From Islam to the West
Interview with Dariush Homayoun
October 29, 2003
It is ironic that at a time when Iranians are in dire need of
a new and creative approach to politics, one of the most cogent
and effective voices for change should be articulated by the 75-year-old
Dariush Homayoun who served nearly twenty-five years ago as the
Minister of Information and Tourism under the Shah.
fugitive of the pre and post revolutionary regimes in Iran is a
prominent thinker who has articulated a dispassionate understanding
of his country's modern history and set forth a clear-eyed vision
for its democratic future in numerous books, debates, lectures,
articles and interviews. He has also been able to put together
the largest political party in exile opposing the clerical dictatorship
I met him twice, once last winter in Germany when he was introducing
a speaker on the topic of democracy to a gathering of his fellow
Constitutionalist Party members, and again last spring during a
stopover in Paris from one of his frequent visits to the United
Beholding this veteran politician and experienced journalist,
I could not but be aware that I was standing in the presence of
a man of sterling quality. I could not but sense that as the regime
in Tehran moves towards its inevitable disintegration, Homayoun
is the person to watch. His unique vision and style has made an
impact that is bound to influence the choices Iranians
will make in their advance towards freedom and democracy.
In a political
milieu plagued by soliloquy and inbred totalitarianism, Homayoun
is one of the very few people capable of and interested in a democratic
dialogue. He offers a new way of tackling Iranian
national problems, which is not obsessed with bygone eras and has
no hidden agenda for settling old scores.
Seeing him talk to ordinary Iranians one recognizes that he has
a genuine interest in politicizing and empowering the grassroots.
He listens to the most incoherent comments of some of his compatriots
with exemplary patience and reverence. He answers them like a skillful
educator and without the slightest condescension.
On the other
hand Homayoun can be quite daunting and indomitable as a debater.
While some of his opponents lazily collapse on their dogmatic and
cushions, he thrives on heuristic ratiocination and is used to
thinking on his feet. In his book Dirooz va Fardaa (Yesterday
and Tomorrow), he devotes a whole chapter to elucidating the folly
system on absolute creeds and ready-made ideologies.
habit of political judgment and rational evaluation is inseparable
from the promotion of democracy. In Iran a genuine
tradition of criticism is well nigh non-existent. Such a vacuum
has lead the population into a constant fluctuation between glorification
and vilification of national political figures.
To free political
judgment from arbitrary considerations and base it on rational
and ethical standards has been the distinguishing trait of Homayoun's
career. Commenting in an introduction to one his books that "the
Achilles heel of the Iranian society has been its moral impotence" he
calls for an end to tyranny in his homeland and the establishment
of a government responsible and
accountable to the electorate.
Arguing for the restoration of monarchy as the best form of government
for Iran, he certainly is not advocating a return to the undemocratic
nature of the regime that ruled that country before the revolution.
To put on the blinkers and say that nothing amiss happened during
the reign of Pahlavis as some Ultra Shahists suggest these
days will definitely not serve the Iranian nation in building an
democracy in their country. It will only perpetuate a vicious
circle that has stinted the country's intellectual progress and
it from one moral quagmire to another.
Since there can be no better guarantee against national pitfalls
than enlisting the help of the country's best minds, then
the importance of what Homayoun can tell us at this trying
time in the life of our nation cannot be overstated. As I was
eager to learn more about his analysis of the political situation
Iran, I presented him with a few questions. In the midst of
his very busy schedule he generously granted me the following interview.
soon after the revolution you talked of the post-Islamic Republic.
What made you so sure that such a system was doomed to
failure before it had exhausted all its possibilities?
It was the revolution itself that determined both the character
and the fate of the regime that came out of it. I made an assessment
of the message, the leadership and the driving force of the revolution
and came to the logical conclusion. The message was a mixture of
Islamic revivalism, in its more backward Shiite form; Third World
revolutionary ideology; and a crude Marxism-Leninism -- the worst
of all possible worlds.
The leadership was a hodgepodge of leftist
zealots, hapless Mossadeqists, backward religio-nationalists and
hordes of other opportunists, madly engaged in a moral and intellectual
striptease before a reactionary cleric.
The driving force was blind
hatred towards the Shah. All revolutions have their fair share
of brutality and make-believe; but the inhumanity inherent in a
religious revolution and the extraordinary self-delusion our revolutionaries
from all walks of life was in a class of its own. No regime coming
out of such a mixture of nihilism and ignorance could lead to a
viable system. However, even in my depths of pessimism I could
not imagine such a monstrous evil that has befallen our nation.
The cleric who was the heart and mind of the revolution I knew
from the first Islamic Revolution in 1963, when his followers burnt
down a public library, in the true tradtion of Arab invaders,
and threw acid on the faces of women without the Islamic veil.
surrender, at the very beginning of the revolutionary stage (summer
of 1987) to Khomeini, the non-clerical opposition groups had given
away any chance of influencing the outcome of their struggle. I
could not see any coherent and clear plan for the future of Iran.
The only "plan" worth the name was an Islamic government
on the pattern of the prophet and the first Imam.
It was not hard
to foresee failure everywhere. Khomeini's accomplices could not
pursue their platform, whatever it was, due to his preponderance.
The clerics themselves could not turn the clock back to the seventh
century and undo eight decades of struggle to modernize Iranian
society. Iran at the time of revolution was developing at a break
neck pace and could be considered a candidate for the membership
of what later became Asian Tigers. The Islamic Republic, in its
anachronism, was fighting against modernity, against history, and
had no chance.
Last but not least, the mullahs again were challenging
Iranian nationalism; and like in the past fourteen hundred years,
when it comes to defend Iranian identity against Arab domination,
even in the form of Islam, it is Iranian nationalism that prevails.
Two years after the establishment of the regime, I described it
as the second Arab invasion of Iran and a mortal blow to Islam's
influence in Iranian politics.
In your opinion what has been the
major shortcoming of the opposition to the Islamic Republic? Why
in the past quarter of a century has it not been able to capitalize
on the incessant blunders of the mullahs and pose a serious challenge
to the ruling dictatorship?
The past quarter of a century, for
most of the opposition has been a continuation of the pre-revolutionary
era. Even today the
greater part of the leftist and Mossadeqist forces are waging the
same war against the Pahlavi regime. Many of them seem to be more
concerned with the secondary issue of the form of a future government
than preparing the ground that could make democracy workable in
our country; or even the havoc that every day is wrought on the
In the other camp, the whole discourse is concentrated
on the greatness of monarchy and the fifty-seven years of Pahlavi
rule. Both sides suffer from dearth of constructive ideas.
The great divide between various groups, all equally defeated
and exiled by the Islamic government, was the irreconcilable differences,
sometimes bordering enmity, among supporters and opponents of the
ancien regime. This was in a way inevitable, since for the first
time in the annals of revolutions, both victors and vanquished
were represented, in very large numbers, in the exile community.
No exile group has been a model of consensus; the Iranians, coming
from opposing camps were much more prone to the shortcomings of
exile mentality. This mentality, almost by definition, means preoccupation
with themselves and a narrowing perspective. Alienation and petty
concerns have been hallmarks of most of the Iranian political class
abroad. It has wasted two decades in waging the wars of the past.
Living in the countries of liberal democracy has been a golden
opportunity for reeducating a whole generation of political activists;
for reinventing Iran's political culture. However a relatively
small number of them have taken advantage. One tends to write off
the greater part of a generation that not only brought this disaster
to the country, but also continues to think and act as nothing
has changed; no self-examination and revision is due.
incorrigible optimist in me takes heart from so many examples of
a new awakening, not all confined to the younger generation. It
seems that we had to go through not only a devastating revolution,
but also a generational change. Only now we can expect the emergence
of a consensus among some groups and schools of thought, which
is a vital requirement for the effectiveness of the opposition.
Reza Pahlavi says his mission will be accomplished the day he
sees the Iranian people off to a free and democratic referendum.
do you think he is necessary, if at all, to the democratic transformation
Of course it all depends on the strength of democratic
values both during our struggle and after the overthrow of the
regime. Either our society is capable of sustaining democratic
institutions or continues to surrender to different dictatorships.
In either case, the name of the regime, royal or republican, would
not be that important.
To me a constitutional monarchy is in a
better position and has more vested interests in defending the
constitution against anti democratic forces so abundant in our
society. The king has both his/her own fate and the future of the
dynasty in mind.
Reza Pahlavi as a modern man can greatly contribute
in strengthening democratic values and institutions by example.
His is a very sensitive position. Even if he sees no more roles
for himself than a prominent spokesman for the opposition,
he has to be mindful of his credibility as a true democrat. He
not only by his words, but also his actions and inactions (in
disavowing certain actions and talks by persons known to be close
He could be vulnerable because of his associates and so many
people who claim to be his supporters. He cannot simply ignore
on in his name. It is the same with any public figure but
much more so with someone who could become a rallying point and
is always in danger of becoming a lightning rod -- mostly because
You are very active in the Constitutional Party of Iran. You
and your colleagues there seem to be part of a small minority who
a rational and philosophic defense of monarchy as a viable system
of government for Iran. Yet your party has concentrated the bulk
of its efforts on the Iranian diaspora. How are you going to reach
the people inside the country? Don't you think the voice within
Iran is the voice that will ultimately be of the greatest of importance?
As far as organizational work is concerned we have no choice
but to concentrate on the large Iranian community abroad. The CPI
just recently has started forming its cells in Iran, due to better
communications. The importance of the voice from within cannot
be exaggerated, nonetheless.
This huge human potential outside
of Iran should not be overlooked. The intellectual environment
of Western societies is indispensable for the development of a
new twenty-first century Iranian mind. The fact that the Party
is free from exigencies of dealing with Islamic authorities has
been a blessing. Operating in a free atmosphere, it has become
a breeding ground for new ideas; attacking long lasting taboos
with a facility that is not always possible inside the country.
Our message is getting through thanks to Persian speaking radio-TV
broadcasts, Internet and other means. The party among other things
performs two important tasks: an organizational framework that
can, when the time comes, easily absorb thousands of new members
in Iran; and an instrument for changing the political atmosphere
first outside and then inside of Iran.
It is no exaggeration to
say that we have initiated and promoted what I termed as a new
political etiquette; its main characteristics being politeness
even at the face of attack, avoiding self-aggrandizement, fair
play, restraint and understatement, respect for a different point
of view, and above all avoiding petty squabbles. These are all
very unusual in our political environment, but awe taking root
and bound to go further and improve our political culture.
has been the greatest influence in your mind? What thinkers and
philosophers more than others have contributed to your intellectual
I had the good luck of having a rather deep classical
education, the Persian classical literature that is, which I recommend
every Iranian parent and educator. This is a solid base for any
intellectual development. It was Greek philosophy, however, that
enabled me to come out of the golden cage of that literature; to
free myself from the mould of a captivating language that had taken
the place of thought.
Socrates, the first Intellectual, and the
first non-military hero, is an all time role model. Aristotle,
who defined everything, taught me the importance of powers of observation
and analysis, and introduced me to politics, not the gutter politics
we too often deal with, but the essence of living as human beings,
and not the beasts of a higher order.
In forming my character and
basic attitudes, my instinct so to speak, no influence has been
greater than two sources of constant
inspiration. First, the Zoroastrian concept of "khish-kaari" meaning
the human beings' duty and responsibility not only towards
and for him/herself, but the whole universe; his/her godlike and
vital role in the outcome of the perpetual conflict between forces
of good and evil; being and doing good as a natural function of
just being human, and not for any expectation of reward or fear
The second, was the two great concepts of Stoic philosophers
of Natural Rights and the man/woman's ultimate loneliness in
the world; nothing but him/herself to rely upon for salvation.
Democracy, pluralism and secularism all emanated from Natural
Rights. The Stoic concept of Man's total reliance on and responsibility
for itself, most likely influenced by Zoroastrianism, has been
the driving force for progress and emancipation.
In political theory
from Kant to Hobbes to Hume, Adam Smith and Locke, along with Burke
and Karl Popper have been great teachers.
I live mostly in the world of Scottish-English Enlightenment, with
its empiricism; reliance on common sense, rather than rigid systems;
and an organic approach to society.
French intellectualism always
seems to me too clever by half, and German romanticism wrought
with dangerous consequences. They both have been responsible
for the monstrous twentieth century; as Islamism is for the atrocities
of the late twentieth and early twenty-first. In short, I consider
myself a product of Persian literature, Greek philosophy, and
Enlightenment -- a perfect background for engaging a lifetime
In one of your papers called "A different World
have said that although our country is located in that part of
the Middle East and we cannot change the facts of our geography,
we should attempt a departure from our present spiritual world?
You say that disentangling ourselves from the Middle East, Third
World and Islamic culture are necessary to our future development
to our aspiration of ever becoming a first world country. Do you
believe that you have any allies within the intellectual community
in Iran for this kind of attitude?
I am used to standing alone and challenging conventional wisdom.
Life has been kind enough to me to allow me to witness the, usually
belated, triumph of common sense over conventional wisdom. Iran
has always been preoccupied with the West, perhaps because of
our longstanding confrontation with Western Powers -- the Greeks,
the Romans, and the New Europeans.
India with all our common
and the great Vedic tradition has been completely overshadowed
by Europe in our worldview. Such a Western oriented people with
a taste for the best in life and unbounded and some times baseless
ambition could only vie for a higher form of civilization.
The tiers-mondisme of the 60s and 70s; the Islamism that came
our quest for modernity and corrupted it from its start in
the late nineteenth century; and the obsession of our intelligentsia
with the Middle East have led to disappointment and even disaster.
The intellectual proponents of a worldview, which wanted Iran
to be a vanguard of a Third World revolution against the West;
of Islamic values against alienating Westernization; and
who saw the world from the narrow perspective of sheer anti Semitism
the rights of the Palestinians, who were considered right
any time and whatever circumstances, are discredited.
We can see a new awareness of Iran's self interest which
entails disengagement from the quagmire of the Middle East
and the inherent backwardness and cruelty of the Islamic
an active part of the Middle East we have condemned ourselves
to share the plight of both Islamic and Third World societies.
and more people come to the realization that those three
worlds have nothing to offer but misery and suppression
of underdevelopment. Iran, even now and under an Islamic
regime, which is more Palestinian than the majority of
themselves, and bent on rejecting Westernization, is
practically abandoning a value system that has brought us to the
of a Third World, an Islamic, and Middle Eastern country.
can see the thirst of the people for things Western. We are
process of a spiritual exodus. I am sure of seeing
the full fruition of this idea. As a nation, Iranians want progress.
We are a consumer
society and there is nothing
wrong with consumerism, the motor for humanity's long
top of the trees to landing on the moon (the problems
caused by consumerism can be solved by further progress, new
technologies and products).
That desire for the best and most comfortable
Iranians from most Third World societies. There is
to get away from a failed world, which is drowning
before our eyes.
After the establishment of democracy, how formidable
do you think is the task of reconstruction in our country?
we ever be
able to repair the damage of the past twenty-four
years? What will it
Iran has an excellent geography; few countries
of its size command such a strategic position at
a new silk
road, between two seas, controlling the flow of
most of the world's oil and gas reserves, and itself possessing
and other natural wealth. On top of that we have
an urbanized, more or less educated population
in commerce, manufacturing and entrepreneurship.
We have had
the past twenty-five
years to study and learn the lessons of our own
and other countries' mistakes. Following the removal
of this regime
we will experience
of national energy that all problems notwithstanding,
once again see our nation in the forefront of
emerging economies. The American power has solved almost
all our geo-strategic
-- Russia's two hundred years of southward expansionism
at our expense, the
22 hundred years of insecure western border in
Mesopotamia, and Taliban sitting in Afghanistan.
of perpetual threat,
all we have is opportunity; to resume our historic
role as a cultural
and economic magnet in a vast area comprising
western and Central Asia; alleviating its needs for industrial
This is where we belong, can contribute, and
make a difference to the better for everybody. The Americans,
by destroying the "Evil Empire", gave Iran a singular chance,
but we were in
position to take it. If it only had occurred
under the Pahlavi
regime! Even under
the infamous Qajars, Iranians would at least
have been allowed as private citizens to
go in their
hundreds of thousands
establish ancient ties to the mutual benefit
of us all.
The Islamic Republic
by its nature has tried its best to ruin
this opportunity but the strength of Iranian factor
is beyond this
the tragedy of 1,400 years ago -- as it
proved to be under the original Arabs. People, resources
there and this Islamic Mafia is but a passing
is that our intellectuals, instead of
overstaying in a vanished and vanishing world, open
their eyes to
and most promising
horizon. We need a new driving idea, one
that gives us direction and mobilizes our energy.
aspiration for excellence
and create a new world around us is what
really matters; the rest is
a matter of time and logistics -- removing
obstacles, IRI first of all, and marshaling the means.
How do you estimate the strength of the so-called
Third Force in Iran? Do you believe those
who are disillusioned
of reform have strong and effective leadership?
How can their strength be harnessed for
a real democratic
Nobody knows for sure. The potential
is there; the majority of people, especially
youth, are ready
and it could happen any time. Any leadership
that emerges would be
closely related to the struggle itself.
It is the struggle that creates the leadership.
to have an effective
presence in the struggle.
circumstances the leadership from abroad
can only inspire,
and help generally. But to effectively
there must be an organization
linking the leadership to the forces
inside of Iran. The internal leadership
so-called third force
of them have the credibility to pose
a serious threat to the ruling clergy.
are in prison
extreme restrictions, waiting like
all of us, for the inevitable concurrence
pressure and internal deterioration
to act decisively.
The outside opposition should not wait
for a charismatic leader to galvanize
regime by the strength
of his leadership. Any comparison
with Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution
is in vain. Then
was inside and
very strong. Now we do have an unorganized
and shifting presence in
the country. We can get our message
through, which is
very important but not enough.
continuing our efforts to
create a large and
effective organization, we will
be in a position to help Iranian people
ways and increase
the ties between
the two sides of the struggle against
the Regime. I cannot
understand those narrow-minded
people that spare no effort to undermine
a party that is having the greatest
role in promoting their own cause.
In the light of recent developments
in the region and the total disillusionment
do you think the time is ripe now
for calling of a free and patriotic
together a clear
agenda for a democratic alternative
the present regime
What we realistically can expect
is a consensus among a good part
of the opposition
to more cooperation
the formation of a council to
coordinate its components. A sizable part
of the opposition is now actively
in tandem with
reformist faction in the Islamic
government. They are concentrating
mostly to discredit
name of Pahlavi;
and using actions and remarks
by some of the
more extremist and
These royalists and
opponents in the "reformist"
camp are naturally outside
that deteriorates into a fight
for or against personalities
and forms of government
is not what Iranian people
expect from us.
Our like-minded friends, and
they form the
a new politics and a
new society, as distinguished
from what we have or had in the past,
You have a very busy schedule.
Addressing national assemblies
chairing various political
and when you get a moment of
freedom from all this you go
back to what
seems to be
motivates you? What keeps you
so dynamic in your seventies?
I am making for the years
I wasted in my youth. In
a sense I have taken
past and transplanted
them to the present. It is
working fortunately well
and physically. My
goal from the days
been to take part in the
renaissance of Iran; to turn my life into
building block to be built
Iran is not
simply a country,
any other. Iran
is an Idea,
one of the
in the world to be justly
described as that. This needed both thought
is the same
and talking, and acting
accordingly with scruple, I am trying
to help transforming Iranian political
of political discourse
-- a longstanding
passion -- and to create
a real party that carries
on the task
destruction of Islamic
Regime and beyond. I need all the
the world. For such
a noble cause one
your book, "Dirooz va Fardaa" (Yesterday and Tomorrow), you
both the Pahlavi era
and the Islamic
Republic. Yet you are advocating
of monarchy. Why a return
to a system of
could so readily nurture
be the right
choice for the
any form of government,
class, the circumstances,
the case of a
weak country like
us, the external
to think that a new monarch,
who could not
of the past
one of them
died on the throne,
up in exile
and one was
assassinated -- could
to the role of monarchy
in the age
of democratic triumph.
In an uncertain climate
form of government
under various guises.
must keep our
from here and
now. It is
head of state,
not the government, and
depending on the people's vote in a
is a democrat, but
have their own agendas.
They could turn an
and its representatives
into an instrument of their
own. This is
of an independent
to a constitutional monarchy
European lines is so important.
is an option,
credible one for
post IR Iran. It cannot
be eliminated by the
joint efforts of
the Islamic regime
and a good
the opposition. It also
has only one other
chance in Iran, a chance
by its partisans
our past experience
has not been a very happy
and our party is trying
redress some of the
excesses and mistakes
-- all too avoidable