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Painful truth
With the forced and enforced external religious appearance, religion itself may have had an unfortunate setback in the hearts and minds of Iranians

Paymaneh Amiri
June 29, 2007

I read Lawrence Reza Ershaghi’s article, Opportunists, not academics, with trepidation and reservation, interspersed with amusement.  While Ershaghi appears passionate and marginally knowledgeable about his topic (of the “just enough to be dangerous” kind), his rationale and thinking structure is worrisome -- in fact I believe Ershaghi’s argument to be equally worrisome to his opponents and proponents. 

I do away with the names he calls Iranian scholars and activists abroad, and what many have been saying about Ershaghi.  To rehash disrespectful and accusatory literature is neither constructive, nor helpful.  I am glad Ershaghi has published his opinions in a forum where it can be approached and examined by all, and as an ordinary individual concerned about the future of Iran and interested in young Iranian minds anywhere, I feel invited to join the dialogue.

The most important and poignant thing about Ershaghi’s approach to the issue is his obvious interest and passion for Iran, and I appreciate that quality as the cornerstone for any fruitful discussion about the country.  However, his infatuation with the Islamic Revolution, as with any infatuation with history, is the Achilles’ heel in his argument.  At a time when even the diehard conservatives in Iran have had to admit serious deviations from the original ideals and goals of the Revolution, for a US-educated young man who has access to a multitude of resources and records, such almost childish obsession is unwarranted and at best simple-minded. 

Ershaghi's reference to the “Islamic premise of the revolution” is extremely naïve, when even those inside the Iranian Government privately admit three decades into the new regime, severe setbacks have marred both the revolutionary ideology and Islam itself amongst the people of Iran.  It would do Ershaghi good to read the analysis contemporary Iranian journalists, academicians, authors, and intellectuals have presented inside Iran, pointing most prominently to deviations in the goals and objectives initially set for the Revolution and the realities facing the nation.

In that same vein, Ershaghi is completely misled and misleading in his argument about the religious beliefs of Iranians in that he seems to think that Iranians have only recently and as a spontaneous result of the Islamic Revolution become Moslems, therefore tying Iranians’ Moslem identity to the emergence and existence of the Islamic Republic.  In fact as we all know, the majority of Iranians were Moslems a long time before, and will continue to be Moslems for a long time after the event. 

Amidst the mounting social ills of drug addiction, crime, prostitution, homelessness, and corruption in Iran, one wonders whether Iranians may have been better Moslems before the Revolution, as Iran was a country less infested with corruption, duplicity, and fake piety, where people prayed inside their homes and believed in their religion on a much more private and meaningful level.  With the forced and enforced external religious appearance, the religion itself may have had an unfortunate setback in the hearts and minds of Iranians--a pity and an irony too painful to bear at times. 

With all due respect for Professor Algar, bringing him into the argument is another immature gesture.  What does Algar have to do with what “millions and millions of Iranians think?”  Notwithstanding the fact that he is not an Iranian, and with all due respect for his academic credentials, Algar himself appears to have been a man in search of meaning and purpose for the past three decades, keeping quiet at the end of that time not because he is excluded by Iranian intellectuals, as Ershaghi heatedly proposes, but quite possibly because after his initial zest for the Iranian Revolution, he may have become disillusioned by the outcome as many others have. 

Does Ershaghi propose that among the thousands of Iranian intellectuals, religious, secular, left, moderate, and right, there is no good example of an Iranian whose way of thinking might be supported by “millions and millions of Iranians?”  A positive reply would immediately beg identification and swift replacement of Algar’s reference in Ershaghi’s reasoning.  A negative reply goes to prove that almost 30 years post the initial referendum, no one can prescribe a simple statement for the way millions and millions of Iranians think -- not the intellectuals inside and abroad, not the clergy, most definitely not the US Government, and most particularly not Ershaghi.  Until millions and millions (to be exact, all the voting age Iranians amongst the almost 80 million population) are asked what they want, no one inside or outside Iran can definitively prescribe any meaningful and democratic policy governing them all.

Ershaghi’s thinking and his literature is so “fresh-frozen” in the early propaganda and literature of the Revolution, one can’t help but smile at its gullibility.  Even those responsible for the official propaganda of the Government are not actually thinking that the idea of their demise is an impossibility, as Ershaghi suggests.  The overall suspicious and brutal approach towards anyone or any movement that might indicate dissent is a prime example of how preoccupied they are of potential plots for their demise.  These suspicions have resisted and thwarted reforms, and have passed many opportunities to catch up with the times and the changing demographics of Iran. 

Whether the export of Iranian Revolution was a goal, and whether or not it is now a “mission accomplished” as Ershaghi suggests, serious and dangerous premises which require objective, responsible, and detailed political, historical, and academic analysis, is not the point.  The point is the goals of the Revolution as defined for Iran and Iranians inside Iran, goals such as independence, freedom, equality, and elimination of corruption.  It would do Ershaghi, a young and ambitious lawyer, good to address the extent of accomplishment of those goals before celebrating their export into other parts of the world, a world that does not seem to have thrived and flourished with the basic teachings of all the religions it represents, but which rather seems to be burning in the fires of hate, greed, disagreement, and impasse.

While I wholeheartedly agree that the voices and stories of the majority of Iranians continue to be unheard by the world, I doubt that Ershaghi is the one who has heard those voices and stories, or that he has been bestowed with the responsibility of telling it to the world.  If he believes that any dissention or disillusionment with the current situation is limited to the “bourgeoisie of Northern Tehran,” and none exists in the rural and provincial areas of Iran, his lack of touch is comically beyond belief. 

Among simple farmers, factory workers, teachers, bus drivers, students, and government employees of Iran, who don’t wear “Gucci” and who don’t live in “Niavaran highrises,” there is growing fear and panic for their livelihoods and sustenance.   The very election of Ahmadinejad to office was an indication of those fears and worries.  The ironic thing is that none of the demands voiced by those people are initially political -- they are almost entirely economical.  However, when even the smallest protests are not tolerated and brutally opposed, they turn into political confrontations.  This is the point lost to some in Tehran and most definitely to Ershaghi.

As an educated young man who obviously has passion and love for Iran, it is incumbent upon Ershaghi to research, analyze, investigate, and pay closer attention to the maladies facing the Iranian society before making sweeping statements and proposing general slogan-driven conclusions. 

In response to his folkloric analysis of the way Iranian intellectuals in diaspora are behaving (Anha do nafar boodand hamrah, Ma sad nafar boodim tanha), and precisely because I am not one of those intellectuals in question, I should like to remind Ershaghi that his example promotes and perpetuates the “Us and Them” attitude (khodi va gheire-khodi) which continues to damage and disrupt any constructive dialogue amongst Iranians inside and outside Iran. 

I would like to counter this ambitious and ill-informed young man with another Iranian idiom:  “A thousand friends are too few, and one enemy is too many.”  An invitation to a dialogue among all Iranians who love Iran would be a much better path to learning for Ershaghi and others, better than taking sides with a way of thinking that has all but disappeared from the dialogue domain of Iranians for at least the past ten years.  I end by inviting Ershaghi to heed Hafez’s advice to us all:  Ay bikhabar bekoosh ta sahebe khabar shavi... Comment

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