Can't we get along?
News from Iran is not encouraging, but...
February 6, 2001
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
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
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
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
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?"