Hoveyda in New York
November 13, 2002
...I've had enough of Irish-Americans come up to me, and talk about the resistance,
the revolution back home; and the glories of the revolution, and the glories of dying
for the revolution: fuck the revolution... They don't talk about the glories of killing
for the revolution... -- Bono
Reading the dialectic, or the mythological texts, and constructing a law with the
idea of approaching justice, is a never-ending process. The greatest revolution,
however, the most glorious one, is that which is not followed by a written constitution,
but is rather weaved no matter how peculiarly, into the body of the subject to the
law, the subject of the text, the subject of the country... or any other symbol.
At the end of it, the word has to become the body. Reason has to turn into
instinct. And in this, we know that mythology always becomes dialectic - as
does dialectic mythology. De-cision manifests the greatest of violence, and
yet cannot be avoided, despite the understanding that all choices at the end are
wrong. And in this, reading remains suspect, but absolutely necessary.
Ambassador Hoveyda's talk entitled "the coming revolution in Iran," - of
which what follows seeks to provide a reading, and to which it dares a response,
- revolved around the presentation of the current conditions of Iran, and foresaw
a revolution, as an inevitability, and an inevitable remedy. Ambassador Fereydoune
Hoveyda teases out, and addresses the core of the problems facing Iran, both advertently,
It has been more than a week since I saw Fereydoune HoVeyda. But to already
preface my confessional love for him, let me start by a letter for him and for us:
1. Getting there
I had to show my ID in the lobby because of security reasons and I was given a visitor's
sticker, - which as I realized much too late, I had forgotten to wear; but it didn't
seem to matter. Once out of the elevator, I was escorted through various offices
past many cubicles and reception desks, offices leading to offices, and finally into
a long conference room, decorated with a lunch buffet on one side.
As the young lady guiding me and I entered the room, there was no time to gather
one's thought. There he was: Fereydoune Hoveyda - talking to the only
other two or three people in the room. It suddenly was not any more possible
to play it cool, so I walked straight up to him, and introduced myself sans the taa'rof,
and with a clumsy grasp of etiquette.
I am not going to list Mr. Hoveyda's CV. But let me just say that if Fereydoun
is one of the greatest mythical heroes of ours, Iranians, (and indeed all those who
read Persian,) Fereydoune HoVeyda is not a mere academic scholar, artist, writer,
politician etc., he like very few others in this metaphysical community, is a national
It was my absolute pleasure to sit by some strange providence near him, as the matter
of fact nearest to him, right next to him, on one end of the long conference table
where everyone had lunch just before he began his (not so much in-formal as out-formal,
as extra-formal perhaps - in an altogether other relation to the economy of the formal)
talk; and I am purposely staying away, from the abused prefix, meta.
His notes did not have a very German organization, and yet, the presentation wasn't
an imitation of the French either, although, one could hear a base of French accent
in the prehistory of his beautiful, cheerful and yet not overly light-hearted spoken
English prose. I had to fight the urge to give the old man a hug, but of course
I didn't dare.
Suddenly a school boy taking notes, I wasn't daring too many straight glances or
rude questions. Simplification-machine was disrupted. I wanted to tell
him that I knew of his pain. Because it is, despite all cities and all the
nations, a particularly Iranian pain... a pain that connects the exiled Diaspora
with the repressed inner-emigrants within the reigning religious dictatorship.
Already it is hard to go on. I won't spill my guts about Ambassador Hoveyda's
brother, Nokhost Vazir Hoveyda: freely associate and if you need pictures
to clarify for you who he was, go take a look in the Grey Gallery on Washington Square,
where the photographer "Abbas" has captured him both living and dead.
(Incidentally, while you're at it, you could also go downstairs and check out the
exhibition on Iranian revolutionary posters: proclamations of "democracy"
and "freedom" abound!)
No matter what his crime might have been, - and I am not a lawyer to argue here to
begin with, - Amir Abbase Hoveyda's murder, is one of the most representive moments
of the brutal establishing force, upon which the insignia and the flag of this republic
has been erected; with the name Hoveyda all that lies underneath the cosmetics and
the give and take of the inches in the name of reform resurfaces.
And it, with the bone showing, renders all attempts at band-aiding the matter with
words such as "democracy" and "human rights," ridiculous.
Whether women can push or pull their scarves a few inches back and forth, as a measuring
stick for freedom of expression and thought in this republic, almost becomes obscene
when we take the time to begin with Hoveyda and go down and remember all who were
systematically and through some "form" or "reform" of this republic
Despite my particular political likings, I do recognize that the list goes in all
directions and encompasses all different points of views and bents. And this
brutality is relevant to mention today, because it has not seized, but has rather
even turned inwards towards the very perpetrators of this originary violence.
But all orders, laws and new readings of them only come to be by destroying that
which came before them; and exempt from this are not the forces of modernity.
I am saying this as a proponent of modernity. Any exchange of power in fact,
is painful, but none as painful as when this change comes at the hand of savagely
cutting down someone's brother: a brilliant statesman under whose supervision, Iran
progressed in leaps and bounds.
This is what lies in the background of Ambassador Hoveyda's talk, and it certainly
comes to affect it in many expected and unexpected ways. In front of it is an attempt
at coming to word. In fact coming to word, having a voice, exiting, as Kant
would have it, out of the self-imposed "immaturity," (mouthlessness, voicelessness,)
and the giving of one's vote is what is at stake here. The movement towards
this expression cannot but come from within us.
We have to come to word, despite what those who are all too ready to decide for us,
and speak for us, would have it: either based on some antique and highly problematic,
frighteningly idealistic, and simple-mindedly straightforward reading of documents
such as the American Constitution, or Mill's On Liberty, or the Qor'an for
that matter, or through the much-too-late, and embarrassingly passé declarations
and "manifestos," in an elective ignorance of what has come out of the
outmoded act of manifesto-writing.
(I just had to think of a witty, but not at all funny moment when Ambassador Hoveyda,
mentioned he had been offered amnesty by the Islamic Republic sometime in the early
nineties, because of his status as an "intellectual" to which he had replied:
"I am a very stupid man, but I know that I am not as stupid as your offer make-believes
I am.") The law of the brother, the justice of the brother, the mythical
categories of making things aright again, are certainly at work here, and should
not be ignored.
2. Coming to word
Germans came; they were there, the reporters. And I am inclined to believe
that some of the Americans there amongst us were Jewish. I think there was
a mention of Israel. Ambassador was very direct on that: Iranians are Iranians,
not Moslems or Jews, or this or that. We are speaking about a very old culture,
even if the current oppressors in Tehran do not represent this fact.
The Germans at the talk, - a couple of reporters, - had been in Jordan recently,
and thought they had the Middle East figured out. I am saying this because
of their questions. Of course Fereydoune Hoveyda despite being a scholar of
the historical development of Islam, familiar with the roots of many of the various
trends in it and particularly as they have come to develop and pertain to Iran, is
And "Iranian" is a difficult term. The strange, but understandable
inclination is to lump Iran together with Iraq, and then from there it is quite easy
to mistake it for Jordan or Saudi Arabia for that matter. If one watches TV
or gets one's information from conventional news sources the difficulty is automatically
As a German, one must be a Goethe or at the very least a Hegel scholar, to have even
an inkling of what Iran can and does mean. Of course then there is that final
question the German reporter asked, which was strangely directed at me, (the quiet
nobody,) mainly because I was the only other Iranian in that room: "When
were you last in Iran?"
Of course this is nothing new. Same questions could have easily been posed
by an Iranian. As Jahanshah Javid has expressly implied in his radio
interview, we, the exiles are not in touch with Iran, we are irrelevant in many
ways, and that which we think does not point to that which is.On some level I agree
with this assessment, and nevertheless, I will go on pressing these keys on this
keyboard, and if he published this, then you will read it: irrelevant, (and as Dr.
Mirfenderski says, in Jahanshah's brackets,) "long-winded" gibberish.
This makes me think of another "funny" democratic moment, when the readers
of Iranian.com "democratically," with the supervision of Mr. Javid elected
RP as the Iranian of the year, an event which then was followed by a wave of emails
asking for the rules of the game to be changed, because the right person was not
elected! The whole thing is a paradox, and demands of one to go through the
ordeal of making a choice nevertheless: the most sober democratic voice is that of
If those who know better what is good for the people, those who present their ideas
with a heavy handed force of straight-forward logic (which in itself has been questionable
for some time now,) if these people would allow others to actually voice their thoughts,
so goes the "reasoning," they might vote for Shahanshahi. So
one begins politicizing around the rules of the game, re-writing them, "re-forming"
them, stacking up the deck anew, in a new bag of lies called the new and improved
Islamic Republic, - and all this mainly because of some academic fetish for the term
And in this, then all the atrocities that happen on the way to this ideal "republic"
are either dismissed out of hand as by the likes of Dr. Guieve Mirfenderski, for
whom that horrible cacophony of the Guillotine; all the French boys frozen to death
next to their half-eaten horse-carcasses somewhere in a borderland, (perhaps a Ukraine;)
the marching of the European armies on Paris, (twice); all the street massacres of
the 1848 generation, the coronation of the Second German Reich's Wilhelm in the Versailles;
all the "accusations," fake trials, and prejudices of the Dreyfuss era;
not to mention the two world wars of the past century -- these all have merely been
"revisions" (see the letter section of Iranian.com, Mirfendereski,
October 2002) to the basically good idea of "republic," and the proof
for it is of course the undeniable death of historical progress, which declares this
fifth republic to be not only nobar but also the end all and be all of the
march of historical time... From history to mythology, and politics, let's
get back to Fereydoune Hoveyda.
Apart from the Germans and the Jews, - and of course, Mrs. Eleana Benador whom I
had to email to reserve a place - there were also a few non-descript Americans there.
Non-descript I say, because their questions reflected nothing apart from a
concern for their personal safety-issues related to the organized headache that the
Islamic Republic has created in the west from its inception; after all it is out
of the inspiration provided by the Islamic Republicans' master piece, that the radical
Islam that has come to brew in so many different ways, to varying degrees of violence
-- some too violent even for the reformed murderers such as Khalkhaali. Of
course if the idea of "reform" is marketable, then everything is.
But what does this amazing man, in his exceptionally beautiful suit, and extraordinary
tie-knot have to say? The first question, immediately after lunch: "what
would you have changed," (posed by an Iranian woman who couldn't stay after
lunch because of time-constraints, as we started a bit late,) had an overly romantic
tone, to which Dr. Hoveyda barked short-temperedly "I wouldn't have cooperated
with the Shah, he had no character." Then came the second question, by
which the German guy immediately manifested his western view-point: "Are you
a believer?" He followed this question with another, again advertising
his fresh insight (of Jordan): "When were you in Iran last?"
Ambassador Hoveyda is not the only Iranian with a recognizable last name who has
an antagonistic stance towards the very system of government which has made his name
recognizable. Dr. Guieve Mirfendereski also is such a one. And while
not exactly for the same reasons, and certainly not upon the same structure of reasoning,
Dr. Mirfendereski's problem with the Pahlavi monarchy could also be traced to a similarly
personal matter. In the September 13th writing of Dr. Mirfendereski, published
in Iranian.com, we read: "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 mythical and highly personal matters of fathers and brothers could be argued
dialectically and reasonably, but at the end, the matter is resolved only when the
wound is healed, and the wound sometimes doesn't want to be healed, because it is
not always a sign of a lack, but also sometimes, a source of beauty and character
at the same time. As Kafka says, a wound is a flower, and sometimes the country
doctor has to lay in bed with the patient until the horses peak into the room and
the family begins to sing in a chorus. Which law should Antigone abide by?
Should she bury her brother?
But to try to bring it back into a sort of a context, let me mention what was mentioned
during the talk: about a certain "Khoraasaani", a one who held Fereydoune
Hoveyda's position following the revolution, representing Iran at the UN. This
should bring us a possibility of differentiating between the Pahlavi monarchy, and
that which came after it, regardless of the "Arrr-reeze"
of the antagonistic and ultimately self defeating forces which cannot rise above
their tragic-comic ideas.
Mr. Khoraasaani was of course infamously picked up for shoplifting at a department
store (in NY). And Dr. Hoveyda links this to the general inclination of this
sort: attempting to hurt the western economy as being a virtue in the shop-lifter's
philosophy. I personally don't think that there ever was that high a level
of reflection going on either then or now; and in that sense, I think the Ambassador
is either being kind to his replacement, or deluded by perhaps a nationalist pride
that prevents him from seeing the true miserable condition of imagination of a fellow
Iranian: there was no philosophical reason, the man was a thug-shoplifter.
3. Leading up to the "revolution to come"
The point of reference to the talk, and its starting point was of course, (after
all, we are in NY,) the September 11th as a definitive show of anti-western "diplomacy"
Terrorism is nothing new for us Iranians. If Americans, - and (UN)fortunately
not yet the Europeans -- have just now realized the weight behind the slap of the
anti-western argument's hand, Iranians have been there and done that from over 23
years ago. The amount of political education in which this horrid government
has immersed Iranians, continues to be misread, misunderstood, and naively discounted.
This makes me think of another moment in Dr. Mirfendereski's process of seeing
the light of the republican ideal: "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." (see "For
the love of toot")
One of the "gifts," flower/wounds provided by the Islamic Republic perhaps
has been the fact that a forth grader following the revolution would have in all
likelihood read the "Animal Farm" and "1984" (in the year of
its title for all the more dramatics,) and as it were, observed the unfolding of
the novels in action.
I feel it is blissfully unaware words such as the ones I quoted from Dr. M that best
describe the gap between the generation who either participated in the revolution
or moved out of their daddy's house before its unfolding, on the one hand, and the
generations that came to follow them on the other. "No, you can't fool,
children of a revolution..." the song goes.
To get back to Mr. Khorsandi's proclamations from the bowels of that horrid anti-humanitarian
ally of the Satanic US, the UK, in its equalizing of Takht and Mambar
(see "cho takht baa mambar baraabar shavad..." towards the end of
Shahnameh), and in its bleeding heart care for the condition of Saddam's subjects
in the name of progressive humanism, which gives itself away as not having lived
during the 8 years of nightly air-raid sirens and the empty student-desks in Tehran
middle schools decorated with flowers because of the event of combustion of the early-teen
together with his plastic key... ah, forget it... whatever.
But the candle-vigil holding of the few brave ones together
with the office of Presidency's quasi-be-goh-khori-oftaadan, is but the tip
of the ice-berg of Iranian discontent with the implicit and explicit positions of
their officials. This discontent, were it allowed to find freedom of expression,
would overwhelm anyone who holds this regime to be "democratic" or representative
of a popular "demo" either by the standards of today's attempts at democracy,
the ideals of the age of ideals, or even the slogans of the very revolution that
brought on this order.
Ambassador Hoveyda did not only have rhetorical means at his disposal when talking
about this matter; he was quoting data: 75 percent support the reestablishment
of relations with the United States; and even more counter-intuitively: 50 percent
agree with Bush's inclusion of Iran in the axis of evil!
According to the Ambassador, a real practical opposition from inside the country,
must be taken to have started, and has first come to be detectable, after the death
of Ayatollah Khomeini, and the consolidation of that ridiculous war enterprise ("through
Karbala, and onto Jerusalem" was the motto!). Mehdi, of course
did not answer the prayers of the faithful, (because he was too busy building "darts"
for the anticipation of "charshanbe suri,") and did not lead a revolution
relieving Khomeini of his responsibilities, and Montazeri, - or as my mom refers
to him, "gorbe narre," - the religious leader who was supposed to
mount the mambar after Khomeini's death, has been and remains under house
Ali Akbar Khamenei got his credentials of Ayatollahy over-night to put an end to
the power-struggles, or at least suppress all internal opposition of Khodis
for the time being. Ambassador Hoveyda quoted the Imam Jom'e of Esphahan
as warning that the regime is "threatening the future of Islam in Iran."
Of course the good Friday-Imam is right, but he only sees things from his own perspective;
in fact this regime is a threat to anything outside of itself, and the circle of
the insiders is also a shaky place should one find oneself incarcerated by it, as
is evident from the belated Martin Luther wanna-bes; Ambassador Hoveyda: "It
is not a church to be reformed."
So despite secular priests such as Habermas, and their extraordinary understanding
for the likes of Mohajerrani who want to emerge as a post Khatami Islamic Republic
President with new and improved powers to regulate the revolution's very own original
core and constituency, we are still a few centuries apart from the ideal republic
that academic thinking wishes for with adorable blue eyes.
It is despite the wishful thinking of the over-rated
dialogue amongst civilizations that Hoveyda points to an inevitable "coming
revolution of Iran".
Europeans would of course like it if they could maintain a healthy flow of cash out
of Iran. And so they prefer a "reform" movement that secures this
flow instead of an unpredictable big change which would only complicate things.
And this is why they were all too ready to embrace the optimism of 1997 when Khatami
was elected and with him, a confused, half-enlightened show began to be produced
and staged, to cover up the underlying and lingering resistance to modernism that
is still not being addressed and will not be as long as one believes one can "talk"
about or rather around the issue. In fact, Hoveyda points out, the repression
has in many ways increased while attempting to reform itself. Again, all this
only acquires a degree of reality after huge events, such as the prolonged terror
of September 11th, and what its various readings point towards.
Hoveyda of course was much more systematic and sober about the whole thing, and so,
for the facilitation of understanding, he rationed the reform movement into two categories:
the inside, and the outside. The insiders, according to him, do not want to
change. They rather think that they can save the regime as it is, by fancy
productions of shows they sell to eagerly buying Europeans as "reform."
The outside on the other hand, says Hoveyda, is the general population across the
board, which has a good understanding of the essential need for the separation of
Mosque and the government, and understands the need for the correcting of the ideological
and catastrophic nature of Iranian economy.
This outside has no structure or leader, and is separate from Khatami.
4. From myth to dialectics and back
Dr. Hoveyda's theoretical reading of the situation based on the facts that he produced,
- and that I have tried to retell here in my own language, hopefully not too far
from his, - detects a repetition of patterns, which he recognizes out of the oldest
example of modern Persian thought-pattern, that of Shahname. The pattern
of change, says Fereydoun, is to be read out of Jamshid's story.
That which we sometimes call Persepolis (and in the absence of Taaj, we end
up supporting, well, not we, I, ghermezete!) is of course the seat of Jamshid,
Takhte Jamshid, and it has always as far as we can remember, been in ruins.
That is, to think of it linearly, as does Hegel, it perhaps could be taken to be
a certain origin, a beginning of time, and a first appearance of spirit that became
a spirit in its disappearance, but nevertheless came to progress all the way to its
Absoluteness, yes, in the person of -- whom else? -- Professor GWF Hegel in Berlin!
The Persians, I think he says somewhere rather literally, are the first people to
have come to pass!
But they are not dead! Just repeating themselves.
In that sense Dr. Hoveyda agrees both with Hegel, and with Niezsche, and the latter's
concept of the eternal return of the same. However, Fereydoune wants to, and
has to, has always had to, and has always succeeded in his task of breaking of the
tradition, and the prolonging of it at the same time. That is what he is talking
about today, and that is what he has always done, every time we read the Shahnameh,
always new, always different, always the same. Laws of non-contradiction do
not hold any more, and this may make us think we are in a new post- something or
other condition, but the dialectic itself has been a myth and will be a myth again,
and we know this at the latest since Adorno and Horkheimer... But enough of
Jamshid got too proud, was over-taken with Zahak (the snakes on whose
shoulders demand two Iranian youth's brains each day,) and Zahak in turn was
defeated by Fereydoun. So much is, and may it be henceforth: HoVeyda.
But Dr. Hoveyda is serious about wanting to break out of the cycle, and if I go on
maintaining that he remains within it, I would be doing him, or at least his intention,
a disservice and injustice. In fact the impossible must be possible.
That is, and has always been our only hope and prayer. Iranians, Dr. Hoveyda
maintains, (and I would extend this to all humanity, for whatever that means,) have
always been prisoners of their own tradition.
There is another mythical instance that Dr. Hoveyda refers to, and that I should
also address, because it is very important for the structure of his rescue operation
upon the tradition, and that is the duality he builds upon the difference between
the Oedipus and Rostam myths. Oedipus kills his father, while
Rostam kills his son. In both cases, this happens "inadvertently."
The killing of the son indeed represents the dominance of tradition; and not only
that, but also the conservation and the preservation of the tradition in a very old
beginning stage. This reading wins further authority, for the sake of that
most accepted fallacy, the appeal to authority, as it concurs rather exactly with
Hegel's understanding of the situation: Iran has come and passed. The old nips
the new in the bud.
The question then, for Fereydoun, is: will this continue? His answer: the tradition
will continue, but it has already lost some of its power. To point this out
and flesh out his argument a bit more, Dr. Hoveyda sites the birth of modern Iran
in the 1930's. The modern institutions that were created by Reza Shah Pahlavi
brought with them a sense of national identity. This trend was continued leading
up in the sixties to the gradual replacement of the old feudal structure by a fresh
technocracy. These technocrats then came to build the modern infrastructure.
Ambassador Dr. Hoveyda stopped here to identify himself with these technocrats.
He said he won't tell us what his political persuasions were then. (I give
you a hint: Hegel...) I find his silence however very witty and intelligent.
From the birth of modern institutions, to a technocratic middle-class
society, and onto the 80's that brought with them a new social class to which Dr.
Hoveyda briefly referred: "the veterans" as a political force. This
force however is also on the move. The new Iran is very young, and the youngsters
know what they are missing. The access to the internet is widespread; and despite
what some all-too-comfortable critics with a taste for universalism tend to criticize
in various Satellite Televisions, one cannot deny the impact that they have.
5. Re-form/re-volution vs. de-formation/deconstruction
I agree with what the former Ambassador, and Ostade honarmandam has to say.
But at some point my agreement with him occurs despite of what he intends to say.
Most of all I feel a certain pain in my heart together with the pleasure of knowing
that he goes on, proud and unrelenting as a wounded, but persisting lion, as Iran,
and this pain makes me defer to him all his temperamental and often times justified
reproaches to His Majesty the last Shahanshah of Iran, and by extension and default
to anyone carrying the burden of his name.
Fereydoune Hoveyda feels his brother was betrayed by the Shah, and whether we would
choose to challenge that "verdict" or not, the fact remains that his brother
was savagely destroyed by the thugs and revolutionaries that the Shah's administrations
could not stop, appease, resist, deal-with, or pacify. He blames Shah not for
the usual half-assed duplication of European tradition's arguments against some model
of monarchy that has functioned as a form of resistance to modernity in another time
and another place, as usual transmissions from the Ivory tower by Iranian Antellectuals;
but rather because the Shah had escaped, and left his country and his brother behind.
I do not question his verdict, as I did not question him or have any questions for
him during his talk.
I understand the impasse in which he finds himself. But his sentence "tradition
can be overcome," I would have to modify to "tradition can and cannot be
overcome at the same time," in order for me to be able to subscribe to it, and
Both Fereydoun and the tradition have to be preserved, and let go at the same time.
And tradition is within Fereydoun, as Fereydoun is within the tradition. I
will try to explain this: Accepting Mr. Hoveyda's mythical reading as well
as his dialectical reasoning, I agree that the notion of "savior" has to
be let go of. At the same time, the old cannot continue to kill the new or
even worse, - to kill their new and young ideas. So, Fereydoun, the old man,
cannot save us. And yet, Fereydoun the old man is absolutely necessary for
us to go on, have a link with, and an appreciation of who we are, and ultimately
to progress beyond Fereydoun. This is the core of the paradoxical aporia in
which we have to thread gently.
Yes, the Iranian diasporas are irrelevant, divided,
and many other things. But I disagree with Dr. Hoveyda that they are apart
from the internal opposition. There is no more internal and external in that
sense. And although the separation into dualities can at times illuminate a
problem; it can by the same economy, turn into the worst instance of darkness for
it. The Iranians "outside" of Iran, despite it all, have more in
common with Iranians "outside" of the ruling regime than they do with anything
or anyone else. The trouble is of course, just as Dr. Hoveyda pointed out,
that there is no unity to this outside. This unity is another case of that
impossibility that is at the same time absolutely necessary.
Iran does not need political scientists with age old opinions which they then spin
into theories. The demands of Iranian youth are simple: the most urgent
demand is to have a full-on love-parade down Pahlavi Avenue.
Does this article have spelleeng or other meestakes? Tell
me. I'll feex it.