Secular or not

On Tuesday 6 August 2002, the reformist internet magazine, Emrooz, produced by Said Hajarian and Alireza Alavitabar, published a very brief comment by Hamidreza Jalaipour in its article column. Jalaipour is another prominent reformist and the editor of the banned newspaper Asr-e-Azadegan.

After reading his comments, I immediately wrote a short reaction and e-mailed to Emrooz. Since I did not hear from this daily updated magazine, I sent a second e-mail asking for the acknowledgement of my comments. Not hearing a response again, I have concluded that given the critical tone of my comments, they, understandably, will never see the pages of Emrooz.

However, this issue is extremely important. Reformists have rarely paid adequate attention to the plight of secular intellectuals. When they have done so, their approach has been either patronizing and/or instrumentalist. Now that one of them has made such a move, one wonders why it is so minuscule, polemical, and still instrumental. Consequently, I have decided to send my reaction, with full translation of Mr. Jalaipour's original comments, to

Mr. Jalaipour's comment is titled: “The Rights of Secularists”. Here is the full text of his comments:

Secularists' citizenship [rights] are repeatedly violated. The last instance of such a violation was clearly evident in the interview by Siamak Pourzand.

When [Pourzand] repeatedly cited the names of secular writers and artists who had served the Pahlavi regime and foreign enemies in the past half century, Seda-o-Sima (state radio and TV) aired his comments without any restriction. However, when Pourzand made reference to names of some religious writers, their names were censored by Seda-o-Sima.

This discriminatory behavior reveals that some managers of public institutions, which are funded by the public including the secularists, are not afraid of violating the rights of secular writers and artists. A delicate point here is that most secularists do not care about this violation.

Maybe one reason for such a lack of concern is that the character assassination of secularists by the programs produced by Seda-o-Sima generates the opposite results. That is, these programs increase, rather than decrease, the status of these writers in the public opinion.

Dear Editor of Emrooz,

Today, your site carried a snippet by Hamidreza Jalaipour, entitled “The Rights of Secularists”, protesting the abuse of Iranian secular intellectuals' rights as citizens of the country. I was surprised by this statement both positively and negatively.

I was very delighted to see that Mr. Jalaipour has for once come out of his habitual dismissal of secular intellectuals as a relevant and important category of social strata in Iranian cultural domain. More importantly, he protested the violations of these intellectuals' rights as citizens during a confessionary program on the Seda-o-Sima during which an elderly man, Siamak Pourzand, was put under the most humiliating conditions of denouncing his lifetime activities as a service to foreign countries.

I would like to express my appreciation for Mr. Jalaipour's new attention to the plight of the secular intellectuals and what has happened to them in the past two decades in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Given what is happening to the religious intellectuals in Iran nowadays, I would not be surprised to see more of them sharing the fate of secular intellectuals.

Any protests against inhuman treatment of intellectuals will serve all Iranians, secular or religious, intellectuals or non-intellectuals. My comments here are not meant to encourage Mr. Jalaipour in giving up on this new focus. Conversely, I would like to encourage him to be more reflective, and sensitive as well, to how he views the violations of rights of Iranian intellectuals.

My delight in reading Mr. Jalaipour did not last long. His comment is short but long in assumptions about secular intellectuals. First, he assumes that all secular intellectuals named by Mr. Pourzand were at the service of the Pahlavi regime and foreign countries. Mr. Jalaipour now shares the burden of proof too. He needs to go through the list provided in that interview and prove that those claims were true.

Second, to accept the interview at face value and assume that its content was true, means that Mr. Jalaipour also believes that the accusations leveled against Mr. Pourzand were also true. His statement criticizes violations of the rights of secular intellectuals but not of Mr. Pourzand himself. It would be really helpful for the nation and its intellectuals if Mr. Jalaipour, who is a reformist and not associated with the conservative establishment behind that engineered interview, produces evidence for accusations leveled against Mr. Pourzand. After all, given the closed-door trial, the nation has a right to see the evidence for itself.

Third, like a number of other reformists' criticisms of Mr. Pourzand's interview, Mr. Jalaipour's approach to this case is instrumentalist. Mr. Jalaipour is questioning why the names of religious intellectuals cited by Mr. Pourzand were censored but not those of the secular intellectuals! Does this mean that if the names of religious intellectuals were not censored by Seda-o-Sima, Mr. Jalaipour would not have any complaints?

Fourth, Mr. Jalaipour claims that most of these secular intellectuals are complacent and do not protest this discrimination by Seda-o-Sima! Doesn't Mr. Jalaipour know what happens to secular intellectuals when they protest? Just read the news on the same page of Emrooz about the six lawyers representing some of these intellectuals. These lawyers have been banned from practicing!

The secular intellectuals are subjected to disappearance, death, jail, torture, and harassment, even when they do not say much against the apparatus behind Seda-o-Sima. What would happen if they do? How much did Mr. Tafazzoli say against Seda-o-Sima? Or Mokhtari? Or Pooyandeh? Or Pourzal?

What does Mr. Jalaipour expect of these intellectuals? The apparatus behind this TV show has already victimized one of these intellectuals and dragged him to his own butcher house in front of the whole nation! Is that not enough?

No, Mr. Jalaipour! These intellectuals are not going to complain about the discrimination between religious and secular intellectuals by the conservative apparatus. They protest the nature and illegality of these arrests, trials, and inhuman treatments. They are concerned with substance not technicalities. They are not concerned with unequal treatment in a society whose citizens' rights are limited by the law itself. They object to the existence of laws that violate human rights of Iranian citizens. They are already paying a heavy price for voicing their opinion about the substance of these charges. They are not going to accept them and then complain about their discriminatory treatment in a manufactured TV interview!

Finally, at the end of his short comment, Mr. Jalaipour goes out of his way to accuse secular intellectuals of enjoying this treatment at the hand of Seda-o-Sima! My God! How dare you Mr. Jalaipour! In a rhetorical brief you are accusing the secular intellectuals that they are in cahoots with the conservatives because the attack by Seda-o-Sima increases their popularity! I hope that your statement is simply a truism. However, a closer look at the rhetorical tone of your sentence reveals that you really mean it.

Mr. Jalaipour! Do you know why the religious intellectuals like you became popular in the post 2nd-Khordad period? Was your popularity due to attacks by the conservatives? We should all know that what goes around comes around.


Ali Akbar Mahdi is chair and professor at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ohio Wesleyan University. Homepage here.

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