This brings me to an undetermined time in my past when I became a supporter of the republican form of government. Already in 4th grade, I had come to the conclusion that Takhti would beat the Shah in wrestling and that the king was not omnipotent. A teacher, with his back to the hanging portrait of the monarch, had started to refer to His Imperial Majesty by the pejorative form of “he.” In the same year, I was reprimanded when inadvertently I inverted the places of the King and Country in the pyramid of loyalty — God, King, Country.
I recall with great clarity when in 1963 truckloads of black-shirts from Dezashib whizzed by the primary school to confront the military forces that had been deployed downtown. At dusk one summer evening, as father and I strolled along the confined short driveway, he explained the martial law outside. “If the Shah goes, what will become of Iran,” I enquired. “I cannot imagine Iran without a king,” he replied. I could not either.
My very first conscious memory of “becoming” a republicanist is rooted in the experience of wanting to run for the chairmanship of the conference committee of a cultural club at my university. The office however was reserved for the juniors and seniors. When I objected against that barrier, I was reminded that there are some jobs that a person can never have — such as, for example, becoming a king. I abandoned the search for that office and spent my spare time reading about the rights of man and obligations of government in societies organized around the consent of the governed, where the laws of contract and not status governed.
A few years later, during the Bicentennial of the American Revolution I summered in the Washington D.C. area and immersed myself once again in The Spirit of Laws, Social Contract, Republic, Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Minutes of the Philadelphia Convention, The Federalist Papers, and scores of adult magazines and films in the exercise of my constitutionally-guaranteed lifestyle. I studied also, in great detail, a book entitled
Mission for My Country by Shah Mohammadreza Pahlavi, which in my estimation, is the greatest book by any Iranian statesman of the last century.
The possessive pronoun “my” in the title of the Shah's book had begun to sound less and less as a grammatical choice, and more and more like a political declaration. This had become evident every summer when in Iran I heard the royal pronoun “we” acquire greater significance than the self. In a televised interview with an American news outlet, the Shah responded to the criticism of his domestic politics by claiming that Iran had
lese majeste, which in the French royal-talk meant “I'll do what I please.” And when he said “[t]he bond between me and
my people is very strong,” I lost him forever, as I had decided that no person should be anyone's possession.
By the late 1970s I had left my father's house and resolved that I shall be no longer a subject, but a citizen. The first casualty of that conversion was the replacement in my heart of the national anthem: I began lipping with greater frequency
ay-iran, O! Iran, as a tribute to the land of Iran, instead of paying homage to the single individual at its head. It was, in my way of thinking, imperative that the rest of the population should have an active say in who the chief magistrate of the state should be. This should not be lost to the current “unelected few” in Iran, either.
The concept of constitutional monarchy, as practiced in Iran and which the Pahlavists continue to peddle, is at its core anathema to the Iranian nature of kingship as a matter of practical politics, and it also affronts the universal principle of equality of man.
The last time Iran experienced a viable form of monarchy was during the Saljuq period, where the concept of a
shahanshahi or supra-kingship was practiced in the from derived from the Sassanid era. By this model, the king of kings was tolerated as such for as long as he let the other kings to their kingdoms. Beginning with the Safavid dynasty, that formula was made less and less relevant as modernization and
tanzimat in the tax system, foreign trade, and military organization required greater centralization of power. Soon the other kings were reduced to dependent oligarchs, and their domains became provinces. With a brief respite in the days of Agha Mohammadkhan Qajar, the emasculation of the
shahanshahi regime continued apace until 1979 a fed up population overthrew the monarchy and installed by popular referendum a theocratic republic.
On a larger scale, the very notion of kingship runs counter to the universally recognized rights of the citizen. First, because kingship stays in one family, the ordinary citizen is barred by birth from attaining the job of the chief magistrate of the realm. That is an insult to the notion that every member of society, regardless of gender, race, religion, or ethnic origin, should have an equal and non-discriminatory opportunity to determine one's form of government, including to get herself to the top-banana post in the country.
Second, because Iranian kings and their oligarchs have tended to reserve for themselves immunity from prosecution as a matter of divine right or constitutional law, kingship, even constitutional monarchy, sits therefore above the law. This in turn makes a mockery of the principles enshrined in Articles 1 and 7 of the International Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which state: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights…. All are equal before the law and are entitled without discrimination to equal protection of the law.”
Similarly, the royal immunity is an insult to Article 14 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1967), which provides that “All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals.” It is my contention that the 1979 revolution in Iran was in part a citizen's arrest or law enforcement action brought on by the violation with impunity on the part of the monarchy of the basic tenets of enlightened government and human rights. Where the leadership arrogant and impervious to the rule of law, revolutions are likely: nor should this lesson of history be lost to the present dictators of Iran.
Often one reads from the Pahlavist camp that monarchy thrives in Europe and therefore it is still a viable alternative to republicanism. This is a fair statement if it were delivered in a vacuum devoid of Iran's own experience. In most of the European monarchies, the royal families have been reduced to the status of celebrities, with modest or next to nothing in amounts of wealth and claims on the property and lives of their subjects. The reverse of that had been the case in Iran, where monarchy since the days of Nader Shah had been about pillaging and amassing ever greater fortunes in fewer hands.
I digress. Ultimately, the choice between pursuing a republican or monarchial form of government rests with the individual citizen and his comfort level. I do not begrudge my antagonists' relentless browbeating of my choice: where logic fails them, they bray. I welcome their shrill gibberish because no one makes the case against them better than they themselves.