On the Death of Daryoush Homayoun
Daryoush Homayoun died on 28th January at the age of 82. He was a great journalist, politician, thinker, teacher and human being. He left behind hundreds of articles, books, interviews and many devoted friends and students. I met Homayoun a few times and once conducted an interview with him. We kept an on and off correspondence up to the beginning of this year.
What impressed me most about Homayoun was his unwavering sincerity. He never defended anything but what he genuinely thought was right and worth defending and never criticized anything or anyone without clear and justifiable reasons. He abhorred dogma and was one of the rare Iranian thinkers who could view his world impartially and disinterestedly.
This soft-spoken man commanded an unrivalled presence everywhere he went. Everyone sat up and took notice when Daryoush Homayoun spoke. He was an extremely handsome man, even in his eighties. He spoke in an almost languid voice deliberately and slowly but charmingly and poignantly. He chose his words with great precision. He loved and revered the Persian language so much that he ardently guarded it against any careless user. He knew the crucial relationship between the decay of a language and the decline of a civilization.
With a keen eye he was able to see through people but he treated everyone with kindness and respect. To those who had the chance and were willing to listen to him he was a consummate teacher. He impressed upon his listeners the need to rescue Iranian politics out of the dark gullies of the Third World mentality and elevate it to its deserved status of a robust and rational endeavour. “My goal”, he said “from the days I was a mere child has been to take part in the renaissance of Iran; to turn my life into a building block to be built higher upon.”
There were times that he seemed disgusted by the folly and vulgarity of what he encountered in the course of his political and professional life but he never turned red with rage nor did he ever lose his temper. He had this great capacity of walking into a room suffused with the ill intention of political enemies and then walking out looking refreshed by the cool confidence of his logical and mental pre-eminence. In my talk with him he said: “by writing and talking, and acting scrupulously, I am trying to help transform Iranian political culture, to raise the level of political discourse”. He thought that lack of ethical backbone was the Achilles heel of Iranian politics.
Although he had a great number of admirers and many sang his high praises he always remained down to earth. He viewed life with the eyes of a philosopher cognizant of its vicissitude and unmoved by its momentary ups and downs. He used his time both in freedom and as a political prisoner in Iran dynamically; in reading, writing and engaging in political discourse. He had a kind of mindset that was safe from intrusion of both success and misfortune. He never succumbed to the tyranny of external circumstances.
I remember Daryoush Homayoun's speech at the late Houshang Vaziri's memorial service in 2003. The two had worked together as journalists for many years. On that day Homayoun said:
"An intellectual is a person who - thanks to the range of his interests and his education - perceives things in a broader context than is usual. It is someone who attempts to get below the surface, to grasp the deeper meanings, relations, causes and affects, to recognize individual items as part of larger entities. And more than that, an intellectual, conscious of the broader and deeper connections, also derives from this awareness a broader or deeper sense of responsibility for the world.
These words befit Homayoun’s own character perfectly. He was an intellectual par excellence and felt a great sense of responsibility towards his people and his homeland. He said he believed that Iran was not simply a country, a homeland like any other but an “Idea”. For him Iran was a way of life and it entailed a worldview nurtured by the collective experience of an ancient culture and civilization. To be an Iranian for him had nothing to do with sentimental slogans but was part and parcel of a moral and intellectual discipline.
Instead of a mere regime change in Iran, Homayoun advocated the sustainable development of political institutions. He believed that all depends on the strength of democratic values both during our struggle and after the overthrow of the Islamic regime. Either our society is capable of sustaining democratic institutions or continues to surrender to different dictatorships. In either case the name of the regime, royal or republican, would not be that important".
In spite of his age he was thoroughly modern and progressive in his attitude. In my interview with him he said, “I consider myself a product of Persian literature, Greek philosophy, and European Enlightenment – a perfect background for engaging a lifetime with modernity”.
His manner of death was consistent with the way he lived. He went downstairs in his Geneva house to get some books and carrying them in his hand he slipped on the stairs and hit his head on the step. Daryoush Homayoun lived and died with books. With his death Iran lost a great asset. The intellectual investment he left behind however will be an enduring heritage for the young and future generations of Iranian political thinkers.