There was no shouting
By Moe Maleki
Last night I attended a panel discussion on Iran and modernity at Stanford
University. On the panel were such notables as Fereydoun
Hoveyda, Prof. Abbas Milani,
Prof. Behnam Tabrizi, and Trita Parsi, president and co-founder of NIAC,
the National Iranian American Council.
He recounted how the student population, against the dictates of university officials, held a referendum on which version of the Iranian constitution they favored. On the ballot were four options:
(a) the original constitution ratified immediately after the 1979 Revolution,
(b) the version modified a year later giving authority to various non-elected bodies,
(c) the 1989 version which gave near-absolute power to the Supreme Leader and
(d) none of the above.
The result of some 600 votes was 90% in favor of choice (a) -- a pretty
amazing result. Even more amazing was that such a vote actually took place
over the ban by the university (the Provost of Students was later forced
to resign) and the disruption caused by raucous right-wing students, which
was met with tremendous self-restrain and nonviolent poise by the organizers
and the wall formed by female students to protect the voters and ballot
His main thesis was that Iranian patriarchal society is rooted in ancient Iranian traditions as told in such stories as Sohrab & Rostam on the one hand, where the father inadvertently slays the son (by inference, tradition usurping modernity), and the story of Jamshid & Zahak, whence the benevolent but self-deifying king is replaced by a tyrannical despot (à la Shah in his latter years vs. Khomeini) and the populace goes in search of a hero to save the day.
Mr. Hoveyda's premise was that Iranians need a archetypal Iranian approach
to the pedagogy of democracy within Iran which again might be rooted in
Iran's rich mythology in such stories as Ferdowsi's Kaykhosrow and Attar's
Simorgh. In Attar's "Conference of the Birds," the birds go
in search of the almighty omniscient Simorgh only to find, at the end
of their tumultuous journey, reflection of the remaining thirty birds
(in Farsi, "si morgh"), inferring that the Simorgh is none other
than their own selves.
He explained that NIAC does not take sides on issues, but rather provides
the tools and knowledge by which Iranian-Americans can deliver their own
voice to the ears of their elected officials. He mentioned that the usual
reason given for Iranians' lack of participation, their percieved lack
of unity, is a non sequitur as he read statistics from the NIAC web site
which indicated a unified stance in regards to such issues as visa controls
and US diplomatic engagement of Iran.
Notably and pleasantly missing from the discussion was the buzzword-laden
superficial panacea for Iran's ails one often hears from the well-organized
and highly leveraged opposition groups. Incidentally, the monarchists
were mentioned only once during the whole program, and then only in the
same sentence as the militant Mujahedin organization (MKO).