Ekbatan Observer

Chronicling Iran's struggle towards political emancipation

29 June 2005

The Voice Of The Revolution

By: Reza Bayegan

"I heard the voice of your revolution ... Let all of us work together to establish real democracy in Iran ... I make a commitment to be with you and your revolution against corruption and injustice in Iran..."

These were the unforgettable words from the last speech of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to his compatriots. Not long after this appeal monarchy was overthrown and Iran was plunged into a crisis that has not abated for the past twenty-six years. No nation has ever paid such a dear price for not heeding a call to follow the path of reason. No Imperial Majesty has ever humbled himself to such a degree in the interest of saving his people from destruction. If Iranians - due to the poisonous political atmosphere of the time - could not in 1979 muster enough common sense to see the depth of the Shah’s sincerity, today after the passage of a quarter of a century, they definitely have no excuse not to.

On Friday 24 June, another voice of revolution shook the foundation of the Iranian political structure. Iranians went to the polls, not so much to elect a president of their choice - they weren't given that chance - but to reject the status quo and say no to the hated establishment. This cry of collective repugnance not only did not register on the closed mind of the supreme ruler of the Islamic Republic, he moreover took the election results as a token of appreciation and a compliment paid to his dictatorship. Even if he might have been privately shaken, publicly he stayed on his high horse, imagining that by doing so he would make himself invulnerable to reality. Ali Khamenei has declared the election of Mr. Ahmadinejad as a sign that:

"The Islamic Revolution is pressing ahead with its lofty goals by the grace of God and based on national resolve.”

It is not surprising that the leader of the Islamic Republic lacks the courage to admit that the poor and unemployed have decided that they have no hope under the plutocracy of the mullahs such as Rafsanjani or hornswoggling clergies such as Khatami. It is very much in keeping with the character of the supreme dictator of the clerical regime that instead of squarely facing the fact that Iranian citizens desire a real transformation of the domestic scene, he clings to his tired swashbuckling rhetoric against the supposed foreign enemies. He ignores the judgment of the nation and cuddles up to what people have rejected with all the electoral power they could get their hands on.

In a speech yesterday, 28 June, Khamenei laments “the unjust and unfair defamation of some candidates such as the reputable and experienced character of Mr Rafsanjani.” Although there can be no doubt that Khamenei would not think twice about throwing Rafsanjani overboard to save his own skin, he nevertheless realizes that the umbilical cord connecting him to the shrewd billionaire mullah is too dangerous to cut. He well knows that he cannot sacrifice Rafsanjani without also endangering his own survival. Khamenei owes who he is to a large degree, to the machination of this Machiavellian mullah popularly known as “Expedient Akbar”. After the death of Khomeini, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani played a crucial part in creating for Khamenei the factitious and theologically untenable position of Supreme Religious Guide. Rafsanjani will not leave the scene without letting the cat out of the bag and spilling the beans.

This recent clarion call of the new revolution in Iran expressing itself in an electoral plunge into anything-but-the-current-situation, and a vote for a totally unknown character, was the exact opposite of what Khamenei claimed it to be, i.e. an endorsement of the Islamic Republic. By rejecting the whole kit and caboodle of Khatami’s reform movement, the Iranian people pronounced an unequivocal death sentence on the whole regime and gave a vote of no confidence to any possibility of amelioration and dynamism for the present political system.

The wake up call of the voting results also carried a few messages for the opposition that had vehemently boycotted the polls. The opposition will either hearken to these messages, or it will lose the sympathy of the future generations of Iranians who will be able to look at the current situation from an unbiased and objective historical vantage point. Iranian citizens today are looking for clearly articulated national alternatives and a viable political agenda. The opposition does not seem to be able to propose such an alternative. It needs to sit down and carefully consider what it is doing wrong. Either the message it is putting forward is flawed, or the fault lies in the manner of its delivery. The unfortunate fact is that it has not made the needed impact within the Iranian population.

The opposition, especially those in exile who are sincerely fighting to take the civilized diet of freedom, tolerance and democracy to their politically starved compatriots have failed to turn those essential nutrients into an Iranian political cuisine. The highly independent character of Iranians shaped by a civilization that for centuries has been a significant cultural and political influence throughout the world resists being patronized or lectured to by superpowers.

Michael Slackman, The New York Times correspondent covering the recent presidential election, writes that almost everyone he spoke to in the streets of Tehran wanted improved relations with America, provided that the United States would treat Iran “as an equal, not a second class country”. At election headquarters, a spokesperson for Ahmadinejad’s campaign Hasan Khalili with angrily remarks: “When foreigners talk about this country, they laugh and make fun of us.” When he is asked by the reporter whether he thinks all Americans have this attitude, Khalili looks shocked and says “No, we like the American people,” then leans over and kisses an American reporter on the cheek. What he, like many other Iranians find objectionable, is not the American civilization or people, but a kind of supercilious triumphalism that can spoil even the most hopeful political agenda.

What the Shah had the generosity and humility to recognize, is part of a rightful political demand that Iranians have made since their constitutional Revolution in late1900s, and will not desist from making in the future. Liberty, patriotism, progress and political independence top the list of these aspirations. For the past quarter of a century, the dictators of the Islamic Republic have turned a deaf ear to these aspirations. If they are given a chance they will ignore it for the quarter of a century to come.

20 June 2005

Purgatory or Hell, That is the Question

By: Reza Bayegan

Many Iranian voters have boycotted the presidential election. Many others are going to the polls on Friday to vote for someone they know is dishonest in order to avoid someone they know is going to turn their lives into a living nightmare. The Herald Tribune of June 20 reports: "warning that Iran's citizens faced the prospect of military interference in selecting their next president, the reform movement in Iran issued a statement Sunday night indicating that it planned to oppose the candidacy of of the mayor of Tehran when he faces Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in runoff for the presidency."

To cast a ballot in favor of purgatory or hell, this is the dire choice offered to Iranian citizens. They are going to the ballot box not to exercise an electoral democratic right -that does not exist in Iran- but in order to evade a more draconian form of fascism. Their vote by no means is an endorsement of the regime, but a response to an apprehension that things could get even worse. Not only the ordinary masses are driven by this fear, but also the hard-nosed political activists and thinkers justify their choice of candidates and their participation in the election on the basis of their fear.

The decision of Abdolkarim Soroush is a good example of this general consternation. He is a man who at the beginning of the revolution played a role as Khomeini's intellectual henchman in the cultural revolution and helped in closing down the universities. The unfastidious Time Magazine has called him an Islamic philosopher. Soroush however has come to realize that government and religious establishment should be kept apart. In an interview with an Iranian internet publication Rooz, Mr. Soroush declared his support for Mr. Karoubi's candidacy on the basis of dreading the election of even more harmful candidates. In other words, he voiced support for Mr. Karoubi not because in his view he will make a good or competent president, but because the rest of the candidates are even worse, or present a more dangerous prospect for the nation.

Fatemeh Haghighatjo, ex-member of the Iranian parliament is another typical victim of voting under duress. She has resigned from her parliamentary seat protesting against the tyrannical tendencies of the regime and is quite active in defense of human rights and campaigning for women equality. In a recent speech to "Progressive Reformists" she argued that the country needs something more than reform. This of course is a way of declaring the whole system and its constitution otiose and bankrupt. In the same occasion she stressed her fear that the country might plunge deeper into dictatorship and become prey to military repression if a hard-line candidate gets elected. Based on this premise, and in spite of her total disillusionment with the reformability of the system, she declared her support for Mostafa Moin the ex-minister of Higher Education under president Khatami. The political position regarding the presidential election adopted by Abdolkarim Soroush and Fatemeh Haghighatjo underlines the cynical and diabolic nature of the choice offered to Iranians: the people of Iran are voting in an atmosphere where they think the very survival and security of their country can be taken hostage by even blinder forces of extremism within the regime.

In the meanwhile, the international community is not made any wiser by the shallow press coverage of foreign correspondents in Iran. The B.B.C reports a "respectable" turn out for the election, but little mention is made in its coverage of the unrespectable and moreover shameful conditions under which Iranians are forced to choose. Little mention is made of the total absence of freedom of press and freedom of speech which are sacred to democracy and without which any electoral exercise will be totally illegitimate.  Freedom of speech is sacred because without it, no one can win over and persuade others to one's point of view. Without a peaceful atmosphere free of tension and apprehension, no one can appeal to reason to influence the outcome of citizens vote and decision. In Iran of the mullahs there is only a free flow of terror and the electoral right offered to people is a right to choose between various regions of purgatory or inferno.

Many Iranians today, especially those who boycotted the election are feeling disheartened, thinking that the election should have been more forcefully boycotted by the majority of Iranians who can have nothing to hope from the present system. They do not realize that the ordinary Iranian citizens today are not driven to the polls by what they hope for in the discredited regime of the Islamic Republic, but as a result of their unmitigated fear of even a more dreadful future.

What is important is that the campaign of civil disobedience in Iran is becoming further consolidated and moving in the right direction. Under constant terror promoted by the Islamic regime, Iranian political activists are becoming seasoned soldiers in their non-violent struggle against dictatorship . As Iran's Reza Pahlavi said in a recent interview: we are here for a long haul and we know that success in our campaign to free our country depends on our untiring efforts and the unshakable confidence we have on the justness of our cause.

13 June 2005

11 June 2005

6 June 2005

What ails Iranians?

By: Reza Bayegan

There are no short cuts from tyranny to liberty. As it is evident in the example of Iraq, removing the dictator is only the first step in the long arduous process of democratization. Tyranny has one thing in common with liberty: it sends deep, powerful roots into the collective psyche of the society. These tenacious roots affect a population's habits, attitudes and way of life. Today those who are busy thinking of a means of putting an end to clerical dictatorship in Iran should at the same time not lose sight of the necessity of thinking out a plan for healing those malignant moral maladies caused by long term despotism.

Going through the hell-fire of twenty-six years of political cataclysm has taken a heavy toll on Iranian sanity. To give Iranians a clean bill of mental health is far from realistic, and no one should expect such a bill unless one is unfamiliar with the inveterate psychological effects of tyranny.

Tyranny has a way of destroying the country's sense of community. Its victims learn to think mainly of their own survival and that of their kith and kin. The state's survival to a large extent depends on infusing fear amongst the population. All one's success depends on trying to get on the right side of an arbitrary political system and getting ahead of everyone else in doing so. Duplicity and secretiveness here are indispensable ingredients. It is clear that such a milieu can be an ideal hotbed for moral and ethical disintegration.

Contrary to democracies where normally one is rewarded for one's efforts in advancing the welfare of the community, in a tyranny one has to think of a way of pleasing the supreme leader or currying favor with the ruling establishment. This of course is a degrading exercise. In this system consciously or unconsciously one loses one's self-respect, and at the same time looks down on everyone else for compromising their integrity and kowtowing to an inhuman system.

That is how a culture of self-hate comes into being. You might say: 'what are you talking about? If anything, Iranians suffer from over-confidence and are too fond of themselves.'
I am not a psychologist, but one does not need to be an expert to realize that self-loathing and self-aggrandizing are two sides of the same coin and symptoms of an unstable and insecure personality.

Many Iranians when together praise each other to the skies, and when they part company shred each other to pieces. A friend was telling me a story about an Iranian policeman in one of the cities in Azerbaijan province, which can illustrate the point I am trying to make. This policeman was talking in the telephone to one of his superiors in a packed waiting room. He was addressing him in the most servile and sycophantic manner. After he hung up however, he took a look around the room feeling ashamed of himself. To recover his lost air of self-importance, referring to the person he was just talking to in the telephone he emitted: “son of a b****”

Today, if great Iranian political initiatives like rallying together for holding a national referendum encounters difficulties, we have to remember that symptoms of age-old tyranny such as mutual suspicion and mistrust are to a large extent responsible for frustrating the process. These symptoms will not disappear overnight. Even many of those Iranians who have lived abroad in Western democracies have not yet been able to shake them off.
In a country which has never enjoyed political accountability, no one is used to doing one's level best and taking responsibility for one's triumphs and failures. Everyone blames someone else. Even the most venerated political figures in the opposition today are not safe from being maligned and viciously attacked by other so-called political activists.

Many Iranians talk about progressive politics and modernity, but act in a way that shows what they mouth, and mouth so convincingly has not sunk deep in their character. In other words they use and borrow these concepts without willing to pay the price of owning them. What is certain is that one cannot talk about human rights, tolerance and democracy from one side of one's mouth, and from the other side shout obscenities at those who hold a different viewpoint.

Many Iranian activists have repented from their past failures of judgment and deplored their previous political decisions. Repentance from past mistakes however, means nothing if it is not accompanied with a firm resolution to desist from those mistakes in the future and to form new, healthy political habits. We cannot defenestrate our dictators and at the same time hang on to the virulent viruses of a totalitarian mentality. If we do so, we have only succeeded in removing a dictator and not the dictatorship itself.

Comparing with free, civilized nations political discourse has had very little chance of developing in Iran. Notwithstanding one or two bright exceptions, Iranian leftists or rightists have little intellectual stamina to stand on their feet and clearly see what is ahead of them, let alone taking a rational deliberate turn to the right or the left. They are not led by firm political convictions, but by undigested information and primitive impulses typical of tyrannical societies such as envy, avarice, false pride and mean rivalries.

Although problems are numerous, Iranians should not give up. They have to fight on and believe not only in the physical removal of dictatorship, but also in the possibility of finding a cure from all its long-term ramifications and consequences. They owe this not only to themselves and their rich and ancient civilization, but also to the future generations of Iranians.

1 June 2005

Iran's Only Credible Candidate

By: Reza Bayegan

In the electoral travesty of 17 June 2005, there is one candidate that dwarfs all others in credibility and stature. It enjoys the backing of the Iranian nation's best rational and intelligent self.

This candidate does not belong to any particular faction or political persuasion. It is nominated by the silent cries of a woman battered to death in the stark isolation of captivity. Looking at photographs of Zahra Kazemi and her gentle smile we cannot imagine her asking for revenge. No, that is not like her at all. We can only imagine her tears coming down and moistening her smile while she is calmly imploring: “Never, please never again. Let it never happen again. Create an Iran that what happened to me will never be allowed to happen to anyone else again.”

Furthermore, this only credible option in June's election is backed by the chocked voices of thousands of street children who deserve a better life than the present cold helpless nights and dark, pernicious days. They never were given the opportunity to cast a vote for a system that cast them out into the wilderness of poverty, crime, mendacity and prostitution.

The sole candidate worth its salt on the people's judgment day in June, will be backed by the Iranian youth, thousands of whom every year leave their beloved homeland, their dear family and friends not in search of Western debauchery and promiscuous living, but in quest of a place where they and their children can live in peace, dignity and security. They sacrifice what they love most for those inalienable rights indispensable to the soul and spirit of every human being.

The only credible candidate that stands untainted by this spring's presidential lottery is backed by millions of Iranian exiles who are weary of being hyphenated Americans, British, French, Canadians, Australians and so on. They and many of their offspring want to go home. They want to have a chance of living in their ancestral land before they die. And they are not asking for much. They are not demanding special treatment or any manner of opulent luxury. They are not seeking high salaries or cushy jobs. They are not asking for advantages above any other Iranian citizen. They are only demanding what is taken for granted by every civilized man and woman in this planet. They are asking for those fundamental privileges without which life is not worth living. They are asking for what urged Joseph Conrad's Miss Haldin to declare: “I would take liberty from any hand as a hungry man would snatch a piece of bread.”

There is only one candidate in this spring's presidential election that can be truly supported by the aspirations of the great majority of Iranian women. Women in Iran have been reduced by the Islamic Revolution to sex objects and their lives ruled and regulated by the worst susceptibilities of a depraved and chauvinistic imagination. They want to be valued again for the content of their character and not as hostages of a system, which measures its morality by the length of the cover it manages to impose upon their heads to diminish their dignity and visibility.

The only candidate that can again inspire Iranians with hope, pave the way for the removal of dictatorship and turn over a new page to an era of democracy, peace and stability is called a referendum. By staying away from the polls in June's presidential elections, Iranians will be casting their silent vote for a free national referendum to deliver their country from its present political deadlock.

The call for a referendum is not anybody's hobby horse or pet project. It does not belong to the initiative of this or that member of the opposition. It is the sacred right of the citizens to choose the course of their political future. It is as it were our collective smile towards a better future; a smile nurtured by many silent tears in our nation's darkest nights.