Democracy and democratization
By Behrouz Enayati
August 10, 2001
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
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.