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Can't we get along?
News from Iran is not encouraging, but...

February 6, 2001
The Iranian

Memo to self: With the popularity of reality-based TV series, make a quick buck or two by pitching the following ideas to network executives:

Castration Island: Place a few intellectuals and proponents of democracy and free speech in the midst of a conservative-run administration and watch sparks fly as the intellectuals are hunted down one by one, put on sham trials, and sent to internal exile. Will they survive Castration Island?

Stoned: Along the lines of The Mole, six men and two voluptuous, veiled married women come together in a village where the residents identify one as the adulteress. The drama will reach a climax when the condemned is buried up to her armpits and stoned based on ancient rituals sanctioned by the elders. Excitement for human dignity will be in abundance as she tries to claw her way out of her predicament, ducking incoming rocks and making her way to safety.

Female Trouble: A game in which the female majority of a male-dominated society attempts to navigate obstacles in the path toward achieving parity with male counterparts. Watch as the authorities thwart attempt after attempt by female members to achieve quality of life enjoyed by male counterparts. First episode follows a girl who wants to receive state funds for studying abroad, just like male students do, only to be rebuked by conservative leaders who nevertheless laugh at neighboring countries for their treatment of women.

The Barber Did It: Eight barbers, four young boys. Each barber has less than ten minutes to give each boy a Leonardo DiCaprio "Titanic" cut before being arrested and sent to hell.

Okay, I am overloading on reality-based imagination. However, take away the last scenario (which could happen in Iran, though it actually did in Afghanistan) and substitute Castration Island with Tehran or Bashagard (the place of Akbar Ganji's internal exile after he completes his ten-year prison term for criticizing the regime) and you will see that the news from Iran is not encouraging.

Twenty-two years after a popular uprising asserted the will of people in demanding greater democracy, most promises, and more importantly, the potential of this great nation, remain unfulfilled.

A friend offered his usual rhetoric by blaming the plight of the nation on the current theocratic regime. This is a notion I can not subscribe to. The separation of church and state is a famous battle cry in promoting a democratic structure for governing. But how can one truly separate the two when the essence of an individual's philosophy is based on religious convictions?

Early initiatives by President George W. Bush (eliminating federal funding for international family planning programs and promoting federally-funded faith-based organizations with a zeal which was just short of creating a Department of Religion) emphasizes the role of religion in politics in a country which prides itself in the successful separation of the two institutions.

Take away its mysticism and after-life predictions, and religion is nothing more than an ideology with its own set of rules and regulations for individuals to conduct their lives. What is on display in the Islamic Republic is an ancient rendition of this ideology that is ill-suited for today's societies.

This is not to repudiate religion or its role in politics, but rather a realistic assessment of an ideology, which is in desperate need for true reform more than what President Khatami can offer to the people of Iran. The fall of the Soviet Union was not because of Communism's shortcomings as an ideology, but the failure of the executioners of that ideology to adjust with changing times.

If President Khatami is the Gorbachev of the Islamic Republic, then Iran is in need of a Yelstin (and not necessarily as unstable a character) to halt the massive hemorrhaging of this great nation through the loss of what a friend labeled as its best resource -- its people.

The firm grip on power of the bazaar merchants, who bankrolled the revolution and have maintained the current regime, and their political/religious allies, who consider themselves the protectors of Islam and control the essential institutions of the nation, needs to be broken, and not necessarily through the use of force.

In the absence of any other political force, the parliament can play a vital role in advancing meaningful reform. As they have done in the past, the conservative Council of Guardians will in no doubt negate consequential laws passed by the reformist parliamentarians.

But to its credit, the current parliament has challenged the council on a number of occasions and by continuing to advocate the people's inclinations and needs, they will force a confrontation which could not be crushed as easily as the challenge made by the free press.

The recent passage of the national budget, which despite a 24 percent increase in spending, has reduced funding for conservative-run agencies, is another example of the important role which the elected legislative body can play in the future course of Iran.

As one of the great orators of our time, and an unwitting star of reality TV once said, "Can't we all just get along?"

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Babak Yektafar

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