Akbar Ganji’s name in Persian means ‘of or belonging to treasure’. Let us take a good look into this man’s pouch and see if what we hear jingling there is anything worth our while. Let us also not confuse the fact that he is being treated in a criminal manner by a brutal regime with the real value of his intellectual wares. We should make a clear distinction between two main issues we are faced with here:
1) Does Akbar Ganji deserve all the international efforts to set him free: Absolutely.
2) Is he a deep, clear thinker? Certainly not.
His case represents the vast and irreconcilable contradictions within a system that on the one hand makes a tremendous fanfare in the international arena over ostentatious ideas such as ‘A Dialogue among Civilizations’, and on the other hand cannot tolerate the writings and revelations of a second-rate journalist. Akbar Ganji also epitomizes why we are where we are today in this benighted and degrading squalor in our national history. His mental confusion typifies how the so-called educated class of our nation has made a mess of its political judgments and has failed to discriminate between woolly thinking and genuine thought.
To understand Mr. Ganji and judge the quality of his mind, we should go to his writings – and there are plenty of his books, declarations and articles available. For the present occasion, I invite you to consider his recent letter to Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, which I believe is representative of his sloppy thinking and general inchoate outlook.
He starts with thanking the Ayatollah for his kind message and remarking that “Your Excellency’s letter made warm blood flow into my veins again. For me you are a symbol of courage. I have always wanted to learn courage in your school.” Here, in these words we are given an example of what the late celebrated Iranian journalist Houshang Vaziri used to call ‘murkiness’ and ‘whimsicality’ in Akbar Ganji’s definitions. For to define courage in terms of Hussein Ali Montazeri’s ‘courage’ and elevate it to the level of a paragon and exemplary school betrays a profound misunderstanding of terms and confusion of meanings.
There is no denying that Hussein Ali Montazeri has a long history of standing up and ‘courage’. But usually this hapless shortsighted mullah has stood up before looking down under his feet to see what he is standing up on. In the years leading to the revolution and the early period of the consolidation of the Islamic regime, he stood up with his pointy mullah’s slippers on the smashed head of liberty and democracy in our country.
Ganji himself in his letter acknowledges this dark side of Mohammad Montazeri. He admits that this ‘Eminent Jurisprudent’ (as Ganji calls him) was the one who put together the Frankenstein of the Valite Faghih. Nevertheless, Ganji readily forgives Montazeri. Not for, as the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. No, there is no evidence for such a charge on Ganji’s part. The problem rather lies in the fact that both he and Montazeri lack the moral and intellectual stamina to extricate themselves wholly from their ambivalent tie to Khomeini and the 1979 revolution.
There is no gainsaying that Akbar Ganji has been valiantly exposing and challenging the Iranian ruling establishment. One cannot quarrel with the fact that he has come a long way from his heady revolutionary days to be able to produce a document such as his ‘Republican Manifesto’. The evidence that he still has a long journey ahead of him crops up when he let himself fall into the moral amnesia of taking his political pattern from a man who lived and died as a fanatical autocrat. Proudly following in Khomeini’s footsteps who once said the Shah must go, Ganji now declares that Khamenei must go. Here there is a big difference however in dramatic altitude which turns Mr. Ganji’s political grandstanding into a quixotic posture.
Karl Marx was right when he said “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” By declaring that the Shah must go, Khomeini trampled upon 3,000 years of political tradition. This was a tragedy. The Shah was not only a person, he was the incarnation of a national covenant, the symbol of a historical continuity that went back to Cyrus the Great. Khamenei on the other hand stands for an illegitimate system that has come about by doctoring a retrograde theological doctrine. He represents a political humbug that has been in the throes of death from the time of its inception 26 years ago. Hussein Ali Montazeri, the very same person Mr. Ganji is appealing to for sympathy and understanding has been one of the chief architects of this religio-political sophistry.
Mr. Ganji’s “Khamenei must go”, and his call for the departure of an opportunist mullah, the ringleader of a band of official terrorists in itself is laudable and the articulation of a national dream. Nevertheless, by trying to re-echo Khomeini’s demagogic call in the period leading to the 1979 revolution, Mr. Ganji severely undermines the credibility of his message. Instead of drawing the authority of his argument form the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people, he returns yet again to the depleted moral account of a discredited tyrant such as Ruhollah Khomeini. This mimicry of the old rabble rouser can only invite derision and evoke bitter national memories.
Unlike in 1979, at present there is no atmosphere of mass hysteria in the country blocking people’s political visibility. Through a quarter of a century of tragic experience, the Iranian people have come to realize the immense price of acting before thinking and can spot hidden agendas from extremely long distances. They can for instance clearly see that the old revolutionary guard here has a political axe to grind and is trying to forestall Iranian national aspiration for restoring constitutional monarchy. They can see that while calling for an end of dictatorship in the country, Mr. Ganji gives in to the temptation of dictating his own political agenda.
Akbar Ganji the man for whose release all the international democratic voices are crying out, imperiously and presumptuously declares: “I say we do not need kings and queens.” He seems to be oblivious to the democratic principle of allowing the people of his country to answer that question. Ironically, Reza Pahlavi, the son of the Shah of Iran never during his campaign has used the pronoun ‘I’ the way Akbar Ganji has used it in this context. Reza Pahlavi has always maintained that it is up to the Iranian people to decide about their political future be it a democratic republic, or a constitutional monarchy.
In his Republican manifesto, Ganji rightly points out that the past generations did not have the right to decide about the fate of unborn Iranians, yet he himself has no qualms about deciding for present and future generations of Iranians by telling them what they should or should not opt for. In one breath Akbar Ganji can refer to the crimes against humanity perpetrated by Khomeini when he ordered the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, and in another breath he can bring himself to quote this same criminal to consecrate his argument in calling for the ouster of the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic. Quoting Ayatollah Khomeini, Ganji writes:
“Any individual from the people of a nation has the right to directly question, in the public, the ruler of the Muslims and the ruler has to give a convincing answer; otherwise, if he, i.e. the ruler, has acted against his Islamic duties, he is automatically removed from the office of the ruler.” (Ayatollah Khomeini, Sahife-i Nur, vol. 4, p. 190)
Akbar Ganji who cites a religious fascist as an authority in political rights of the citizens, like many of his fellow reformists acts as if Iran is the personal estate inheritance of Khomeini’s revolution, dispossessed of a past and with a future subject to what has been stipulated and laid out by Ruhollah Khomeini in his will.
Should we fight as hard as we can to free Akbar Ganji? Yes by all means.
The political ganj, or treasure, Mr. Ganji is offering Iranians, however, has long been thrown out of currency. It has been declared invalid by commonsense and sound judgment.