Time for self-reflection
Iran is once again at a crossroads
October 2, 2004
A quick glimpse of the news headlines in any of the world's major presses would
surely alarm any Iranian living today, either inside Iran or in the diaspora.
The morally-corrupt Islamist ideology of the ruling
clergy which has been oppressing Iranians inside the country for
more than two and a half decades now appears
to threaten the rest of the world through that regime's covert pursuit of
Ultra-conservative factions seem to have restored
the domestic political status quo back in their favour once again,
effectively ending all
speculation about their supposed gradual erosion during the past seven years.
And, Iranian theocrats are allegedly working hard
to foment the Shiite resistance in and around the major holy cities
in the southern parts of Iraq in an effort
to prolong the almost apocalyptic level of chaos in that country, and to
keep Washington preoccupied as long as necessary.
That the current regime has grown more belligerent in its conduct and demeanor
in lieu of growing resentment both inside Iran and abroad is hardly surprising.
After all, the clerical establishment has never been particularly interested
in either submitting to the will of its citizens or appeasing foreign powers;
rather, it has always strived tirelessly to consolidate its grip on the instruments
of power by resorting to fear-mongering and terror.
One would expect
any band of criminals to grow bolder so long as no clear alternatives
exist to replace
it; history has shown that lack of legitimacy alone will not result in
Yet history has also demonstrated that effective
mobilization of oppositional forces (both foreign and domestic)
can easily dethrone
political regimes, albeit with varying results. Unfortunately for Iran,
the past century
has been full of such examples, one more precarious (and lamentable)
than the other.
Perhaps a brief recollection for those more than
willing to forget is necessary:
early decades of the twentieth century witnessed the widespread corruption
of the Qajar dynasty and the subsequent Constitutional Revolution which
led to the ascendancy of Reza Khan, an army officer who came to power
a coup and later declaring himself the Shah.
Years of dictatorial
rule under Reza Shah and his refusal to side with the Allies in World
War II eventually
paved the way for his abdication of the throne in favour of his son,
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Foreign exploitation of Iran's natural resources
at the hands of the British increased substantially under Mohammad
Reza Shah, and the young
proved to be a mere Western puppet, both socially inept and politically
Indeed, the Shah's incompetence set the stage
for the first democratically-elected parliament,
the Majles, under the leadership of Mohammad Mossadeq, an eccentric
nationalist bent on nationalizing Iran's oil industry and ending years
of British meddling
into Iranian domestic affairs.
Mossadeq's premiership and his ardent nationalistic stance against
the British, however, were to be short-lived as the British were successful
the Eisenhower administration that Iran was under the threat of a communist
Soon thereafter a British Intelligence and CIA
government and brought the young Shah back to power. What little
legitimacy the Shah had he squandered it all in the period after
with the monarchy and failed attempts at rapid modernization of
Iranian society forced many to place their trust in the hands
of an institution
as yet unblemished
in the political failures of the past half-century: the clergy.
Ayatollah Khomeini's populist proclamations about cleansing Iran's
social fabric of "foreign agents" and profligate (if not impious) monarchs resonated
with the dispossessed masses and pleased those who viewed the ascetic religious
leader as a solitary figure without any foreign constituency.
of the 1979 Islamic revolution might indeed have transformed Iran
into an independent nation-state in command of its foreign and
domestic policies; but it also installed
an archaic system of Islamic rule which turned the country into
a pariah state almost overnight.
Khomeini wasted no time in devolving
his status from a mighty
David to that of a ruthless Goliath, eliminating (no metaphors
here) all competing domestic political factions and voices of
dissent in the
Whereas in the past brutal force and chicanery
prevented the development of a genuine democratic alternative,
rise to power was
through an all-too-complementary admixture of populism and sophistry.
proven that the Islamist ideology of the regime has been nothing
but a cover for domestic exploitation of the country's resources,
more than "dutiful servants of power," to borrow a fitting
description from the late Edward Said.
Over time, the loyal opposition
in Iran, also known as the "reform
a cosmetic campaign for social and economic reforms in 1997, not
in order to change the nature of the regime (of which they apparently
are a dispensable part),
but rather in a bid to save it.
At their core, the repeated outbreak
of public clashes between student demonstrators and Islamic vigilantes
in the streets of
Tehran symbolize the rejection of a system of rule envisioned by
the so-called "reformists."
recent struggles have tended to be less about advancing the cause
of reform (in itself a testament to the fraudulent nature of a
handful of delusive tacticians
behind the reform hysteria) and more about institutionalizing the
most fundamental of civil rights - freedom from fear.
Countless pleas on behalf of the citizens for necessary leadership
from President Mohammad Khatami and his allies in the Majles have
yielded no results, depriving
many, especially the youth, of the political support critical to
It is no wonder, then, that the reformists' silence
as the final political act in what had long been a doomed effort,
from the start, to rescue the theocratic regime.
As before, Iran is once again at a crossroads with a regime that
has stretched the social fabric of the society to its very limits,
the while earning
itself an exclusive place in the infamous "axis of evil" country
Just as the past, moreover, Iran has come to be
more than just a concern in the eyes
of a great foreign power - in the case of the United States,
the sole super-power - with its own messianic band of administrators
more than willing to right
what they regard as the wrongs of the past.
But perhaps what
is most discouraging is the appalling state of opposition groups
in exile; how dogmatic and pedestrian
Considering the abysmal state of affairs inside
Iran, one would expect a burgeoning intellectual and political
of the country.
exiles boast more than twenty 24-hour television and radio
stations, an eclectic array of social, political, and economic
and newspapers, and a host
of active political organizations.
But whereas academic and
in the diaspora have enjoyed a renaissance of sorts since
the Islamic revolution, hardly any one of the opposition political
managed to provide
its constituency what has long been absent in the Iranian
domain: a well-informed
framework for debate, reflection, and rational thinking.
Instead, they have together managed to develop
a theatre of the absurd-like
and momentary celebrity are almost always more important
than any constructive discussion of present afflictions.
this to the quality of debates amongst the underground political
groups inside Iran - be they student-led or
otherwise - on everything
from the viability
of Islamic rule to the challenges of modern culture
in Iranian society; where historical accounts of foreign interventions
and domestic complicities
been supplanted by all-inclusive, knowledge-based cultural
narratives that challenge
outdated orthodoxies of the past, as well as dismissing
nostalgic revolutionary calls of the present.
majority of Iranians
today are the children
of Islamists, secularists, and above all, nationalists,
for whom the black-or-white interpretations of history
to be undone
by their generation's
colourful quest for freedom.
Such a setting would
hardly be ideal for the sort of outmoded pronouncements prattled
group of pretentious
contrarians (with a sole exception or two) occupying
the airwaves round-the-clock
California and Washington, D.C.
Theirs is a message
shaped by their unyielding desire to submit a
to what may
as fatuous revisionist forays into a reconstructed
past. The fact that they are
made aware of their delusions on an hourly basis
by their viewers is only further proof of their
For how long, and to what extent, is this calamitous
atmosphere of political paralysis to be tolerated
and endured? Can
one even begin
to think of
democracy inside Iran when there is no semblance
of a democratic engagement between
opposition political parties outside of the
What would the alternatives look like
if the current regime were to crumble overnight?
Are we to place our trust, yet again, in
the hands of a
to be more
concerned with their own status rather than
that of their compatriots?
Or, worse yet, are we to
support and encourage
the Islamic regime and replace it with
its own Allawi- or
Of course, the
irony in the current situation is that it was precisely these
of questions which
and again. It's
almost as if critical reflection and
are not relevant to the choices
we make for our future.
must start from within, the self, the
individual. Every socially-conscious
must comprehend other political organizations'
a democratic expression first, and
then proceed to play a constructive
in alleviating, negotiating,
or even articulating the problem.
is only through vigorous engagement and exchange
one could acquire
a more comprehensive
understanding of human effort in
the public arena. To advocate against such reflection
deny the possibility of coexistence
And what good is it to follow
any group who would
opponents the right
a democratic forum?
A nation scarred
by successive periods of autocratic rule, Iran
more bracing for change,
only this time bitter
as a guiding light for the future.
To paraphrase an invaluable remark
embody the sort
of change wish
to bring about. It is our
obligation to critically examine
the proclamations of the many
figureheads amongst us by continually
- questioning their
past and present
knowledge of the pending afflictions
in their activities.
is it that at the time of this writing a seemingly
has also been
away from Iran for more
than 40 years - has managed
to delude a great many into
believing that he shall be
Tehran (accompanied by 50
better start reflecting,