Boycott or perish
There is bad news ahead unless we unite
By Amir Khosrow Sheibany
June 11, 2001
With the elections now over, and the confused, negative and pessimistic
message behind a NO vote (or election boycott), it is worthwhile writing,
for the record, the strategy and principles behind those promoting the boycott.
When the dust settles it will be possible for those interested to judge
the sincerity and wisdom of those who made such proposals, and whether we
have missed an opportunity for peaceful change, from the tormenting hell
called the Islamic Republic to a secular democracy.
Alas, the very same individuals and foreign media organizations that
rejected slow reform under Shapour Bakhtiar and Mehdi Bazargan are now pushing
for Khatami. The very same people who publicly promoted the mollas for prolonging
the war with Iraq (or worse, kept quite), yet privately wished that this
would weaken or destroy the government, are now behind Khatami. With such
wise intellectuals, guiding the nation's teenagers into prolonging the regime,
then it is very possible that in four years time we will be revisiting this
same boycott issue.
It is the sad truth of this sordid affair called Iranian politics that
for some, like myself, there are very few points of contention with the
likes of Dr. Behbehani ["Cheraa
Khatami?"] We may agree on what are the important issues, agree
on the validity of the same facts, and agree on what to conclude from them.
However, we conclude differently on how to move forward together, as we
seem to look at the world based on different experiences.
Then there are the hardcore Khatami supporters. Again, they appear in
no shape or form to be of the same mentality as those who shouted "Allah-o-Akbar"
before executing thousands of people. They seem to be quite principled and
noble young men and women who are the best hope for the future of Iran.
And yet we seem to be confronting them instead of the Guardian Council!
The question, then, is how can the not-so-silent majority (us) work with
those voting for reforms (them) to achieve, what is essentially, a very
Is our division superficial or fundamental? According to the Western
media and our own political pundits inside the country, we have hardliners
versus Khatami, with maybe a small group of extremists singing a whole different
tune. Could there be other forces at play here? Iranian values against Islamic
ones? Class struggle? Or foreign manipulation of our psyche?
The message from various political parties both outside and inside Iran,
from prisoners to student leaders, was stay home, voting legitimizes this
totalitarian system, prolonging its life just a bit longer (see "Doesn't
Since the Western media's reporting on the Iranian elections are in fact
a campaign in favor of Khatami (see Time magazine's special
section, as well as the BBC),
much as their 1978 reporting was in favor of Khomeini, positioning hardliners
versus Khatami with no mention of the agenda of those proposing a boycott,
I should re-iterate the NO-vote message here for the record.
Here are the arguments against a boycott and my answers to them.
1.) Not voting (boycotting) teaches intolerance. ["Uncivil
A very low turnout would be an active vote against a clerical government
and a tacit vote in favor of democratic elections. This argument was the
closest to my own sentiment, as I assumed we could vote against all candidates
and write "Referendum" on the ballot. However, this is considered
a dangerous proposition as voters' identification papers are stamped, fingerprints
taken, and it is the public perception, especially in the villages, that
the secret police is all seeing.
2.) Not voting actually strengthens the hard-liners.
This is the main argument I have heard. Voting legitimizes and thus strengthens
the hardliners. Not voting legitimizes the case for a FREE referendum and
national reconciliation. The voters are the ones who define what the elections
mean, not the 12-member Guardian Council and their thugs.
3.) Khatami is slowly making improvements. I want to vote for him.
By not voting in this selection, you are actively strengthening the Khatami
programs also. A free election would legitimize his authority, and remove
opposition to reforms. Not participating gives you a voice. Voting legitimizes
the non-elected Guardian Council. Remember, if the Guardian Council is blocking
Khatami's reforms, then the voters' first priority should be to de-legitimize
The peaceful way to de-legitimize Velayat-e Faghih is by not accepting
their selection in the first place, and picking Khatami outside of a phony
election process. Another way is through revolution. If you believe that
70% of the people, including the army and workers are behind Khatami, then
you can define for yourself how you vote for him. The alternative is that
the 70% (20 million votes) was a hoax. The total vote was more like 11 million,
as many have suggested.
4.) There may be bloodshed and chaos of the same magnitude as 23 years
By staying at home? Voting YES to referendum by not participating in
IRI elections, is a peaceful way of saying you want peaceful change in government.
5.) The idea of Islamic democracy is a good one and I want to support
By voting in this election, you are legitimizing the taking of power
by force of guns and violence. By not participating in the IRI election
you are voting for a FREE referendum, whose "Islamic democratic"
candidate can be voted for peacefully and democratically.
Implementing Islamic democracy under terror and torture, without FREE
elections is hardly Islamic or democratic. The current clergy have to first
prove that the people, in a secret ballot vote, accept them as Muslim before
mixing the Koran and democracy.
The skepticism of those who say Khatami is just playing a good-cop-bad-cop
game will be proven to be true.
6.) I benefit financially if my candidate becomes president.
From 1954 to 1979 Iran's economic growth was as good as that of South
Korea & Malaysia with a per capita income of $2,400 in 1979. After the
end of the oil concession in 1979, we could have expected to be even better
Today, 23 years later, whilst South Korea and Malaysia have per capita
income of over $20,000, Iran's is down to $500. The average life of Iranian
citizens has also been reduced by 9 years, where as before it was increasing
along with that of other prosperous countries. That is how much the IRI
benefits from the national wealth that you should be drawing from.
7.) I'm voting not for the candidate I like, but to keep out those I
If you vote, you are legitimizing Ali Fallahian's past deeds and political
power. The clerics are in power whether you vote for them or not. If everyone
shows unity and does not vote, it will mean a YES vote for a referendum.
8.) If I don't vote, I'll loose my financial subsidies, government post,
or access to public education.
You could go to the voting booth and not mark any candidates to get around
this, but better still BE BRAVE, and don't be intimidated by terror tactics.
If this becomes a mass movement, no one will have the power to punish everybody.
9.) Not voting moves us towards the abyss. What would happen next?
By not voting you are moving one step away from the abyss that is the
IRI, and you are making the first, albeit small, step towards national unity
and a better future.
10.) Not voting for Khatami is "bee sharafi" and puts him further
under pressure. Khatami is a good, down to earth person.
The election itself is a joke. When 70% of the electorate, and maybe
99% of the opposition abroad are backing reform (under Khatami for now)
who is putting pressure on who with an election boycott? Wouldn't this be
the most powerful, peaceful message to your oppressors since Gandhi in British
Considering that no one dares insult the clergy directly, when better
to show your political will than in a meaningless election set up by the
clergy for the foreign media'sconsumption?
When 70% or 80% or 90% (we'll only know after a free referendum) of a
country's population is against the regime in power, it is not for the regime
to define what it means if people vote or not! If the hardliners had not
succeeded in dividing the opposition by introducing Khatami, it is assumed,
this message would have been heard loud and clear.
I am not part of any of the various official opposition groups. I have
never ever participated in any political gatherings in the past. But it
does not take a strategist or activist to see what's going here: Velayat-e
Faghih permits Khatami to run, blocks his reforms, and four years from now
Khatami will be gone, yet Velayat-e Faghih will still be there. Therefore,
re-defining the election is more important than the Khatami reform program
itself. Re-defining elections is not a violent act. It is directing it in
a better path.
POWER. Like an elephant chained all through life and preconditioned to
think that a rope around its neck means it can't break free, when if fact
it can tear down the whole tree, I believe that over the last 25 years Iranian
sentiments have changed. The mollas only have power when the people are
divided. Is Khatami there to divide us?
INDEPENDANT YOUTH. Many of the founders of the Islamic Republic are joining
the reform movement (including Khalkhali), using it to spread their old
propaganda. These are the very same people whose hatred and petty jealousies
got us to where we are today. The Iranian freedom movement is not an experimentation
with (yet another) smart idea. It is ingrained in every one of us who remembers
the pre-1979 Iran.
Even those born after 1979 know that people were happier before and lived
a better life. Various confusing explanations as to why 1979 happened in
the first place have resulted in the youth ignoring the past lessons and
elde's advice. The youth say, "That was your revolution; I have nothing
to do with it. This is my life that is ruined because of it."
The reality is that seven million youngsters have entered adulthood in
the past four years. They will not have the necessities of life available
to them, and the haphazard and contradictory statements forced on to them
through terror and fear of death and after life, will not appease them.
INJUSTICE. The difference in opinion, and outlook on life, between those
I have met in north Tehran and the rest of the country, from Kerman to Isfahan,
is shocking. This divide, (as well as the ethnic and social divide) runs
too high a risk of civil war in the future. A rapid resolution (speed of
reform) of the ideological experiments of Islam and democracy is not a matter
of personal preference but a national priority. If 1979 could happen with
people on a full stomach, with a future as bright as any other peoples of
the world, what's to stop the Lebanonization of Iran or worse.
PROFIT. The timing of the 1979 revolution, and the end of the 25-year
oil concession was not a coincidence. The 20 to 50-year timetable proposed
for the realization of democratic reform in the Islamic Republic, and a
similar duration until the depletion of Iran's oil and gas resources, is
no coincidence either.
In fact, not mentioning U.S. oil policy in Middle East, or not mentioning
the memories of the barbarities of the so-called revolution in the current
election, is like carrying on a conversation trying to ignore the elephant
in the livingroom. This Islamic-Shi'ite-only election is busy diverting
our attention from the financial interests that are dividing us.
How can we unite?
The four items above may have mobilized us all today. The three characteristics
below divide us as a people, and I believe, are the source of our division.
MESSIAH. Has anyone heard Khatami being described by some young supporters
as the best thing that has happened to Iran in centuries? Does this ring
a bell? Ever heard the same thing said of Mossadegh or Khomeini when he
came to power? Did you hear this being said about Mohammad Reza Shah when
he pushed oil prices through the roof, or gave the mollas and khans (and
his own) land to the farmers that worked on them?
A girl in Shiraz said to me just a few months ago that the young Shahzadeh
Pahlavi is speaking from her heart when he calls for peace and referendum.
He is yet another "greatest thing" to happen to Iran. Yes, Khatami
could have immortalized himself by not standing for reelection ["Don't
run"], more than any other living opposition member, but he doesn't
Iranians seem to want and need a messiah. We have to accept that the
other person's messiah, however disgusting they may be to our own moral
values, is as highly respected as the person we ourselves consider the "greatest
thing". Or even better, we should move away from these personality
issues towards quantifiable issues instead.
ARAB-IRAN. Are you looking at the world through the eye's of a pan-Arabist,
or an Aryan Iranian? I tried to raise this split in the national psyche
flag". We have been wading in a sophisticated atmosphere created
by the collision of Iranian (Arian) culture and Semitic culture. Not able
to fully express our own culture, because it was presented in a secret/subtle
language and works of art (to avoid persecution from the invaders) and not
knowing the Semitic culture because we did not know Arabic.
The question I had asked was: If Noruz and Ashura fall on exactly the
same day, would you weep and wail, or celebrate your existence? That, I
believe, would be determine which camp you belong to.
However, is there not some gray area? Is there not any room for discussion?
Is it a must for the pan-Arabist view to annihilate the indigenous peoples,
suppress its culture and language underground, and remove its nationalist
emblems from flags, maps and books? Cannot the Aryan view of the world accept
Iranians with pan-Arab views as Arabs, and live with them as we live with
our Arabic neighbors? Don't they have qualities we can appreciate?
CLASS WARFARE. Finally, are we secretly waging class warfare? Between
those with suits and the down-to-earth folk? The artist or engineer, and
the layman? The educated snobs and the illiterate? The happy-go-lucky and
the serious man?
Can the uneducated build industries like those built in Iran of the 1960s
and 70's? Will the Harvard PhD defend the country the same way as the person
who fought the Iran-Iraq war? Don't these two extremes make the whole that
has been Iran for centuries? Is it wise to use another platform, religion
for instance, for indirectly taking on this problem? Doesn't everyone lose?
This Islamic Republican regime is bringing out all the worst characteristics
in us. It is a vortex of all the hatred, ugliness and negative energy in
our culture packaged in deceitful words. It lives on character assassination
of the previous regime to justify its present misdeeds. It is founded on
a whole series of lies and deceitful half-truths that are only now slowly
Fighting this regime is a fight for freedom, the rule of law and progress.
This regime has alienating our culture, and thrown a veil of misery, disorientation,
cynicism, and resentment over our lives. Those who say fighting this regime
is a waste of time, and we should work with it, may well be the same religious
men who have Armageddon and doom in their mental vocabulary. They want to
justify religion's involvement in matters of state. Separation of religion
and state is a must.
I should also note that I believe the Iranian people outside the country
are as important as those inside. It has been a central objective of the
Islamic Republicans to uproot (or kill) those that they think will be seen
as superior to themselves, in intellect or values by the population at large.
Those writing off the wishes of Iranians outside the country might share
the same sentiments as those who brought the country to this mess in the
The June 8th election could have been a perfect occasion to show unity
against the Guardian Council by not acknowledging its legitimacy, and prove
to each other that a boycott can be done peacefully. By Sheepishly agreeing
to play ball with the Velayat-e Faghih, and not directly confronting the
issues which I believe divide us, we may be in for a real mess. There is
bad news ahead unless we unite.