the heated discussions and high tension
that marked the events leading to the revolution itself.
I am not suggesting that we are on the verge of another mass uprising.
I simply do not have the wisdom or the foresight to make such bold predictions,
and would much rather leave all of that to the career politicians and the
self-assured political analysts that can be found even in the smallest of
Instead what I am prepared to say with some degree of certainty is that
many of us still care -- and care deeply -- about what is happening in Iran.
We all know many of us have become intellectually and emotionally desensitized
or perhaps even disconnected from all the developments and happenings in
Iran. But in the quiet privacy of our own thoughts and feelings, where there
is no social or egotistical pressures to come across as wise and intelligent,
how do we really view our own identity: who we are, where and how we live,
what our goals and aspirations are. How do we reconcile all that with our
publicly held views, opinions, slogans and speeches on the socio-economic
conditions and the prevailing politics in our homeland?
I do realize that over the years we have found the turn of events simply
too painful to talk about and have grown silent. Some saw the futility of
all they were willing or able to put forth and have withdrawn quietly. And
then, there are those who genuinely couldn't care less. In spite of all
that, there are many signs of a growing desire to enter into meaningful
discussions about our roles and responsibilities toward our country of origin
and the people we love and care about.
So how do we engage in this process?
Despite our rich history and cultural achievements throughout the ages,
our political discourse, as a vehicle for social progress and consensus
building, remains rudimentary. I feel it is incumbent upon each and every
one of us to recognize our own ability to influence the evolutionary path
of political discourse through our own behavior, and to face the social
obligations and responsibilities that are born out of this recognition.
Given the social and the political shifts that are underway in our country,
we may be put to test again sooner than we think. How will we fare this
time around? Unfortunately our history is replete with examples of our weakness
in this area. What strikes me as ironic is that we are endowed with above
average social skills, especially when it comes to interacting with each
Our passionate and highly visible (and often painfully theatrical) display
of our respect for each other is exemplary. Enter politics and these culturally
rich protocols for mutual respect, which often seem to be indelibly etched
on our brain cells responsible for social etiquette, are suddenly deleted
from our consciousness.
Just make a few benign and somewhat factual comments on the power struggle
in Iran and you are summarily and unequivocally branded as "uninformed",
"out of touch", and "helping the enemy by playing into their
hands". All of this from the gentleman who only minutes earlier was
bowing before you and forcefully insisting that you enter the room ahead
of him; and once in the room would not sit down until you were seated first.
It is as though we have been hard wired to be combative within a three-mile
radius of a political conversation. Sometimes the mere introduction of a
political topic is enough to transform the most amicable exchange of pleasantries
into an antagonistic showdown of verbal karate. I am also fearful that this
kind of behavior may be developing into some kind of a genetic disposition,
which God forbid, will get passed on from one generation to the next. Let's
hope, for posterity's sake, that I am just being too paranoid.
Cut through the noise of all the commentaries, opinions, analyses, and
the regurgitated hyperbole, and sometimes one can actually hear the cries
of pain, anger and frustration. Instead of knee-jerk reactions, we may choose
to look beyond the overt statements (in a non-dismissive manner) and try
tuning into each other's hopes and fears.
And so next time we come across the ones who make authoritative statements
and issue pronouncements and fatwas on what should and should not be happening
in Iran, we could perhaps consider the possibility that what they are really
trying to say is that: "I don't quite understand what's going on; all
I know is that I love my country and I wish I could do something to make
We may well be witnessing one of the most defining periods in our history.
Each one of us, either directly or through a few degrees of separation,
is a participant in this process. Thus we may be charged, by our own sense
of organic responsibility, to act as the trustees and the custodians of
certain values and principles, and not just their mere advocates.
As we come together and interact in our efforts to discharge our social
and historical obligations, we must actively search for a new posture. One
that seeks to understand rather than undermine. We must abandon the barren
terrain of contention and self-righteousness and elevate ourselves to the
higher, fecund plains of tolerance where exchanges are refreshing, and where
our breath is not wasted in infantile bickering.