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Grand conspiracies

September 11: Reality check

September 5, 2002
The Iranian

It is safer to be civil in political criticism until you have some actual proof of wrongdoing. Why? Well most of the 40+ year old ex-revolutionaries have already learnt a bitter lesson in this area. In demonizing everything about the previous regime, they helped destroy all of it, even the prosperity and security that permitted free-thought and dreams of an even better future. Sometimes, for some types of people, the lessons of previous generations are not enough; one needs to make ones own mistakes. 

A short story from my September 11th experience was an eye opener for me and might interest the readers of as well.

I was in Hangzou, near Shanghai, when the planes struck New York and Washington. Hangzou is the "romantic" capital of China, with lakes and grotto's and old style architecture. I had no idea about the events of Sept 11th until a few days later, and even then it was just a picture of a plane going into a tower surrounded by Chinese writing. 

The fact that the buildings collapsed and the scale of the tragedy I was yet to learn from others.  I was to fly back to Manhattan on Friday the 14th September, but alas the airports in North America were closed. After a 10 week summer break I was pretty much fed up of taking it easy and was keen on getting back to work. I was told I could fly to London and wait there until the airports open again, and that is what I did.

After a long and tiring flight, I returned to my London home to be greeted by friends of my father. All in their 70's and 80's, all educated with terminal degree's from Harvard, Yale, Oxford etc. and what is the first thing I heard. "The British were behind it!" The British were behind what? It had still not sunk in exactly what had happened. I had heard, from China, scattered information about 10 planes involved, ten's of thousands killed. 

It soon became clear, and to be expected, that in the previous couple of days there had been a flurry of speculation as to who did it, and why. Various pundits had dished out their theories and discussed it amongst themselves, ad nauseam! And this group before me, the scholarly Persian-Indian group had come to the conclusion that such a strategic act could only have been the work of the British and it was very much in their character, considering their historic rivalry (and their public declaration of friendship) with whoever has primacy of power. Their argument was very complex, lengthy and convincing. I won't go into it here.

While I am hearing all this, and watching the news clips, I was just awe struck at what had happened. I could clearly visualize myself on the 99th Floor of Tower 1, as if it was yesterday, meeting with some employees of Marsh (an insurance company), their eyes, their mood, the pictures on their desks with their wives and new born children. I later found out that three of the two hundred killed from that company were part the outsourcing company I was working for at the time.

Having rested a bit that evening I went to the home of a friend, where a group of Lebanese and Syrians had gathered. On the way there, I was trying to do some sums in my own head from what facts I had heard so far, and from what I know of the World Trade Center. I was trying to guess for myself how many people had perished. I had guessed 3 to 4 thousand. The TV was saying 6 to 10 thousand at the time.

Anyhow, my friends greeted me with excitement, and what was the first thing they said. "It was the JEWS! Look at who benefits, not who was actually involved." And a zillion other conspiracy theories.

Now, I have to tell you, I am already breathless and disorientated by what has happened. Dizzy after a long flight, and being away from home for so long. And to be thrown right into the "conclusion" of 3 days of non-stop discussions, by the top students of LSE, INSEAD, Harvard, London Business School was quite overwhelming.

I sat on a sofa in my dizzy state, while the others are still chattering away. I called a Chechen friend of mine. The one who hates Russians and think all the worlds evil resides in the Kremlin. And what is the first things he said? "Hey Amir, welcome back. How was Kamchatka.  Don't listen to what others are saying. It was the Russians I tell you, The RUSSIANS. I know the way their mind works, Putin is ex-KGB, they where in Afghanistan, they want less pressure in dealing with Muslim rebels in the Russian confederation. You will never find a trace back to the Kremlin".

Well, I'll end my little story there.  

I think I have made my point. Based on ones world view, each group creates its own demons and rationalizes it's behavior. Clearly someone is grossly wrong! From that day onwards, however susceptible I have been to the viability of grand schemes and conspiracies, I refuse to accept anything without solid, documented proof. Even if the benefit of doubt would suggest that there is some monkey business going on. Why? Because in the end it is counter productive as our ex-revolutionaries have already found out (and you end up feeling silly too).

I accept it is human nature to create generalized theories about reality to show us what paths we should take to achieve our goals. It may even be indispensable for human thought and action. But when we see trivial results from reformers and others, it is not constructive to attack them with harsh slogans based on hearsay. Iran is already a victim of rumors and words of mouth. There is already so much solid facts detrimental to the clergies' role in politics and failures to deliver on promise by reformers, that any additional hearsay indicting Khatami (and friends) in whatever, is not necessary and in fact diminishes the stature of ones own cause.

The various articles on cold-war propaganda in Iran (or the acceptance of general rumor in the middle east) such as the one mentioned by Mr. Hakimi  would also suggest that much of what we think, even today, about "reformers" like Khatami, may well be incorrect. The facts about Khatami's allegiance to the Valayat-e Fagih are generally accepted and seem to be solid.  However, we know that in Iran "zaher" and "baten" are quite different.

Even if those in power are sorry for what they have done to the nation, the pride and prejudice of political office, hued by the mandate of "stay in power" ideology that is common to ALL Iranians would imply that we can never be sure of anyone's actual motives. Is Khatami taking the grass-root reform movement for a ride to prolong the IRI regime? Or is he sincere in his stated motives, and simply is not capable of delivering what he has promised?

I believe the reformers in Iran are going no where in the first place and have over stayed their welcome. If you believe that (1) in Middle East politics, perception and rumor is as important as reality. That rumors do not only takes the shape of reality but it becomes a tool of political and undercover warfare. That long before one is judged, ones personality is being killed by the corrosive power of rumor; every terrifying thought, every unpleasant political tendency, and every hidden undesirable tendency is blamed on those involved in politics. 

And that (2) the governments role are the issues that direct the whole energy of the nation into action, and this (as a very minimum) is required to get us out of the mess our "revolution" has got us into, then you might agree that you cannot carry out any successful "reform", make any real progress, without the general populace backing a regime.

Without a say in our politics (popular sovereignty and democracy) and of course without a regime and a constitution with legitimacy, where is the energy of the nation to come from? National Referendum under international observation is a sufficient enough "idea" that can undermine the whole IRI regime. It can be (1.) asked for non-violently, it is (2.) a platform all secular minded people can unite under, and (3.) it amounts to a "bilakh" to anyone that claims 70% of Iranian's voted for Khatami because they accept him personally or his revolutionary credentials.

Outside of the framework of the above, all "reform" is implemented based on brute strength of a tyrannical system, founded on "supreme rule" and imposed on a begrudging and betrayed populous. This regime came to power on the belief that, as Khalkhali would say "Cruelty of terror and execution is the necessary ingredients of a successful social transformation."

All this talk about giving Khatami a chance for a peaceful transformation ignores the obvious. Without the legitimacy of a constitution based on a referendum that someone other than the mullahs can validate there will not be popular backing of anything other than dismantling this regime. (And of course 75% of the population were not around 23 years ago to have voted for this constitution even if they wanted to). 

Lacking legitimacy this government becomes, and is, a government of a select group of intellectuals. And these intellectuals seem to be in their own little world in Tehran, oblivious of the suffering and poverty of the people, or why there is millions of refugees in the Diaspora. No wonder they didn't fit in with the previous regime. How could any regime expand the scope of political participation to include such selfish and destructive "religious" scholars?

This article was originally written on February 24, 2002. For the next few days will offer reactions to the September 11 attacks.

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