Akbar Ganji on trial. Photo by Vahid Salemi / AP
Dictators create heroes
Heroes appear when there is no way to stop the oppressor
By Amirali Baniasadi
November 20, 2000
In two different yet similar acts, two well-known intellectuals perform
quite differently on Iran's microcosmic stage. Akbar Ganji, a prominent
journalist, stands up in court and criticizes the rear-guard establishment
with a frontal assault. By disclosing isolation and mistreatments he had
gone through, he seriously damaged the international reputation of the
In the second act, when the curtain goes up, Ebrahim Nabavi apologizes
for his previous deeds. In addition, at the core of his apologies he abandoned
his assumed position as a "hero." Quite aware of the priceless
trophy he was giving up, in his letter, Nabavi mentions explicitly that
he does not want to be a hero. His humorous appearance in the courtroom
seems to rule out any chances of depression and confusion on his part.
At the same time, many have praised Ganji's brave bold gestures. Like
Socrates, Ganji is not the first to use the court stand as a platform for
truth and activism; remember Golesorkhi and Daneshyan under the Shah, and
Amir-Entezam after Revolution?
The late Mehdi Bazargan, in response to the judge in his 1963 military
trial, referred to the "1953 Coup events" as "Shooresh-e
favaahesh" ("The riot of whores.") His straightforward answer
cost him years in jail. Many others have been vocal in closed court, yet
remain unknowns. Agitators and critics take huge risks as catalysts of
Nabavi's message causes us to ponder the predicament of surrender under
pressure. Many nameless activists have gone through the same phase. Different
individuals have different thresholds for isolation. They carry their historic
purpose/ mission as far as they can. Once the burden exceeds their capacity
they give up. To this extent, it's quite understandable.
In another recent example earlier this year Gholam-Hossein Karbaschi,
Tehran's abandoned ex-mayor, did the same. He asked for a pardon and was
freed from jail. He had the same reasoning; he did not want to be a "hero."
Just like Nabavi, he had been praised and celebrated as a pro-reform activist,
but could not afford the price.
In the present day so-called civil society lexicon, "heroes"
doesn't carry the same meaning. That's why those who capitulate, justify
their apologia by developing theories denying the role of outstanding activists/intellectuals
in social events. They picture "heroes" as the ones who deserve
to be blamed for all the unwanted events happening in the past.
Heroes, as Nabavi calls them, are extremists who pass speed limits and
end in accidents, harming the poor passengers! This perplexing concept
needs to be debated further in investigation of the role of agency in the
process of social change.
But where do heroes really stand? Addressing the above question is essential
for all those involved in the reform movement. A key issue here is to understand
what circumstances give birth to heroes. Ironically, behind every hero
is an anti-hero. Heroes appear when there is no way to stop the oppressor,
other than by going beyond the ordinary.
When expressing opposing political expression is so costly that only
extraordinary people could afford getting involved, heroes find the chance
to appear on the scene. In the absence of justice and liberty, when a ruling
system resists correcting its limitations, and increases pressure on citizens,
heroes are the only candidates to step forward and point to distortions
Dictators, ironically give birth to heroes. The story of Moses and the
Pharaoh is constantly repeated in history. Where would a hero be in a democratic
society, where requiring social rights is not a life-threatening task?
Also, one should also be aware of the cultural grounds in un-democratic
societies. A totalitarian system strongly depends on the praising official
media to establish its legitimacy; therefore the social psychology is in
need of the appearance of heroes.
Moreover, imagine where we would be without heroes. Erase Mossadegh
from our history, and read it again. Take away Ali Shariati, and see where
we stand. On the international level, is there a civil rights movement
in the U.S. without Martin Luther King and Malcolm X? Where is Egypt without
Naser, or India without Gandhi or Nehru?
Heroes are those extraordinary people who make sacrifices and become
agents of historical and social change. Those with lower the threshold
of pain could withdraw at any stage, but it's unfair to criticize other
fellow travelers who carry it to the destination with bear feet.
Unless we come up with a self-criticizing ruling system where power
is decided and revolved by people's will, the making of heroes is inevitable.
They will appear over and over again. They deserve every bit of respect
they gain no matter where or when they are born. It would take a while
for the reform body to understand the exact cost of being involved in hard-ball
politics, and being at the receiving end; once they do, we would hopefully
face fewer disappointments.
Mehdi Akhavan Sales once hoped for an Eskandar, if there was no chance
for a Nader. We are a very fortunate nation to have so many brave figures
and activists in this very important era of our history. They will definitely
play an important role in realizing our old dreams. Let's rediscover the
virtues of our heroes. Let's remember; let's be a witness.