Questioning conditions that have lead to proliferation
of discourses on democracy and referendum
By Choob Dosar-Gohi
June 25, 2003
Despite the certainty with which many
Iranian satellite television programs
predict the future of Iran, this future remains ambivalent and
What is certain, however, is that in the battlefield of claiming
best for the "Iranian people," the notion of democracy
plays a major role in
the articulation of Iranian citizen-subjects.
Arjun Appadurai is
noting that the fluidity of ideoscapes of the Enlightenment that
consisted of a chain of ideas and terms such as freedom, welfare,
representation, and democracy, is complicated by the growing
intellectuals who inject new meanings into these discourses.
many Iranian intellectuals and politicians, Iran as the "origin" of
deterritorialized population becomes fantastic, and a ground
ideoscapes that can lead to bloody conflicts. Suddenly, and forced
urgency to forge coalitions in hopes of accelerating a regime
Iran, monarchist television commentators (who passionately play
the role of
the vanguard intellectual), interview "leaders" of
different leftist groups
and allow opposing (and many times insulting) phone calls, all
failing to remind their viewers- implicitly or explicitly- that
this is what
democracy looks like!
This theater of enacting democracy, "live" on satellite
resembles an advertising competition, where what is for sale
is the concept
of democracy. Through presenting competing discourses on the
future of a
democratic Iran (which also seems to be on sale for those who
it), satellite television programs become billboards where each
viewer/consumer/caller is to feel unique, while resembling other
By consuming the democratic gesture of calling to
opinion, the citizen subject is not only expected to find fulfillment
liberation, but in Baudrillard's terms, this consumption
transformed into a means of individual and collective expression"
Here, the ethos of Enlightenment as a historical
project in the West is used to constitute the Iranian "individual"
one to be trained/corrected, and measured/compared to others
individuality. This "democratic" promise, also guarantees
submission of the
individual in the name of liberty.
As Foucault has noted, one
contracts of the Enlightenment is the Kantian principle that
the "public and free use of autonomous reason will be
the best guarantee
condition, however, that the political principle that must
be obeyed itself
be in conformity with universal reason."
is this "universal reason" that the satellite
television programs seek
it is their capacity in doing so that makes them the prospect
a proposed (by Sam Brownback) $50 million/year by U.S.
Department of State.
Brownback's "Iran Democracy Act" is introduced
as "a resolution expressing
the sense of the Senate concerning the continuous repression of
within Iran and of individual human rights abuses, particularly
to women." (See National
Brownback, a good old kaasehye daaghtar
az osh Republican, writes, "Iranian people aspire to democracy,
and religious rights, and the rule of law." Here, the word "aspire"
denotes a "lack" to be fulfilled. Democracy and submission
to "the rule of law"
stand as universal objects of desire, which are to be achieved
implementation of democracy in Iran (read intervention).
bill, the possibility of democracy and American subjectivity is
vis-à-vis the undemocratic, un-free, and repressed Iranian
Other, who "is
yearning to live in freedom."
Brownback's liberal attempt
to distinguish "people of Iran" from its government does
little to bypass the binary
opposition of freedom in the West, and oppression in Iran. In his
the "future of Iran," Brownback opened his presentation
by locating Iran as
"the most significant source of terrorism in the world as
well as the single
biggest opportunity for a peaceful democratic revolution in our
(Keynote speech at the American Enterprise Institute forum on
"The Future of
Iran." Washington DC, May 6, 2003. Reported by Shalizeh
Iranian American Council.)
It is through the construction of
this difference, between the sovereign subject in the "West"
and the repressed
but aspiring Iranian subject, that Brownback legitimizes his
mission. Brownback's discourse, does not necessarily erase
"Iranian people" (through
the violence of war), but interpellates them in new ways (as
desire democracy and are willing to submit to its laws), and
of consciousness that compel citizen-subjects to self-govern
in the name of
democracy and individual freedom.
The question that comes to
mind, is, who
are these homogeneous and victimized "Iranian people" whose
needs are so apparent to Senator Brownback, and who has the power
represent the "Iranian people?"
The irony of Brownback's bill is that while he deploys
the trope of "woman"
as its object of "concern" and representation, the
text of the bill barely
mentions women. The only line (other than the title) where "women"
this legislation, is the shortest "whereas" statement,
where the author
claims that "men and women are not equal under the laws of
Iran and women
are legally deprived of their basic rights."
As seduced as
I am with
promises of democracy, equality, and freedom in Iran, I find
it hard to
believe that it is a mere coincidence that the development
of a uranium
enrichment program in Iran is mentioned early in the bill.
It makes one
wonder why Caspian Energy and the American Enterprise Institute
among the strong supporters of this bill!
Too busy with safeguarding
national and transnational gains, Brownback's democratic
plea (or command)
for freedom in Iran does not accommodate women! As Gayatri
"between patriarchy and imperialism, subject constitution
and object formation, the figure of the woman disappears, not into
nothingness, but to a violent shuttling which is the displaced
the "Third World woman caught between tradition and
protection of the "Iranian woman" signifies the
establishment of a
"democratic" society in Iran, while it constitutes
the democratic sovereign
"Western" self whose mission is to "liberate." The "Iranian
herself, has no voice in this battleground of protection!
Democracy is not an abstract idea that remains sacred
and untouched. It is
implicated in material practices that have material effects,
and the history
of Iran is not void of memories of its deployments. To question
sacredness of democracy is not to deny its potentials, but to
its limits. As Foucault argues, "we must free ourselves
intellectual blackmail of being for or against the Enlightenment."
Perhaps, rather than being for
or against democracy, we ought to question
the political and historical conditions that have led to the proliferation
of discourses on democracy and referendum. And, perhaps, rather
consuming the rubric of regime change in Iran, we should probe
of the discourse of regime-change in its current form, and at this
historical juncture. To do otherwise may repeat history in costly
this page to your friends