September 11: Reality check
September 5, 2002
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 Iranian.com 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
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
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 iranian.com will offer reactions to the September 11 attacks.