Close encounter with Akbar-e Ganji

Last night I went to OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education) to finally see in the flesh the man whose articles I used to devour during Khatami’s presidency. He looked shorter but sharper than I had expected. The serenity with which he dealt with criticism came as no surprise, after all, he’s been through long periods of imprisonment, which, for the very least, has led to the development of a sense of resilience in the victim. The verbal criticisms mostly came from the side of the participating women.

A lady expressly indignant with Ganji’s remarks concerning the improvement of women’s lot, asked him: “Why do you claim that women in Iran live under pleasant circumstances, when they have to be subjugated to harsh treatment for their least rights?” Some would forget that Ganji was speaking in relative terms: Not comparing Iran to the First World, but to what it had been in the past. Relatively-speaking women had come to their own, but that did not mean that there was no room for improvement.

Particularly striking, I found Ganji’s reiteration of the common error amongst us Iranians with respect to dialogues. For instance, in expounding how the Iranian government did not fit the description of a Fascist regime, he had to remind the audience that if one were to say a creature is not a dragon, one did not mean that it is not a wolf. On this basis, his premise that the Iranian government was not fascist did not entail that it was democratic. Wise words. For those curious as to why he refuted claims that equated the Islamic Republic with a Fascist government, he argued that these days the entire world comes to know about the state of every individual detainee since words spread quickly and there is no countering the technology that has promoted the age of communication. He also enumerated a series of interviews held with a number of figures including Shabestari and Saharkhiz which had led to little harm to the dissidents themselves and only brought about the closure of a few publications here and there. “In a Fascist regime, rather than the polyphony that prevails in the Iranian society, one hears one voice only, that of the dictator. “

Comments were also made surrounding the contradictions that form the very texture of the Iranian society these days. While the Iranian government claims to be Islamic, its youth celebrate parties in which marijuana is liberally used and boys and girls freely mingle. The Iranian youth of today eschew from obeying any kind of authority, the end-result being a cacophony that is devoid of any distinct directionality. Also their demand of staying up-to-date in terms of technological advances (e.g. cell-phones, laptops) has created a market for the latest version of computerized items in Iran that is not be found in the West where most people are content with what they have as long as their needs are satisfied.

I also admired what Ganji had to say on reforming the ground-level of the society rather than targetting the adminstrative levels. Change has to start at grass-roots’ level. Our children have to be educated and our youth informed. Paradoxical as it might sound, Ganji believes that one primary change occuring at this juncture in Iranian history is that some private sectors are gaining an independent voice, a first step on the long path towards democracy.

I am no longer interested in politics the way I used to be in my younger years, yet I did enjoy listening to this seasoned journalist of my homeland despite an ideolect which led him to articulate words in a twisted way (at least, to my ears). It took me a while to realize that ‘domocracy,’ was actually ‘democracy’ and ‘perestrika’ was, as a matter of fact, what I had learnt to be ‘perestroika.’ Other than that, Ganji’s is a brilliant mind and I hope he will continue to grace us with his charismatic presence.

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