Reformists – past, present and future

When you say Reformists the first person that comes to mind is President Khatami.  However, the reform movement is nothing new.  In our history I’d go back to the Constitutional Revolution of 1905.  Today even in democratic and secular countries we often hear calls of reforms and reformers and platforms of “Change”.

Reformers have been a big part of the Iranian politics since the 1979 revolution and true to its name – revolution – it made a full stop and reset of whatever reform was in the works.  Mossadegh was a reformer and his “followers” be it Bakhtiar or later Bazargan, Ghotbzadeh and others who didn’t want absolute rule of Mullahs in and outside the Government tried all they could to stop that trend.  Many lost their lives in the process and became the first ones to “confess” and be executed for being “spies”.  As we all know by now spies are everywhere in Iran and we have cornered the world market on the spy business!

People don’t want to live under dictatorships and they try to make changes however they can with whatever is available to them.   What is important is to keep the flame of freedom and justice alive so we know what our priorities are and who listens and values these just demands that have eluded us for so long. 

Just because the common argument is that Islamic Republic can’t be reformed doesn’t mean those who are in the Government and want a better future for their country shouldn’t do anything, lay low or just get out.  How many people work for or inside the Government?  Are they ALL rotten crooks and criminals?

These days in the diaspora circles it is fashionable to ridicule the reformers such as Khatami, Mousavi, Karoubi and others.  Inside Iran as you get older people know about everything and they ridicule just about anyone because they don’t think anything is going to change.  However, if you look at young people and how they get inspired and how they move their leaders and push them to their limits it is unreasonable to think ALL those who have served in the Islamic Republic have a hand in the rampant torture and murders.  Often those who were murdered were part of the reform movement.

If you want to know how a generation is moved and how a politician can move them and make changes see the documentary Our Times (2002) which is made by the world renowned film maker Rakhshān Bani E’temād who by the way graduated from Melli University during Shah and I think was also a class-mate of Mousavi, although younger than him.  The documentary is about Khatami’s campaign for his re-election, thus Our Times (Ruz-egar-e ma).

This documentary shows in great detail how a movement starts.  Who leads it (the young), who tries to ridicule, who tries to sabotage and who stands up and defend.   It is really interesting to see people get on camera and say derogatory things about how things are done.  One person says he is not voting and states his reason as; why should we vote so they can claim 20 million votes?

Basically everyone said what they wanted to say on camera.  Can people say these things now?  Or were those words not even worthy or appearing on camera making grand criticisms a hoax?  I often hear and read people’s response after they see a film or a news article asks how can people say these things and don’t understand how can regime allow it?  Well, they are courageous people with self-confidence who unlike you and me don’t just say these things in private.  They say it out loud and know how and when to say it.

The film itself actually covers 2 or 3 areas.  First area is the re-election and the young people who go out and campaign and get into arguments and thugs attacks and the camera follows them.  Second part is when they go to interview the women who applied as candidates but were disqualified for being a woman.   In these interviews you see a lot of demands and drama about women’s rights. Third part is about a young single mother (26 or 27 at the time, I think) who has to work and pay for her 8 or 9 year old daughter and her blind mother.  She applied as a Presidential candidate and that’s how Bani-E’temad found her and then the story and documentary takes on a life of its own.  She had such a hard time finding an apartment because they wouldn’t rent to single or divorced women “without a man” and she didn’t have enough money for rent, had two jobs to make ends meet and so on.  Very interesting real life drama.

So beating everyone with the same stick while the differences are evident is being unfair to our own history and those who fight for justice.  Many of us wouldn’t say a fraction of the things people said on camera during Khatami, yet many did.  They had the courage and Khatami provided that atmosphere.  He didn’t get most of the things people wanted but he accomplished enough where movies thrived, artists flourished and restrictions on hijab and women were eased.  As small as these achievements may seem they were things the young generation wanted. 

Now today we see Mousavi, Karoubi and Khatami virtually under house arrests.  I don’t know who is going to be the next person to take the reform flag and move it forward but it would be unfair to him/her if we ridicule him/her from the beginning.  Of course we can do whatever we want but those who matter have shown throughout history to have taken another path.  The reformists are always out there with or without our support.

I think the next milestone is the 2013 presidential election and believe this would be the first real test of boycotting an election in Iran and a milestone in the democratic/green movement.  Will the regime make it mandatory for everyone to vote or use other intimidation tactics or will the people decide to sit this out? What would be the outcome and what would be regime’s explanation for such a large drop in the voter turnout?

Photo caption: Baran Kosari Iranian actress with her mother Rakhshān Bani E’temād’ and Abbas Kiarostami (no relations).

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