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35 Years On, It is Time to Return to the Democratic Spirit of the Iranian Revolution

Balatarin

Abolhassan Bani-Sadr with Ayatollah Khomeini. Bani-Sadr was the first elected president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He now lives in exile outside Paris.

 

PARIS – The Iranian Revolution 35 years ago has two conflicting impulses   exemplified by what could be called the legacy of “the two Khomeini’s”  -- the democrat and the despot. These dual legacies still underlay the tensions within Iran today.

 

In its initial phase, the Iranian Revolution was a departure from the violent and armed models of 20th Century revolutions in Russia, China and elsewhere because it introduced a non-violent model of change(which came to be known as the ‘victory of flower over bullet’). The Shah was overthrown, freedoms were restored and the first democratic elections took place. The soft revolutions in Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War followed this model.

 

But then the “coup within the revolution” that followed the overthrow of my presidency left a bloody legacy of intolerance and repression. The roots of the political violence across much of the Islamic world today  -- in which different religious based groups vie for control of the state in order to impose their beliefs –can be traced to this second act of the Iranianian Revolution. Ayatollah Khomeini was the first figure in modern times to sanctify and glorify violence in the name of Islam.

 

“Ayatollah Khomeini was the first figure in modern times to sanctify and glorify violence in the name of Islam.”

 

As a Grand Ayatollah, Khomeini knew well that, according to the Koran, the murder of one innocent person is equal to “the murder of entire humanity.’ He also knew that one of the main principles of Islamic jurisprudence is that it is better to let 100 guilty people escape punishment than to punish an innocent.

 

Yet, in pursuit of total power over society, Khomeini appointed ‘hanging judges’ who rationalized that they could execute anyone since -- if a mistake were made and they were innocent -- they would nonetheless end up in paradise. By the lights of this twisted wager,  Khomeini ordered the execution of thousands of prisoners, turned a blind eye to the systematic use of torture in Iranian prisons and prolonged the Iran-Iraq war in which over two million people were killed, maimed or injured. 

 

Surely, the violent ideologies of groups like Al-Qaeda that are so active today  are nothing but Sunni versions of Shia-based ‘Khomeinism’.

 

KHOMEINI THE DEMOCRAT

During the revolution, Khomeini had identified himself with democratic principles to such an extent that some in France described him as the ‘ayatollah libertaire’.  In over 120 interviews, he described Islam as a belief system of liberty in which political authority lay with the people. He once famously stated that ‘the criterion in Islam is the people’s vote’.

At the time, he also pointedly said that he would play no leadership role in Iranian politics, that the clergy would not interfere in the government and the empowerment of the people would result not only in the guarantee of democratic freedoms, but in  the equality of genders  as well.

 

To a large extent, all these commitments were reflected in the first draft of the country’s  constitution in 1979, which he undersigned and even asked to be put to a referendum. 

 

In those early days, he evinced nothing but the guiding principles of the revolution: independence, freedom, democracy, justice and development, and a commitment to the non-theocratic spiritual Islam which embraced all of these principles. 

 

One reason for the extremely high level of participation in the revolution was that a majority of people identified with these principles and could see a better future through their implementation.

 

KHOMEINI THE DESPOT

The fatal turning point which pitted the democrat against the despot came in the heady days of 1981 as we sought to create political order out of the chaos of the revoultion.

 

When I exercised my constitutional right as president to call for a referendum so that people could decide whether they supported the democratic principles of the revolution, which I advocated, or religious despotism, which the ruling clergy favoured, it was clear I would win.

 

Fearing the marginalization of the clergy in a democratic state, Khomeini reneged on his commitments. He stated that even ‘if 35 million (referring to the population of Iran at the time) say yes, I say no.’

 

 In June 1981, before the referendum could be put to the people, Khomeini, after some hesitation, blessed the coup against me on behalf of the power-hungry clergy. Acting as the final authority, he cast his single vote against the power of the people.

 

AFTER KHOMEINI

Although Khomeini is now long gone, his legacy and methods of control remain.  The disastrous political turmoil which has perpetually afflicted Iran and led the country from one crisis to another -- of which the nuclear weapons showdown with the West is only the latest episode --  has been created by despotic forces which have always had little social support. 

 

From the time of the revolution to the present day, they have sought to fill this legitimacy deficit by maintaining an atmosphere of crisis with the West, presenting themselves, much like Fidel Castro in Cuba, as defenders of the motherland.

 

 Given the history of the ruling clergy and presence of a powerful military-financial faction within the regime,  there is little doubt that after resolving the nuclear issue the regime will need to create another crisis. This pattern will continue until Iranians decide to wrench the country out of the hands of the clergy.

 

“Economic sanctions on Iran need to be removed. These only weaken Iran’s middle class and civil society – the social force behind democractic aspirations.-“


In order for such a move to happen, several conditions need to be put in place.

First, the economic sanctions on Iran need to be removed. These not only weaken Iran’s middle class and civil society – the social force behind democractic aspirations -- but enrich the Revolutionary Guard generals beyond their wildest dreams through their ability to exploit black market trade.

 

Second, the threat of foreign military intervention needs to be completely removed.  Iranians will not move against the regime, no matter how much they despise it, as long as they feel the territorial integrity of the nation is threatened.

 

 

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/abolhassan-banisadr/abolhassan-bani-sadr-iranian-revolution_b_4746509.html

Balatarin

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G.Rahmanian

G. Rahmanian


History For The Dummies must have been the title of this short article.

Samanro

Saman Just Iran and politics.

Democratic spirit of the 1979 revolution? AAAAAHAHAHAAHAHA. All those communists, liberals and leftists who protested violently against the shah got what was coming to them when the islamist took power and showed them what true violence was. The nationalists will also probably do the same to them. Good riddance I say.

Zendanian

Zendanian An injury to one is an injury to all.

Here's a video of Iranian Nationalists demonstrating against mullahs (last week), in solidarity with Iranian Liberals and Leftists incarcerated inside Iran. These same demonstrations happened in more than 20 cities around the world. Before you know it, it'll be happening inside Iran.

Zendanian

Zendanian An injury to one is an injury to all.

Wasn't shah the one that machined gunned defenseless political prisoners like Jazani & his comrades? We saw what happened to monarchists afterwards.
We also saw what happened to Lajvardi, the chief torturer in Evin prison.
Moral of the story: What goes around, comes around.
As that ancient Indian proverb says: " Karma is a byyyatch!"

amirparvizforsecularmonarchy

amirparvizforsecularmonarchy I Love Waterfalls and Find One of the most humorous things in the world; is the notion that Americans are a greater force for good & more civilized than Nazi's, Mullahs and Communists.

True Iranian Nationalists are mostly Monarchists. Good to see some intelligence on this site.

amirparvizforsecularmonarchy

amirparvizforsecularmonarchy I Love Waterfalls and Find One of the most humorous things in the world; is the notion that Americans are a greater force for good & more civilized than Nazi's, Mullahs and Communists.

Anyone supporting that revolution and saying they supported a spirit of democracy really should have no right to speak every again on Iran's behalf.

The World of the USA, UK, France and Germany who agreed to bring Khomeini to power want to keep a threat of military intervention because it loves this anti-democratic tyranny alive and thwarting Iranians for as long as they can keep it. Your naive views are surprising. The democratic option is not the avenue that will ever free iran from tyranny, everyone knows who is the power that unites Iranians from every single ethnicity under one flag and it is not islam, but kaveh and shah han shahi, the culture that we have, not the one some of us wish we had. Take one moment to realize you are clueless about Irans future and the subject of Interest.

G.Rahmanian

G. Rahmanian


By the time Bani Sadr was forced out of office and even prior to the start of Iran-Iraq war, the regime had already unleashed a war on Iranians. Thousands of Iranians had either been killed by government forces or executed by the "hanging judges," thousands had been in prisons and hundreds of thousands of Iranians had escaped the Iran.

amirparvizforsecularmonarchy

amirparvizforsecularmonarchy I Love Waterfalls and Find One of the most humorous things in the world; is the notion that Americans are a greater force for good & more civilized than Nazi's, Mullahs and Communists.

Anyone who murderers unarmed members of the armed forces of the country is in an enemy of the people of Iran, because Iran's armed forces are there to kill enemies of Iran and who ever kills them what can they be but enemies of Iran. Thank God Iran has enough people that put Iran above Religion, the one group that can reclaim Iran back from these dark days.

Zendanian

Zendanian An injury to one is an injury to all.

The moment we formally had an Islamic Republic replacing the monarchy Iranian Revolution of 1979 was dead. It was DOA, dead on arrival!
The armed mass insurrection of February 9 to 11 was also dead on arrival.
We have lived with a still born child of that revolution for 34 years.
Of course mullahs had started unleashing a war of Iranian people right after February 11, 1979.
The first wave of attack on Iranian people was against Iranian women; making them disqualified for Judgeship positions and imposing mandatory covering. The very first protest against mullahs was women's demonstration in front of Bazargan's office, which was attacked by thugs, knifing and throwing acid on protesting women.
After that it was all downhill!

Zendanian

Zendanian An injury to one is an injury to all.

Thank you Messrs Bani-Sadr & Mahmood Delkhasteh for a thoroughly amateur, amnesic history of Iranian revolution. There are so many blatant mistakes and distortions in this relatively short piece it makes one wonder where to begin setting the record straight! Only the three most blatant untruths will be briefly mentioned below:

1) To begin with this fantasy of a totally non-violent revolution against monarchy is only a figment of your imaginations. As recorded history of Iran in 1979 shows there were three days of mass armed insurrection against shah's army in Tehran from February 9th to 11th. This armed insurrection was initiated by Air Force cadets and in a matter of hours was spread throughout Tehran.
This mass armed insurrection was the last nail in the coffin of monarchy in Iran. Most probably the same process could be repeated for an overthrowing of Islamic Republic; a mass armed insurrection, occurring after months and months of political mobilization, organization and street demonstrations combined with industrial actions and strikes. (It is amazing there's not a single word about Iranian working class in your narrative of political transformation in Iran).



2) Khomeini was ALWAYS a thoroughly backward, reactionary, ultra-conservative clergy FROM THE BEGINNING of his "carrier" as a young clergy, writing in his book titled "Kashf Ol'asrar" (Revelation of Secrets) in early 40's he advocated the notion of "Velayat Faghieh" (Providence of the Jurist). There's no excuse to forget this extended history of his reactionary politics after 34 years of Islamic Republic of Hell.
http://fa.wikipedia.org/wiki/%DA%A9%D8%B4%D9%81%E2%80%8C%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%B1

3) Thanks to "intelligent" politicians of IR Iran is going to be stuck w9ith sanctions and threat of war for a long while to come. There's no Wall of China between overthrowing mullahs' regime and ending the sanctions and threat of war. It is very much conceivable and necessary to end the sanctions and threats of war on Iran, through an overthrowing of turban tyrants of Tehran.

Last but not least for an exemplary thoughtful consideration of Iranian Revolution of 1979 see:

انقلاب بهمن: دو روح در یک کالبد
http://iranian.com/posts/view/post/28122

amirparvizforsecularmonarchy

amirparvizforsecularmonarchy I Love Waterfalls and Find One of the most humorous things in the world; is the notion that Americans are a greater force for good & more civilized than Nazi's, Mullahs and Communists.

Some truth to your madness, depends on how change happens, monarchists represent a very deep part of that which loves and unites all Iranians. My King HRH Reza Pahlavi is voted man of the year in Iran by Iranians right after it was reported he was taking Khameneii to the international criminal court for crimes against humanity.

maziar58

maziar 58 Maziar

Once an Iraqi friend(acquaintance ) of mine who also spoke persian thanks to his mother;Asked me how you sayفصاحت و بلاغت in English?
Coulde'nt grasp Eloquence &Rhetoric
Simply said Sugar Coating the Bulshits!
Now the analytical case of1979 and so on Both in English & Persian
Brings me to that Simple definition :Sugar Coating the…
Come on guys admit y'all Screwed it and
Got Screwed in Return.

NiloufarParsi

Niloufar Parsi http://niloufarparsi.wordpress.com

The background argumentation is not so strong and shows a lot of bias, but the conclusions are sound.

The key to internal reform is in lifting foreign pressure on Iran.

Iranian expats who truly want to help Iran move in a more liberal or even secular direction should spend all their efforts on undermining the sanctions and ending foreign aggression.

aaa3636

aaa3636

It is waste of time to discuss a lunatic that teaches molestation of children and writes procedures for having sex with wild and domestic animals. Khomeini was a free loader and lazy ass like other Akhonds. He came to power with the help of his master to accomplish their mission and will be eliminated whenever they wish.

mahmooddelkhasteh

mahmood delkhasteh

I have already skimmed through Mr Nikar's extended article. He writes well but there are numbers of methodological problems with his arguments, which I have not time to get into one by one. However the major problems with his argument are that he fails to differentiate between the different phases of the revolution and collapses the different political forces within the structure of the regime into one narrative. Hence, he creates blind spots for the reader.
Furthermore, without spelling it out, it is obvious that he sees the outcome of the revolution as having been inevitable, and then tries to argue around this point.
He also sees the revolution as an event which happened in the past, so that after the post-revolutionary power struggle was settled, its destiny was as well. Many theoreticians of social revolutions, though, see revolution as an open-ended process - I belong to this school of thought. Looking at social revolutions from this perspective creates a paradigm shift, and instead of perceiving ourselves as passive and bitter spectators of a revolution which happened to us and shaped our lives for worse, we find ourselves as active agents who are able to decide to continue the revolution so that Iranians can become citizens of a republic whose duty is to protect the human and national rights of Iranians, to eradicate poverty and actualize people’s talents.
We should not forget that the French revolution also looked as though its ideals and goals had been defeated during a period of massive social terrorisation and bloodshed, during the Robespierre era, under the slogan ‘the despotism of democracy’. Here is how Robespierre justified it: “If virtue be the spring of a popular government in times of peace, the spring of that government during a revolution is virtue combined with terror: virtue, without which terror is destructive; terror, without which virtue is impotent. Terror is only justice prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country ... The government in a revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny.”
After that, the French revolution went through the dictatorship of Napoleon, to the extent that the use of the word ‘democracy’ became illegal. Yet there were generations of revolutionaries who did not give up on the ideal of the French revolution, who continued the struggle and passed on the light to future generation, and eventually after many setbacks they reached their goals - which still form the bases of political struggle in France. If we have to learn anything from others’ experiences, I suggest that we learn from their tireless persistence to continue their revolution.
Here is part of my research which might help to shed light on this argument:
“ ...As easy as it is to date the end of the Pahlavi regime in 1979, it is difficult to determine the terminus of the Iranian revolution, if such exists. This problem is not specific to the Iranian revolution. For instance, there is a range of competing opinions about how to determine the terminus of the 1789 French revolution. Francois Furet analyses this ongoing disagreement by trying to identify the different endpoints of the French Revolution as posited by different historians. He sees these opinions as spread between two poles dividing past and future, from those who see the end of the French revolution as being synonymous with the termination of the old regime, since “the essential features of the Revolution’s final outcome was fixed, when the final page of the ancien regime was turned” to the present time, when “the discourse of both Right and Left celebrates liberty and equality”. For Furet, if there is a consensus among contemporary scholars, it is only because “the political debate has simply been transferred from one Revolution to the other, from the revolution of the past to the one that is to come”. There are also other dates which are reasonable candidates for the revolution’s end, the most of which range from 1794, when Robespierre was executed, to 16 May 1877, when republicans defeated the monarchists. Even between in between these, there are other possible “stopping points” at 1799, 1815, 1830, 1848, 1851, and 1870.
The Iranian revolution is much too young to provoke such a wide range of disagreement about its terminus. However, we can recruit insight from the widespread disagreement about the French revolution by recognising that the “touchstone, in identifying the terminus of the French revolution is the realization of the guiding principles of the revolution”. That is why today such disagreements have subsided drastically since, as pointed out earlier on, “the discourse of both Right and Left celebrates liberty and equality”. A similar criterion is used in this thesis as a methodological device for defining the time period under inquiry, and classifies the outcome of the revolution according to its initially stated guiding principles of “freedom” and “independence”.
Francois Furet, Interpreting the French Revolution, transl. by Elborg Forster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 3.
Ibid., p. 5.
Ibid.
Ibid., p.5.
It should be noticed that during the revolution, the word azadi meant both “freedom” and “democracy” and was used interchangeably. It was only years later that the word mardomsalary was introduced into Persian to mean “democracy” and differentiated from freedom. Hence, it is important to understand what the word azadi meant within the context of the Iranian revolution. Because it does not now necessarily imply democracy, could be argued that someone using discourses of freedom is not necessarily also a democrat. The best method for demonstrating that the word azadi meant both “freedom” and “democracy” is the contextual analysis of its use during the early years of the revolution in the slogans and resolutions issued by demonstrators and strikers, but particularly in the speeches and interviews of the leadership. The analysis demonstrates that during the revolution Khomeini used the word azadi to mean both freedom and democracy, and that in various interviews he used the English word “democracy” to emphasise his meaning of azadi. This was particularly the case when he was repeatedly arguing that the implementation of Human Rights and democracy were the main goals of revolution. See, for example, Ruhollah Khomeini, Sahifeh-ye nour [The Book of Light], vol. 5 (Tehran: Markaz-e Madarek-e Entersharat-e Eslami, 1999 [1378]), p. 353 and vol. 4, p. 199.

G.Rahmanian

G. Rahmanian


"During the revolution, Khomeini had identified himself with democratic principles to such an extent that some in France described him as the ‘ayatollah libertaire’. In over 120 interviews, he described Islam as a belief system of liberty in which political authority lay with the people. He once famously stated that ‘the criterion in Islam is the people’s vote’." Banisadr
"The fatal turning point which pitted the democrat against the despot came in the heady days of 1981 as we sought to create political order out of the chaos of the revoultion." Banisadr

So, even Banisadr, the son of an ayatollah close to Khomeini and himself a Shi'ite, did not know what Khomeini was about?

Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia:

"Banisadr had participated in the anti-Shah student movement during the early 1960s and was imprisoned twice, and was wounded during an uprising in 1963. He then fled to France. He later joined the Iranian resistance group led by Khomeini, becoming one of his hard-liner advisors.[3][4] Banisadr returned to Iran together with Khomeini as the revolution was beginning in February 1979. He wrote a book on Islamic finance, Eghtesad Tohidi, an Arabic phrase that roughly translates as "The Economics of Monotheism."

And a book on Islamic governance:

The fundamental principles and precepts of Islamic government, Mazda Publishers, 1981