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Don't get left behind
The reform process is already happening

By John Mohammadi
December 26, 2001
The Iranian

Mr. Zanganeh's line of argument in his opinion piece entitled "Cannot win", though informative, is inaccurate.

The standard argument basically goes like this: since the IRI constitution ensures a monopoly of power to a particular group, then ideas of reforms are mere "pipe dreams" or are simply promoted by nefarious self-interested parties as "window dressing" intended to induce investment in Iran. The fuller version of the argument also concludes that only another revolution which totally erases the constitution and overthows the government can "fix" Iran.

There are several things wrong with this view: First, any constitutional scholar will tell you that what's written in a constitution is never an accurate description of how things really work at any point in time in any country. Constitutions are not written in stone. They can be changed in two manners: either by an actual formal amendment, or by a less formal (but just as binding) process of re-interpretation and re-application.

Some provisions can be emphasized, others de-emphasized, and yet others totally ignored or even re-interpretted to mean exactly the opposite of previous interpretations. This is an on-going process. Even the American constitution, which is the oldest written constitution in the world, has gone through several such changes/re-interpretations on a variety of topics, such as the constitutionality of slavery, suffrage, abortion, and the death penalty.

Thus, the idea that the written text of the IRI's constitution stands as some sort of insurmountable barrier to change and reform is false. It is nothing more than writing on paper written by humans, and open to change and re-interpretation. The changes sweeping through Iran cannot be restricted by ink on paper.

Second, Mr. Zanganeh's argument places the cart before the horse by suggesting that constitutional change is a prerequisite to political change in Iran. In fact, the reverse is true: constitutional changes almost always occur in response to political, social and economic developments.

Since any country's political affairs and society constantly change, then constitutional changes are also inevitable. Even in Iran. Again, several examples of the reactive nature of constitutional changes can even been seen in US constitutional history. So, the idea that any change or reform in Iran first requires a wholesale expungement of the current constitution is false: First, the social and polticial changes have to happen, and THEN the constitution can be changed (either formally, informally, or a combination of both) in response to the political, social and economic realities.

Third, Mr. Zanganeh is mistaken when he assumes that the reform process in Iran is dependent on particular personalities, whether the "Maximum Leader" or President Khatami. He is therefore also mistaken when he suggests that a defeat for Khatami means the end of the reform process, or that Khatami's personal position on matters will somehow control this reform process.

In fact, the reform process is already happening, and is inevitable, and independent of Khatami or any other personality. It is driven by factors which have nothing to do with any particular individual or personality, such as greater access to education, globalization, and demographic changes.

Already, Iranians are debating significant social and political issues everyday and learning about ideas and concepts such as "mardom-salari" (a new word to most people in Iran) "loyal oppositin" and the legitimacy of power. Iran's society is changing everyday. One need only read the newspapers published there to see this process happening, and also just look at the fact that former villagers who were illiterate now have sons and daughters getting advanced degrees. Even shutting down newspapers does not prevent or even slow down this debate. At best, such tactics are only rear-guard action and further indications of the inevitabaility of change.

Fifth, proponents of "another revolution" seem to think that respect for human rights and democracy are things which can be imposed from above and imported from abraod. They assume that some new government formed after their much-anticipated "another revolution" can impose democracy and human rights by edict.

It can't. Respect for human rights and a fundamental belief in democracy needs to grow in the native soil. This takes time, requires stability and security, not more violence. Iran doesn't need more violence which will probably result in a new Afghanistan.

Those who believe that referrendums will be held, the loser will gracefully bow out and go away, and then Iran will magically turn into Switzerland are either irresponsibly naive or too blinded by their wish for revenge upon the IRI to see straight.

So the idea that a violent "another revolution" is the only way forward is false. Sure, this will be a slow process, but the changes which occur by this slower process are far more fundamental and lasting than those brought about any "another revolution" which at best can only result in the mere substitution of one oppressor for another.

Sixth, the suggestion that those who wish to see a lifting of US sanction are either idiots or motivated by personal financial gain is false. Lifting sanctions means greater access to the world, and an improvement in social and economic affairs, which in turn can only speed up the reform process in Iran and help change things there.

If 30+ years of sanctions on Cuba have proven anything, it is that engagement works, and sanctions don't. There are lots of Iranians who believe this, and they're not all secret agents of the IRI or greedy oil companies.

In short, there is no Catch-22. This obsession with Khatami and this urge to declare the reform process to be dead is not only destructive and pointless, it plays straight into the hands of the hardliner opponents of the reform process. In fact, there may be another revolution, but it will be despite such thinking and not because of it.

Instead of so casually dismissing the on-going changes and developments in Iran and waiting for another 23 years for the promised "revolution" which will magically fix everything in Iran, some people would do better to be a bit more positive, realistic and constructive. Iran is changing and the future beckons - don't get left behind.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for writer John Mohammadi


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