Change in Iran ought to flourish without external threats of
violence and invasion
By Behrooz Ghamari
May 27, 2003
Recently, two statements on
the necessity and urgency of fundamental political change in Iran
have been distributed via the internet. The first is authored by
a group called The
International Committee for A Transition to Democracy in Iran
(CITDI, the acronym for its French title). More
than 200 Iranian scholars, political pundits, and activists signed
a second statement called "For
the Unity of Iranian Republicans".
CITDI's membership includes
an impressive list of celebrated left-leaning intellectuals, scientists,
and artists, such as Samir Amin, Noam Chomsky, Costa Gavras, Edward
Said, Immanuel Wallerstein, Harold Pinter, etc.
The core agenda of both statements
is a call for a general referendum in Iran with the intention of
founding a "secular parliamentarian republic" based on
respect for "the principles and values enunciated in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights," and its other ensuing democratic
In its statement, CITDI asserts
that the bottomless appetite of Washington hawks for expanding their
control over the vast resources of the region has made the need
for change in Iran an urgent necessity. They argue that "in
order to avoid a further extension of the disastrous conflicts in
the region," all democratic forces in the world ought to be
mobilized and lend their support to their Iranian counterparts to
bring about a "preemptive peace."
This objective is realizable
"through bringing pressure to bear on the clericrats in power
in order to compel them to yield to the will of the people who demand
a referendum for the establishment of a secular and democratic republic."
The Manifesto of Iranian Republicans
also emphasizes the "dead-end of reform" in Iran. The
Manifesto stresses that the Islamic Republic's continuing anti-democratic
policies has undermined Iranian national interests in the world
community and it warns, in an implicit reference to Washington hawks,
that these policies have now endangered the sovereignty of the nation
and its territorial integrity.
I have no objection to the basic
premise of these statements; the Iranian political infrastructure
should undergo a fundamental transformation. Also, as colleagues,
friends, and contributors to social thought and defenders of the
just and the good, I have tremendous respect for many of the signatories
of both statements.
However, what compels me to
write these lines is the disturbing opportunism which lies in between
the lines of their statements. Warning the Iranian regime to submit
to the will of the Iranian people or be subjected to the wrath of
Washington hawks is inadvertently playing the good cop to the threats
of American administration bullies.
Although democratic reform in
Iran is a legitimate demand, coupling it with the threat of a war
of invasion strikes me as a Left opportunistically riding the wave
of American imperialism. Such a position would neither bring about
genuine change in Iran, nor would it contain American expansionist
ambitions. Worse than stalled reform in Iran would be change induced
by the peril of foreign invasion.
The "reform movement"
in Iran was the result of the simultaneous expansion of the institutions
of civil society and the emergence of a new polity from within the
Islamic Republic, inspired by and with the support of a new Muslim
intelligentsia. This movement is indeed far from a homogeneous effort
for political and social change in Iran.
However, all participants of
this movement share a desire to resolve the inherent contradictions
in the sources of legitimacy of the state both in the Iranian constitution
and in the realpolitik of the regime. The significance of this multifaceted
movement, mostly known for its remarkable and unprecedented intellectual
production, is in its transformative rather than abolitionist impulse.
Let me clarify what I mean.
The Manifesto of Iranian Republicans
starts with this passage: "After a century of struggle for
transition from autocracy to democracy and from tradition to modernity,
our people are at the thresholds of a new movement for the realization
of their lasting aspirations."
Iranian intellectuals have primarily
been influenced by the French tradition of Jacobinist social change
which tends to thrive more on rupture and abolishment than continuity
and transformation. Anything old is suspect and ought to be dismantled,
thus the bifurcation of "tradition and modernity."
This dichotomous way of thinking
conceives modernity and all its foundational principles (i.e. secularism,
democracy, human rights, individualism, etc.) in contradistinction
with tradition (i.e. superstition, religion, despotism, patriarchy,
In the last one hundred years
Iranian intellectuals have been vacillating between the defending
modernity as an imported commodity and cherishing tradition as a
vehicle to fend off the invasion of the modern.
For the first time in Iranian
history, the reform movement in Iran has transformed the dichotomy
of "tradition versus modernity" into the tradition of
modernity. Rather than conceptualizing tradition and modernity in
mutually exclusive categories, for the new reform movement in Iran
the modern emerges from the re-articulation of the traditional.
This movement needs to pave
a long and arduous path. A sustainable change in Iran requires a
bottom-up development of civil society, a meaningful intellectual
engagement with the defenders and interpreters of Iranian traditions,
and an organized effort for political and legal reform to ensure
unrestricted expansion of the first two elements of change.
The expectation that President
Khatami or the current reform-minded parliament will change the
political apparatus of the Islamic Republic in any fundamental way
is misleading and unproductive. It is only based on this mistaken
expectation that the authors of the Manifesto of Iranian Republicans
and many others inside Iran stress the dead-end of Iranian political
reform. The reform movement was neither the brainchild of the President
and his fellow 2nd of Khordad companions, nor will it reach its
end with their demise.
It is the responsibility of
Iranian intellectuals and other supporters of democratic movements
in Iran to allow these movements to flourish on their own terms.
Using the threats of American messianic hawks as a leverage to force
a referendum or any fundamental change in Iran is detrimental to
democratic processes not only in Iran, but also in the United States
and around the world.
I believe it is the responsibility
of all those signatories of CITDI and the Manifesto to de-legitimize
and expose the real intentions of Bush administration and bring
democratic processes back to the U.S.
The CITDI press communiqué
warned the Islamic Republic that if they fail to act now, "it
would be very difficult to avoid the outbreak of a civil war in
Iran, whose consequences would be as devastating as incalculable."
I find it offensive that in
the face of flagrant American warmongering, members of CITDI put
the responsibility of war or peace in the region squarely on the
shoulders of the Iranian regime.
Change should and will happen
in Iran, but this process ought to flourish without external threats
of violence and invasion. Nobody should use the power of the American
Empire to blackmail another country for social, political, and economic
change, no matter how legitimate those changes might be.
Socially conscious intellectuals
need to check the imperialist ambitions for U.S. expansionism from
within the United States. Threats alluded to in the CITDI documents
will not bring about lasting changes in Iran, their exploitation
by the respected members of CITDI and Iranian Republicans can only
be detrimental to the cause they are advocating.
The real threat to peace in the region and around the world is the
Bush Administration. The threat of violence and war has never produced
a lasting peace. As the experience of the last two years (since
President Bush's infamous axis of evil speech at the State of the
Union address) pointing American guns at the Iranian regime strengthens
undemocratic tendencies in Iran and pushes the country defensively
towards the erection of a national security apparatus.
In order to assist reform in
Iran, every democratically-inclined person's responsibility is to
deny the Iranian regime the opportunity to suspend civil and political
liberties as a result of the American threat. Regime change starts
at home, our home is here in America, let's get on with it.
Ghamari is Assistant Professor of Sociological Theory, Social
and Conflict, Sociology of Religion, and Globalization at Georgia
State University's Department of Sociology.
this page to your friends