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Opinion

The last thing Iran needs
Do people of Iran really need a foreigner to bring democracy?

By Laleh Larijani
June 17, 2003
The Iranian

In the nearly quarter of century ensuing the Iranian revolution of 1979, millions of Iranians have become part of the new age Iranian Diaspora. In this condition, they have been forced to try to integrate with their respective societies, shape their lives and those of their children with one burdensome question always on their mind: What about Iran?

The Iranian condition in Diaspora is difficult to summarize, but nonetheless worthy of examination. The population living outside Iran, especially the first generation immigrants live with the constant reminder that the Iran they left behind is no longer.

In this condition, the hope remains of returning home one day with their children and grandchildren so that they may grasp the Iran whose heritage they were robbed of, through no fault of their own. This raises the question of under what condition are we ready to return. Can we return? And under what circumstances will be welcomed home?

In this effort, many organizations outside Iran, comprised of the very immigrants spoken of here, have tried to consolidate their efforts in order to facilitate change and progress in Iran. What ever the political alliances hope to achieve, they all share the common goal of bringing to Iran the freedoms they have lavishly enjoyed on foreign soil.

One of such causes and perhaps the loudest is one promoted by Reza Pahlavi, the son of the late Shah of Iran. It is now well known within the Iranian community, and indeed beyond, that he is the strongest -- at least in alliances -- oppositional force in exile.

In a community where politics and patriotism is dinner conversation, Reza Pahlavi has the advantage of a historical lineage, and a name, which is well recognized by even the novice of Iranian history. For this reason, he has been favoured by many as the agent of change whom if anyone, is most likely to succeed in applying external pressure.

But is the investment of this hope in Reza Pahlavi ill-founded? In applying critical thought to Reza Pahlavi’s ideology one must be braced with as much information as possible, not just about him but about the history of Iran and the greater Middle East.

Perhaps the starting point of this critical analysis should focus on Reza Pahlavi from a personal standpoint. Now forty-something, he lives in he U.S., after being away from the very country he hopes to change for nearly a quarter of a century.

In a country whose living conditions, economics, politics, and social structure is different from one month to the next, a twenty-five-year absence should entirely rule one out from any right to make claims about the way things ought to be. Even when he did reside in Iran, he lived in a palace, with chefs, chauffeurs, private guards, private tutors, and an entourage fit for true royalty.

So the question that arises is what does he really know about Iran, about the way people lived, their struggles, their hopes, dreams, fears, and priorities?

The people of Iran succeeded in bringing a half century of dictatorship from the hands of his ancestors to an end, and even though were later disillusioned with the outcome, can not simply forget that at the end of the day even this Reza is a Pahlavi, and in the absence of this elders can, and in the eyes of many Iranians should be held somewhat accountable to answer to his fellow people. That is a responsibility entirely forgotten by Reza himself and under the umbrella of aiding Iranians is a predicament he hopes to avoid.

In his recent book Winds of Change, Reza publicized his goal as one aimed at bringing free elections to Iran. Free elections so that the people will finally be able to elect a government they see fit.

One should in this strive remember that Iran has not had a democratically elected government since 1953, with the election of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh. To return to the focus, it is necessary to consider whether free elections can be imported at all. Isn’t the entire idea of democracy based in an organic evolution of society?

Do the people of Iran really need an Ahmad Chelabi of their own and a foreigner to bring democracy? Indeed, it is the last thing they need, and the last thing they want. The people of our country will forever have the right to question the sincerity of help from outside, especially from someone who has not lived in Iran for that lengthy of a period. They also have the right to question his motives.

Despite his outright claim that he does not want to be king, Reza Pahlavi too was robbed of his future. He was heir to an empire, a country, whose wealth from natural resources, and whose strength from a military standpoint would have secured him a kind of life, and power unimaginable to the average Iranian. This places considerable amount of leverage on the sincerity of his motives. After all, he too is human and must despite his denials face his personal loss.

It is indeed a frustrating position to be in, not just for Reza Pahlavi but for all of us millions of people who must stare our beloved Iran in the face and wonder about its lost glory. Though we are hopeful and eager to see her prosper and regain her past splendour, we must understand our own condition.

We are first generation immigrants, who have come here in hopes of a better life and future for our children. We are those children who are at crossroads not really knowing where we belong, not sure how to be Iranians when the only Iran we know is those of our parents, their memories, their politics, and their economics. We have not been given the chance to see things the way they really are.

Our parents explain that we are children of Iran with 3000 years of history and try to connect us with historical figures like Cyrus and Anushiarvan. They tell us about Ferdosi, Hafiz, and Sa'adi, hoping we will grasp the richness of their culture. Through no fault of their own, they try their hardest to connect us to something that is simply very foreign.

We are also engineers, doctors, lawyers, poets, writers, artists, and students who have left everything behind in order to find freedom and success. We wonder -- and indeed should wonder -- about what the future holds for us. What if one day we can and do return to Iran? Will we be able to reintegrate ourselves into the society? Will we be able prove ourselves as responsible citizens, and fellow Iranians? Will we be able to explain where we have been until now?

And indeed the Iranians of our homeland too, have the right to question us as well as people like Reza Pahlavi. They have the right to ask where we have been until now. Why we were absent when their children went to war, when they collected ration coupons for oil, chicken, and the very basic components of life. They have a right to be bitter about the freedoms -- although highly fabricated -- that we have supposedly enjoyed. They have the responsibility of asking why we removed ourselves form politics and the economy of the country. In the same manner they have the right to ask us to return to them, what we packed and took with us.

The final and only way for us to have hope is to be as critical of ourselves as we are of life in Iran. We must see the blood of our youth on our hands as much as we see it on the hands of the regime. We need to acknowledge that we too have made mistakes, and that Iranians living in Iran will hold us all accountable.

The bottom line is that neither Reza Pahlavi or any other such character can be our saviour, if they are not willing to take of their power suits and trade their BMW’s for work boots, and tools then we must. If we are not willing to do this much, we should forfeit our rights to interfere with the future of Iran and its people.

Author

Laleh Larijani is a Specialist in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Toronto.

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