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Boycott or perish
There is bad news ahead unless we unite

By Amir Khosrow Sheibany
June 11, 2001
The Iranian

With the elections now over, and the confused, negative and pessimistic message behind a NO vote (or election boycott), it is worthwhile writing, for the record, the strategy and principles behind those promoting the boycott. When the dust settles it will be possible for those interested to judge the sincerity and wisdom of those who made such proposals, and whether we have missed an opportunity for peaceful change, from the tormenting hell called the Islamic Republic to a secular democracy.

Alas, the very same individuals and foreign media organizations that rejected slow reform under Shapour Bakhtiar and Mehdi Bazargan are now pushing for Khatami. The very same people who publicly promoted the mollas for prolonging the war with Iraq (or worse, kept quite), yet privately wished that this would weaken or destroy the government, are now behind Khatami. With such wise intellectuals, guiding the nation's teenagers into prolonging the regime, then it is very possible that in four years time we will be revisiting this same boycott issue.

It is the sad truth of this sordid affair called Iranian politics that for some, like myself, there are very few points of contention with the likes of Dr. Behbehani ["Cheraa Khatami?"] We may agree on what are the important issues, agree on the validity of the same facts, and agree on what to conclude from them. However, we conclude differently on how to move forward together, as we seem to look at the world based on different experiences.

Then there are the hardcore Khatami supporters. Again, they appear in no shape or form to be of the same mentality as those who shouted "Allah-o-Akbar" before executing thousands of people. They seem to be quite principled and noble young men and women who are the best hope for the future of Iran. And yet we seem to be confronting them instead of the Guardian Council!

The question, then, is how can the not-so-silent majority (us) work with those voting for reforms (them) to achieve, what is essentially, a very similar objective?

Is our division superficial or fundamental? According to the Western media and our own political pundits inside the country, we have hardliners versus Khatami, with maybe a small group of extremists singing a whole different tune. Could there be other forces at play here? Iranian values against Islamic ones? Class struggle? Or foreign manipulation of our psyche?

The issues

The message from various political parties both outside and inside Iran, from prisoners to student leaders, was stay home, voting legitimizes this totalitarian system, prolonging its life just a bit longer (see "Doesn't work").

Since the Western media's reporting on the Iranian elections are in fact a campaign in favor of Khatami (see Time magazine's special section, as well as the BBC), much as their 1978 reporting was in favor of Khomeini, positioning hardliners versus Khatami with no mention of the agenda of those proposing a boycott, I should re-iterate the NO-vote message here for the record.

Here are the arguments against a boycott and my answers to them.

1.) Not voting (boycotting) teaches intolerance. ["Uncivil society"]

A very low turnout would be an active vote against a clerical government and a tacit vote in favor of democratic elections. This argument was the closest to my own sentiment, as I assumed we could vote against all candidates and write "Referendum" on the ballot. However, this is considered a dangerous proposition as voters' identification papers are stamped, fingerprints taken, and it is the public perception, especially in the villages, that the secret police is all seeing.

2.) Not voting actually strengthens the hard-liners.

This is the main argument I have heard. Voting legitimizes and thus strengthens the hardliners. Not voting legitimizes the case for a FREE referendum and national reconciliation. The voters are the ones who define what the elections mean, not the 12-member Guardian Council and their thugs.

3.) Khatami is slowly making improvements. I want to vote for him.

By not voting in this selection, you are actively strengthening the Khatami programs also. A free election would legitimize his authority, and remove opposition to reforms. Not participating gives you a voice. Voting legitimizes the non-elected Guardian Council. Remember, if the Guardian Council is blocking Khatami's reforms, then the voters' first priority should be to de-legitimize the council.

The peaceful way to de-legitimize Velayat-e Faghih is by not accepting their selection in the first place, and picking Khatami outside of a phony election process. Another way is through revolution. If you believe that 70% of the people, including the army and workers are behind Khatami, then you can define for yourself how you vote for him. The alternative is that the 70% (20 million votes) was a hoax. The total vote was more like 11 million, as many have suggested.

4.) There may be bloodshed and chaos of the same magnitude as 23 years ago.

By staying at home? Voting YES to referendum by not participating in IRI elections, is a peaceful way of saying you want peaceful change in government.

5.) The idea of Islamic democracy is a good one and I want to support it.

By voting in this election, you are legitimizing the taking of power by force of guns and violence. By not participating in the IRI election you are voting for a FREE referendum, whose "Islamic democratic" candidate can be voted for peacefully and democratically.

Implementing Islamic democracy under terror and torture, without FREE elections is hardly Islamic or democratic. The current clergy have to first prove that the people, in a secret ballot vote, accept them as Muslim before mixing the Koran and democracy.

The skepticism of those who say Khatami is just playing a good-cop-bad-cop game will be proven to be true.

6.) I benefit financially if my candidate becomes president.

From 1954 to 1979 Iran's economic growth was as good as that of South Korea & Malaysia with a per capita income of $2,400 in 1979. After the end of the oil concession in 1979, we could have expected to be even better off still.

Today, 23 years later, whilst South Korea and Malaysia have per capita income of over $20,000, Iran's is down to $500. The average life of Iranian citizens has also been reduced by 9 years, where as before it was increasing along with that of other prosperous countries. That is how much the IRI benefits from the national wealth that you should be drawing from.

7.) I'm voting not for the candidate I like, but to keep out those I don't like.

If you vote, you are legitimizing Ali Fallahian's past deeds and political power. The clerics are in power whether you vote for them or not. If everyone shows unity and does not vote, it will mean a YES vote for a referendum.

8.) If I don't vote, I'll loose my financial subsidies, government post, or access to public education.

You could go to the voting booth and not mark any candidates to get around this, but better still BE BRAVE, and don't be intimidated by terror tactics. If this becomes a mass movement, no one will have the power to punish everybody.

9.) Not voting moves us towards the abyss. What would happen next?

By not voting you are moving one step away from the abyss that is the IRI, and you are making the first, albeit small, step towards national unity and a better future.

10.) Not voting for Khatami is "bee sharafi" and puts him further under pressure. Khatami is a good, down to earth person.

The election itself is a joke. When 70% of the electorate, and maybe 99% of the opposition abroad are backing reform (under Khatami for now) who is putting pressure on who with an election boycott? Wouldn't this be the most powerful, peaceful message to your oppressors since Gandhi in British India?

Considering that no one dares insult the clergy directly, when better to show your political will than in a meaningless election set up by the clergy for the foreign media'sconsumption?

When 70% or 80% or 90% (we'll only know after a free referendum) of a country's population is against the regime in power, it is not for the regime to define what it means if people vote or not! If the hardliners had not succeeded in dividing the opposition by introducing Khatami, it is assumed, this message would have been heard loud and clear.

I am not part of any of the various official opposition groups. I have never ever participated in any political gatherings in the past. But it does not take a strategist or activist to see what's going here: Velayat-e Faghih permits Khatami to run, blocks his reforms, and four years from now Khatami will be gone, yet Velayat-e Faghih will still be there. Therefore, re-defining the election is more important than the Khatami reform program itself. Re-defining elections is not a violent act. It is directing it in a better path.


POWER. Like an elephant chained all through life and preconditioned to think that a rope around its neck means it can't break free, when if fact it can tear down the whole tree, I believe that over the last 25 years Iranian sentiments have changed. The mollas only have power when the people are divided. Is Khatami there to divide us?

INDEPENDANT YOUTH. Many of the founders of the Islamic Republic are joining the reform movement (including Khalkhali), using it to spread their old propaganda. These are the very same people whose hatred and petty jealousies got us to where we are today. The Iranian freedom movement is not an experimentation with (yet another) smart idea. It is ingrained in every one of us who remembers the pre-1979 Iran.

Even those born after 1979 know that people were happier before and lived a better life. Various confusing explanations as to why 1979 happened in the first place have resulted in the youth ignoring the past lessons and elde's advice. The youth say, "That was your revolution; I have nothing to do with it. This is my life that is ruined because of it."

The reality is that seven million youngsters have entered adulthood in the past four years. They will not have the necessities of life available to them, and the haphazard and contradictory statements forced on to them through terror and fear of death and after life, will not appease them.

INJUSTICE. The difference in opinion, and outlook on life, between those I have met in north Tehran and the rest of the country, from Kerman to Isfahan, is shocking. This divide, (as well as the ethnic and social divide) runs too high a risk of civil war in the future. A rapid resolution (speed of reform) of the ideological experiments of Islam and democracy is not a matter of personal preference but a national priority. If 1979 could happen with people on a full stomach, with a future as bright as any other peoples of the world, what's to stop the Lebanonization of Iran or worse.

PROFIT. The timing of the 1979 revolution, and the end of the 25-year oil concession was not a coincidence. The 20 to 50-year timetable proposed for the realization of democratic reform in the Islamic Republic, and a similar duration until the depletion of Iran's oil and gas resources, is no coincidence either.

In fact, not mentioning U.S. oil policy in Middle East, or not mentioning the memories of the barbarities of the so-called revolution in the current election, is like carrying on a conversation trying to ignore the elephant in the livingroom. This Islamic-Shi'ite-only election is busy diverting our attention from the financial interests that are dividing us.

How can we unite?

The four items above may have mobilized us all today. The three characteristics below divide us as a people, and I believe, are the source of our division.

MESSIAH. Has anyone heard Khatami being described by some young supporters as the best thing that has happened to Iran in centuries? Does this ring a bell? Ever heard the same thing said of Mossadegh or Khomeini when he came to power? Did you hear this being said about Mohammad Reza Shah when he pushed oil prices through the roof, or gave the mollas and khans (and his own) land to the farmers that worked on them?

A girl in Shiraz said to me just a few months ago that the young Shahzadeh Pahlavi is speaking from her heart when he calls for peace and referendum. He is yet another "greatest thing" to happen to Iran. Yes, Khatami could have immortalized himself by not standing for reelection ["Don't run"], more than any other living opposition member, but he doesn't want to.

Iranians seem to want and need a messiah. We have to accept that the other person's messiah, however disgusting they may be to our own moral values, is as highly respected as the person we ourselves consider the "greatest thing". Or even better, we should move away from these personality issues towards quantifiable issues instead.

ARAB-IRAN. Are you looking at the world through the eye's of a pan-Arabist, or an Aryan Iranian? I tried to raise this split in the national psyche in "My flag". We have been wading in a sophisticated atmosphere created by the collision of Iranian (Arian) culture and Semitic culture. Not able to fully express our own culture, because it was presented in a secret/subtle language and works of art (to avoid persecution from the invaders) and not knowing the Semitic culture because we did not know Arabic.

The question I had asked was: If Noruz and Ashura fall on exactly the same day, would you weep and wail, or celebrate your existence? That, I believe, would be determine which camp you belong to.

However, is there not some gray area? Is there not any room for discussion? Is it a must for the pan-Arabist view to annihilate the indigenous peoples, suppress its culture and language underground, and remove its nationalist emblems from flags, maps and books? Cannot the Aryan view of the world accept Iranians with pan-Arab views as Arabs, and live with them as we live with our Arabic neighbors? Don't they have qualities we can appreciate?

CLASS WARFARE. Finally, are we secretly waging class warfare? Between those with suits and the down-to-earth folk? The artist or engineer, and the layman? The educated snobs and the illiterate? The happy-go-lucky and the serious man?

Can the uneducated build industries like those built in Iran of the 1960s and 70's? Will the Harvard PhD defend the country the same way as the person who fought the Iran-Iraq war? Don't these two extremes make the whole that has been Iran for centuries? Is it wise to use another platform, religion for instance, for indirectly taking on this problem? Doesn't everyone lose?

This Islamic Republican regime is bringing out all the worst characteristics in us. It is a vortex of all the hatred, ugliness and negative energy in our culture packaged in deceitful words. It lives on character assassination of the previous regime to justify its present misdeeds. It is founded on a whole series of lies and deceitful half-truths that are only now slowly surfacing.

Fighting this regime is a fight for freedom, the rule of law and progress. This regime has alienating our culture, and thrown a veil of misery, disorientation, cynicism, and resentment over our lives. Those who say fighting this regime is a waste of time, and we should work with it, may well be the same religious men who have Armageddon and doom in their mental vocabulary. They want to justify religion's involvement in matters of state. Separation of religion and state is a must.

I should also note that I believe the Iranian people outside the country are as important as those inside. It has been a central objective of the Islamic Republicans to uproot (or kill) those that they think will be seen as superior to themselves, in intellect or values by the population at large. Those writing off the wishes of Iranians outside the country might share the same sentiments as those who brought the country to this mess in the first place.

The June 8th election could have been a perfect occasion to show unity against the Guardian Council by not acknowledging its legitimacy, and prove to each other that a boycott can be done peacefully. By Sheepishly agreeing to play ball with the Velayat-e Faghih, and not directly confronting the issues which I believe divide us, we may be in for a real mess. There is bad news ahead unless we unite.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Amir Khosrow Sheibany


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By Najmeh Fakhraie

Uncivil society
Boycotting elections teaches intolerance
By Hamid Zangeneh

By Amir Khosrow Sheibany

My flag
Conquering Mount Kilimanjaro cleared my mind


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