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What's the alternative?
Send your ideas and visions on what Iran's government should be like

By Naghmeh Sohrabi
June 27, 2003
The Iranian

Anyone who has dared write anything on the pages of that somehow disagrees with the absolutist vision of some monarchists is more likely than not confronted with emails such as this:

We the Akhoonds are ready for a long, deep, and extensive political intercourse (bekon bekon) with you, jj, and the rest of the gang.


Pessar'e Khomeini

Or this:

Why is she allowed to insult the Pahlavis and I am not allowed to call her stupid --which she is?!!!!

Needless to say, these emails are essential in that they provide much needed laughter on a topic that is not, in and of itself, very funny. I was pleasantly surprised though that this time, in response to my article "You the people" the majority of the responses were thoughtful analyses of the situation in Iran.

Most agreed with me on some points and disagreed on others. They took the time to come up with arguments for their positions that went well past the "go fuck yourself" variety. What was common to most of these emails was the question of alternative and vision. If I am critiquing the current political discourse on Iran, what else do I have to offer? What do I think should happen?

There is a problem with this question itself. If we breakdown the context of these questions we come to a couple of assumptions. The first one is the idea that a critique to be valid needs to be followed by a solution. Were that the case, then the whole idea of journalism and criticism would fall apart and be placed within activism.

The problem is that activism, while absolutely necessary, begs a kind of personality that chooses to see the world in black and white, rather than shades of grey. It needs to believe that there is a right way and a wrong way in order for it to take its first steps. Criticism while admittedly the less nobler of these activities in some people's eyes, takes off from the belief that there are multiple sides to every issue, each of which needs to be taken into consideration and illuminated.

Not to say that we should go around critiquing everything under the sun and leaving it at that. Just that there should be room at least for this kind of division of labor and an understanding of the different roles each one plays in a political community.

Whether or not you agree with my previous assertions (and I am the first to admit that there are ample problems with them), there is a second, far more important assumption at work here. In email after email (including my wonderful father's) the recurring question was "But what other alternative do we have?" or the somewhat less gracious "unless you have a better plan than that of Mr. Pahlavi, then I suggest you keep your 'same old, same old' comments to yourself."

The issue here is the urgency in the request for the alternative. We are notoriously a rather impatient nation and history is the best proof for that. Viable alternatives are not born over night and the rush to find one the minute things go wrong is what put us in this position in the first place.

Just look at the current level of analysis on Iran. Protests are treated neither as reflections of dissatisfaction, nor as a STEP towards something new. They're treated as beginnings of a revolution if not the revolution itself.

Everywhere I go, I am asked "So, do you think there's going to be another revolution in Iran?" As the Persians say, is it written on our foreheads that change in Iran comes only in the form of mass (and often violent) protests? Do we have some kind of a predisposition towards revolutions?

Add to that the fact that every time there is a protest, the most inflexible and absolutists of the Iranian opposition abroad get their knickers in a knot and start salivating. They remind me of hyenas who, incapable of hunting themselves, can't wait to feast on a leftover carcass.

But I digress.

My critique of the current Iranian opposition stems from my belief that I think we are, both inside and outside of Iran, in a situation to be idealists, to reach for the stars, in the hope that if we aim high, we may actually not have to settle for the first brand-name middle-aged man not wearing a turban.

The search for an overnight alternative will and actually has, led Iranian politics to focus on individuals as opposed to desirable systems of governance. Doesn't it make more sense that when things start stirring, we don't rush to the first father figure that saunters our way and instead see it as a time to come up with a blueprint, no matter how idealistic, of a system whose success or failure would not depend on one person?

I may be wrong but I don't believe there is going to be regime change in Iran over night and I think that itself is a good thing. Aside from not wanting what we have, what do we really want Iran in the future to look like? What do terms like secular democracy, which has become the latest catch phrase, mean to you?

Is the absolute rule of the majority something desirable? What kind of a Constitution would you like Iran to have? A weak one like France or a strong one like the U.S.? What would be the role of elites? How desirable is the American system? Or any other country's?

Send your ideas and your visions. What is your ideal system? What are your alternatives? Once we've gathered enough material, I'll put them together and reprint them (with or without your names) on these pages. What is the alternative? I don't have one yet but with your help and with time, a pretty good one may take shape.

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By Naghmeh Sohrabi




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