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No heroes
Democracy and democratization

By Behrouz Enayati
August 10, 2001
The Iranian

As we continue to express our views, opinions and observations on the historical developments in Iran, we may perhaps wish to remind ourselves to conform to certain guiding principles. Our discourse can be governed by a few simple norms that will hopefully deepen our understanding not only of the topic at hand but also of each other. In our exchange, we can always be a little more respectful and courteous, even if it seems a little cosmetic. We can always "allow" more by being more receptive and tolerant. Instead of always setting out to change minds, we can perhaps aim to influence mindsets.

For a variety of cultural and historical reasons, democracy in Iran is a perilous journey. As the term implies, democratization is a process. Furthermore it is often argued -- quite correctly in my judgment -- that even democracy itself is a work-in-process. However it is not uncommon these days to overlook or minimize this fact and fall into the trap of comparing the ongoing and fragile democratization that is taking place in Iran with the well-established democracies of the West. Attempts to make direct and side by side comparisons between the two, as some observers do, is simply erroneous and unscientific, not to mention unfair and illogical.

Today the struggle to sustain democratic initiatives in Iran is in its embryonic stages, needing to be nurtured and cared for, while Western democracies are self-sustaining, fully developed and functional systems that have matured over many centuries. Many of the naysayers who claim that reports of democracy in Iran have been greatly exaggerated and call for boycott of elections, etc., have simply confused the process with the product.

The real danger of such misguided analysis lies a) in its conclusion of "futility of activism" and b) in its recommendations to "abort the process". This type of reasoning may lead us to abandon the egg, declaring it to be no chicken!

My contention is that even if our democratization efforts were not that far behind those of Western democracies, there would still be no compelling reason for one to resemble the other, follow a similar path or arrive at the same destination as the other. That is not to say that valuable lessons cannot be learned from experiences of others. However we must exercise great caution not to use a model whose underlying assumptions and conditions are intrinsically very different from our own particular, and sometimes very unique, set of circumstances.

The survival, continuation and evolution of reforms are to a large extent contingent upon grassroot support and increased individual participation. In the past, political movements and mobilization of social forces have depended, much to their own detriment, on the charisma and the popularity of a leader. This invariably and inevitably leads to excessive personification of the movement's identity and the dilution of its ideals. A large number of people will, precipitously and unintentionally, begin to identify more with the messenger rather than the message itself. Consequently the movement's fate becomes unnecessarily intertwined with that of its leaders.

Today, however, in one of its precepts the reform movement urges us "not to look for heroes". Instead we are "to seek the hero within". If taken to heart this can bring about a major shift in attitude toward our roles and responsibilities and the manner in which we participate in the political process.

At this precarious and decisive juncture, our assessment of the reforms' success or failure cannot be based solely on actual changes and quantitative accomplishments. During these initial phases of laying down the foundations, the focus of our evaluation should be on preparation and cultivation of conditions that are most conducive to change. Today we ought to plough, plant and fertilize, and any talk of reaping and harvesting is clearly premature.

In my opinion, the single most important achievement of the reform ideology in Iran has been the restoration of the belief that we CAN and MUST change. It is the very spirit of a movement that has brought genuine hope to millions both in and outside of Iran. For the first time since the revolution, a sense of resolve has resurrected our national will.

These favorable and welcome changes, coupled with opportunity, have created an enormous responsibility for each and every one of us, whether we recognize it or not. This is not the kind of responsibility that is assigned to us from time to time by our elders, teachers, bosses, governments and leaders. It is an inners sense of organic responsibility that is born out of knowledge, recognition and opportunity. It is an inner call and a deeply personal search for a meaningful way in which 'we' can serve our country during this defining period in our history.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Behrouz Enayati

By Behrouz Enayati

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