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It starts with us
No one will give us democracy

By Saeed Ganji
February 8, 2002
The Iranian

I wonder if we Iranians are ever going to learn what democracy is and how it works. When are we going to realize that it wasn't the Shah's, or Khomeini's or Khatami's to hand down? Reza Pahlavi or Mojahedeen, or anyone else, cannot give it to us. In fact, it isn't even a quality to be looked for in the individual who will be our next head of government. The CIA cannot create it, and it cannot take it away.

Democracy starts with us, individual citizens.

The concept is simple: you cannot have a democratic government presiding over a people who tolerate any amount of undue aggression on their fellow citizens, of any creed, religion, political background or ethnicity.

Some of you know exactly what I'm talking about. Amazon Honor SystemLet me refresh our memory by going back to the very beginning of Khomeini's rule, when the revolutionary courts started executing ex-government officials like stray dogs, without any respect for their individual or human rights.

Remember those days? We, meaning a compelling majority of us, "smart freedom loving" Iranians, blinded by the hatred we felt for deposed government officials, and the desire for getting even with "the bastards", whole heartedly supported these cold murders. We basically figured that they had it coming. In fact, anything less would have been unacceptable to us.

Oh yes, I remember. I was with you all the way. It started with SAVAK officials, and ended up with petty officers of the army and police, ministers, and in some cases university professors who had won prizes or praises by the old regime. Writers, scholars, were getting in trouble because a book they had written was customarily dedicated to the Shah.

A little later, the same thing happened to political organizations, of every kind and creed. The regime started smartly, by first going after the smallest, least popular ones. Once again we said "Oh, that's good. These guys really deserve it."

And, once again, fascism started at the bottom, and worked its way up. In a few short years, all political organizations were banned, our individual freedoms had vanished, and as always, we were blaming the government.

But isn't a government simply a reflection of the culture -- the summation of the ideals of the people that it REPRESENTS? What were we thinking? Shame on us. Shame on us for being so stupid and bringing all this upon ourselves.

Voltaire said, some 250 years ago, "I am willing to give my life, in order to defend YOUR right, to criticize ME." Think about that. I am willing to give my life to protect your right to criticize me. It's such an alien notion to us, isn't it?

Voltaire's statement is, interestingly enough, completely selfish. He simply realized that in order for him to live in a free society, everyone's freedoms had to be respected, and more than that, guarded with blood. That's how democracy is created: by individuals learning about their own role and responsibility.

Remember the last time you read something here on this site, that really made you angry? Did you tell yourself that this is another fellow Iranian, with simply a different opinion, who deserves and needs my respect? Probably not.

I'm willing to bet that you were thinking of enrolling in computer school, so that you could hack the internet, find their home address, find them, and let them have it good! I know it. Three or four years of school seemed like such a small price to pay for sweet taste of revenge, didn't it?

So, the next time you start thinking of clever torture techniques to kill a molla, if you ever find the opportunity, stop. Look yourself in the mirror, bite your lips, and say to yourself, WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS.

Democracy starts and ends with individuals who make up a nation. It's up to us.

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