The company you keep

I had met him in the mid-nineties, when, as a student, he was in the throes of a graduate degree program. His lanky physique was consistent with an outstanding wit and intellect. His striking facial features spoke with an easy eloquence to the eyes and his fiery opinion was equally impressive to the ears. No nuance, no matter how attenuated or disguised, could escape his steel-trap mind.

After some years' distance, he wrote the other day about my ”
Give this republic a chance“. “Your piece in
The Iranian on republicanism is BRILLIANT,” he wrote. “It is truly an inspiration, not only for what you say, but for the
way you say it.” I wrote and asked shamelessly if he would share his kind words with the readers of this site.

I have been blessed by the company that I have kept. A group of intellectually honest souls, polite, civil, and tender with their critiques: gently persuasive of the contrary, remarkably generous with their approvals. From them, I have learned too, how to garden, travel, and pursue a modicum of reading-and-writing activity in an area not exactly where my daily bread obtains. I make a living as a corporate lawyer, yet I abhor the law, as in practice it is ultimately an instrument of oppression, an antithesis to the very ideal of a balanced order and universal justice.

“Like many,” wrote a physician from Los Angeles, “I have always had high regards for you and this certainly raised it significantly.” Another reader, a progeny of Abbas Mirza, the last of Persia's great warrior-princes, emphasized the
illuminating nature of the article. She explained that by a long process of elimination republicanism is has emerged as the only choice for the Iranians as an alternative form of government, regardless of who for the moment presided over the state.

That is indeed a subtle point: The assessment of the viability of the republic as an ideal form of government cannot rest on the character of those who direct it, be they angels or demons — No more than the conceptual core of monarchy should be judged by the one that inhabits the palace, be it a gem or pebble. “You have once again written,” opened another letter, “an eminently readable and well thought out article …. [I] hope that there are people out there that will indeed give a republic a chance.”

Give this republic a chance” received a number of contrary views. Among them a few were welcomed polite disagreements; many others however were vulgar and rude, some seething with an anger bordering on the pathological. One comment advised that as a cure for the weeds in my garden and republicanism I ought to urinate on both.

Another reader, an anonymous coward with a funky screen name, obviously a pathetic sort given more to braying than intelligent and civil discourse, invited the others on his e-mail list to respond to me, while he took the high road and demanded an accounting of my personal finances. His argument was that if I had received an educational stipend from the Pahlavi Foundation (precursor to the Alavi Foundation) then I was barred from being a republican.

Needless to say, if today a student on an Alavi Foundation stipend turned monarchist that reader would find every reason to welcome him to the Pahlavist fold. Perhaps, that reader would have had a better argument if the stipend that I received had come out of the Shah's pocket or personal account. It came from the Foundation, whose fabulous assets did not arise out of the wise investment of a soldier's pay. Moreover, the stipend was not a give-away; it was a loan, for which my family's house was pledged as security, which the post-revolutionary government confiscated.

In the annals of Persian history much rested on the shoulders of mythical heros, perhaps because in reality there have been so very few in real life. One hero who rose against oppression and raised the Kiyani standard of rebellion against an usurpers was a blacksmith named Caveh. A reader, with this personage's cognomen as his screen name, wrote to say that I was “a complete idiot or on the payroll of the Mollahs.”

For my money, apparently this particular blacksmith has been sitting around the furnace far too long, beating his anvil. For the record, a Mollahist, I am not. Nor am I, contrary to the gibberish of many other readers, from the Qajar line or have something “personal against the Pahlavis.” If anything, I believe, in a republic every Iranian has an equal right to become the head of state, including any member of the former regime.

Another member of the detractor's e-mail list wrote to another person on the same list and complained about the churning in her aching stomach caused by the “audacity of the so-called intellectual republicans who lounge in the luxury of the free and democratic West and lecture Iranians ….”

I did not understand if her complaint was about lounging, or being in a free country, or lecturing to Iranians. Is it not also what the Pahlavists do, too: Lounging, in the free and democratic West, pontificating about Iranian issues. Not to be outdone in the rudeness department, another reader, with the screen name of “because I am bad,” invited President Khatami to kiss her derriere, with an “open” mouth. “Enjoy your daydream …,” she concluded her vituperation, “you're in for a rude awakening.” Not that I had not received enough vulgarity for one day.

I was raised with the notion that courtesy is the currency of the noble. If that were true, then I must question the upbringing of some of those who serve the cause of Reza Pahlavi, if not his taste in friends. One would think that the Pahlavists are organized around a single person, who embodies an ideal. Without the ideal, he is naught, and without him, the group is nothing, and it is even less so if the grace of the prince does not suffuse his obedient servants at the periphery.

For now, the ranting of the Pahlavi internet thugs is nothing short of a pataphysical sign of a failed Messianic movement. From their comments, I must conclude that they do not recognize any right for one and wish to dictate to all —
baray-e heech kas haqi ghael nistanand, baray-e hameh taklif mikonand.

In 1979, the Iranian revolution turned in one regime (monarchy) for another (republic). If in the past twenty-odd years, one cast of drivers, while creating a proto-theological kingship, have driven the republic aimlessly to nowhere, then the relief ought to be in changing the drivers. Arguably, one could junk this car too and get another one, with another driver. But then should not one transact for a new car, other than a used one? What make or model car? Who, as the driver?

In search of secularism, one reader wrote, it matters not if Iran is a monarchy or republic, but that the quickest route to secularism is “through Pahlavi monarchy.” How and why? “[A]s Reza shah the great,” he offered, “was the founder of modern and secular Iran, and hence we can trust his grandson for this a lot more than anyone else.”

By this reckoning, the solution offered by this reader is that the Iranian nation ought to ride in a previously owned (and discarded) car and put behind the steering wheel a driver whose sole credit seems to be that he is the grandson of Reza Shah. Should one put one's fate in the hand of a chief executive officer with an impeccable personal pedigree but not much else?

This is where once again one is left with the uneasy feeling that the monarchists, in general, and Pahlavists, in particular, view the right to govern or reign as a property right, which should be handed down from generation to generation in one family, just like a paternal legacy.

This view naturally draws from the premise that a country is the property of the ruling house, all the things therein belongs to the Crown or the Turban, and the people, even if not chattel, are
subjects. To that extent, this republic too has some ways to go before it can go from being a theological kingship to an enlightened republic.

What I found most dismaying in my detractors' writings, however, is the abject poverty in the area of elemental discourse. To be fair I again shall supply them with the ultimate reason why in Iran and for the Iranian nation republicanism shan't be: Republicanism is a Western invention and represents, in any form, secular or religious, the ultimate triumph of
gharb-zadeghi, the Western way. Discuss.

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