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November 7, 2001

Son of fire is ash

I read with interest the Wall Street Journal article titled "Iran's U.S.-Admiring Citizens Challenge Intentions of Hard-Line Islamic Leaders" written by Hugh Pope and Peter Waldman. The article seemed like a carefully orchestrated public relations piece aimed at thrusting Mr. Pahlavi to the foreground after a life of post-1979 obscurity. There are many misleading interpretations of facts in this report from Mr. Pope and Mr. Waldman.

First, Mr. Pahlavi and his family escaped from Iran in 1979 to safeguard the billions of dollars their family absconded from the Iranian treasury. During the times of most desperate need Mr. Pahlavi's voice remained silent. Now, when Iran is most poised for normalcy in domestic and international affairs and moving at President Khatami's prodding toward ever more liberalism and democracy Mr. Pahlavi has suddenly and miraculously awoken from his silent sleep. It is as if, Mr. Khatami's charm, success and popularity given rise to a fear by Mr. Pahlavi that he will become eternally obscure in the annals of Iranian history.

His new sense of urgency and public speaking does not come from a passionate belief in Iran per say, but the sudden and personally damning realization that he has waited too long; his ship has left the shore. His indecision in the past, in the midst of so much luxury and comfort in Great Falls, condemns him to be our Iranian Hamlet; haunted by the ghost of his failed father. As a famous Persian saying goes, "the son of fire is ash." The irony is that his long silent voice can now do more damage than good in its newly found urgent tone fueled by personal desperation.

One of the most misleading and disturbing parts of Mr. Pope and Mr. Waldman's article is the complete absence of President Khatami's relevance and importance in the Iranian equation; his belovedness in the streets of Iran and amongst the youth; and his deliberately paced movement towards ever more freedoms for Iranians and the media.

In a terse 75-word paragraph the writers offer the only analysis of Mr. Khatami and remarkably offer a negative interpretation Mr Khatami's very positive terms as the elected President of Iran. Mr. Khatami has done more to provide legitimacy to Iranian state in International affairs than any other Iranian leader in the last 90 years. They also do disservice to their own fellow journalists by failing to mention any of the freedoms President Khatami has fought for in the press; long regarded as one of the keys to any long lasting democracy.

President Khatami is the Gorbachev of Iran. President Khatami has a uniquely persian version of Persestrioka in mind. His deliberate and careful steps towards ever more freedoms are moving Iran toward a much needed era of normalcy. Another flaw in the article is the impression is given that almost no form of democracy exists in Iran. But in fact Iran has a democratically elected government, one of the few in the Middle East. Iran elects its President and the Majlis, or Parliament.

The youth voted (voting age is 16) in droves to elect a liberal President Khatami, as did the women of Iran. In fact, Iran has more women in its cabinet and Majlis than the American Congress. The only unelected position is that of spiritual leader held by Ayatollah Khameini, who supervises national security, defense and intelligence. Another difference in the existing Iranian democracy is the system that approves candidates who apply to run for office. These are differences that are well within the view of the Khatami's reform movement.

The statements in the article depicting youth chanting "We love you, Reza Pahlavi!" are grossly misleading. They are written without any reference to the number of people chanting and appear to be unsubstantiated. It appears that this reference is simply to cast a phantom shadow of legitimacy to any claims or aspirations on the part of Mr. Pahlavi. Does it only take one or two people chanting in an Iranian street to be reported in the venerable pages of the Wall Street Journal?

What Mr. Pahlavi represents is a grave danger to true democracy in Iran. His coyness regarding whether he would install himself as King is not amusing. If he truly wants a democracy let him commit now to only running for President if the opportunity arises. He is the wrong man at the wrong time. There are plenty of better, more talented leaders with more experience and vision to lead Iran. In the last 22 years he has achieved nothing of substance in the fields of politics, business or philanthropy. George W. Bush, another son of a head of state, at least was Governor of a major state and succeeded in business.

This is not the first time in recent Iranian history that monarchial ambitions threatened to sideline a budding democracy movement. The constitutional revolution of 1908 led by enlightened leaders from cities like Tabriz, one of who was my great-grandfather, attempted to create a constitutional democracy shaped and inspired by Jeffersonian American democracy. These leaders used language inspired by the American Constitution and Declaration of Independence. They even hired an American financial expert, W. Morgan Shuster, who to this day is honored and revered by many Iranians, to commandeer the Iranian economy and treasury from the corrupt Monarchist, who were selling of stakes in Iran's resources for personal gains.

Mr. Shuster what no one expected him to do and achieved in 1 year what no leader under any other form of Iranian government has been able to do in 98 years: he made Iran a credible democracy, virtually debt-free and financially and economically sound. Mr. Shuster was quickly summarily ousted from Iran in the midst of his pioneering work in a preview of what would happen to succeeding generations of insightful and effective Iranian leaders: Russians, British and Monarchists collaborating his overthrowing the Constitutional government.

Mr. Shuster went on to write the classic "The Strangling of Persia." It would be a fitting tribute in the world's leading financial newspaper for it's readers to read his story and be reminded of an era when American foreign policy was more innocent and idealistic in its world view.

In 1995 I wrote a thesis entitled "The Coming Revolution" warning that Iran's youth demographic, with over 75% of the population under the age of 25 and born after the Revolution of 1979, would demand ever more freedoms and democratic government. Iran had the choice to either move towards those freedom and democracy or risk fomenting another revolution. Now, over six years later President Khatami has helped ensure that the former rather the latter would occur.

President Khatami is now shaping a true Islamic democracy, the first of its kind in the world and a future beacon to other troubled Islamic nations torn apart by extremists. He is pointing the way for these troubled nations how to co-exist in the larger Global milieu. All democracy is not required to be secular. It is in America's interest to continue the thawing in relations that Bush, Powell and Cheney are leading.

It took Gorbachev almost 10 years to achieve what he did. Khatami has only been President since 1997. We must be patient, support him and his efforts will bear fruit. This is not the time to disrupt the normalization and movement towards freedoms that Khatami is heading and give legitimacy to a voice who stayed silent for too long. Doing so would be like supporting a relative of the Czar during Gorbachev's final term; utter foolishness.

Shervin Kordary Pishevar

Mr. Pishevar is an Iranian American businessman, entrepreneur, investor. He has been featured in Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Times, CNN, CNBC.


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