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Bringing change in Iran requires keeping our eyes on the ball!

By Mohsen Moshfegh

To say that the politics of the Middle East is rapidly changing, and countries that have been basing their foreign policy on animosity toward the west, particularly the United States, are at a historical crossroad is nothing but stating the obvious. Moreover, the derive for change inside our own country has been gathering strength too, and the character of the political discontent has been qualitatively changed since the boycott of the local elections and the poor showing of the liberals a couple of months ago. It is obvious that the days of the Islamic Republic are numbered and the conditions for social change are lurking on the horizon and fast approaching. We will soon get our second chance to rewrite the history of our nation and, therefore, have to be very cognizant of the misjudgments that lead to the defeat of our social movement for democracy 25 years ago. We clearly failed back then to identify our true friends and allies and did not realize the consequences of the extremism on the far left and the extent of the treachery by the Islamic fundamentalists on the far right. The voices of rationality and moderation were resisted and ridiculed to oblivion. Hence, we ended up with the most back-warded section of the society at the helm of our national movement. An old man, driven by his personal vendetta became the leader of the opposition and turned our national movement into a personal quest for revenge. We all sat and watched paralyzed as freedom took a backseat to bloodshed and the whole idea of democracy was put in front of the firing squad as a decadent "western" idea. Three major distortions in our political paradigms allowed this shameful episode in our history to take place. These distortions are still present in our political attitude and are sure to lead to even more disastrous outcomes if we fail to address them in time.

The first problem that lead to our failures 25 years ago was pseudo-nationalism. This distorted view of ourselves lead us to a total misinterpretation of our history and our national characteristics and made us feel so overly self-righteous as if the whole world owed us some great apology. We also over-estimated our capabilities and became totally blind to our limitations, thinking that we could run a country with total reliance on a nation with very little education and training, and convinced ourselves that the sole reason for all our miseries were the foreigners and their influence on our culture, and hence, we would definitely achieve freedom and economic justice only if we overthrew the regime and kicked out the foreigners. The fact of the matter was -and still is- that the problems hampering the achievement of our goals of freedom and democracy were mostly our own, and until we muster the courage to acknowledge this simple fact we will not be able to move forward.

These are very crucial days and extremely important issues demand our attention. We need to think clearly and not let our emotions and misplaced national pride to get in the way of our rationality. We have to realize that it is misplaced pride to close our eyes and ears to the atrocities that the tyrants of the Islamic Republic are committing against our nation and the world at large. It would also be a dangerous application of our sense of nationalism to support, however tacitly, the obvious efforts by those tyrants to achieve nuclear capability. We cannot, under any circumstance, allow Seyyed Ali Khamenei, or the likes of him, to have their thumbs on the nuclear button. They are dangerous enough to the security of the world as it is. I cannot imagine how any true Iranian nationalist in his right mind could wish for such a disaster for our country. It totally baffles my mind!

The second distortion in our political paradigms was xenophobia. For decades we were told by our pseudo-nationalist intellectuals that every single one of our problems stemmed from the wrongs that the foreigners did to us, otherwise we would have been the crown jewel of the world civilization. But what we really needed was to develop the courage to acknowledge that no foreigner could have ever taken advantage of us if we had not fallen behind due to our own shortcomings and limitations in the first place. Did we ever ask ourselves why we were never able to take advantage of these foreign nations the way they took advantage of us? Extremely valuable research has been done on this issue by Dr. Sadegh Zibakalam, compiled in his book, "How We Became What We Are." This, and "The Sociology of Killing Genius," by Ali Rezagholi are mandatory reading for every Iranian intellectual whose heart beats for the advancement of our nation. We have to realize that the foreign nations have not lined up to take advantage of us. They are not scheming day and night to subjugate us and "steal our oil", or any other of our national treasures. Industrial nations of the 21st century have come to understand that the preferred method of utilizing any other nation's resources is by mutually beneficial arrangements where the developing nation also grows and gets a fair share of the development. The idea that industrialized nations are always trying to keep the third world poor and uneducated is an idea that belongs to a different age. Of course, this does not mean that we have to rely on any other nation's good heart to protect our interests. Obviously, we need to keep our eyes open and expect that our own visionary leaders and industrialists protect our national interests. What it means, though, is that we should abandon our xenophobia, and stop this nonsense that all foreign nations harbor animosity toward us and are only trying to take unfair advantage of us. This kind of distorted attitude will cripple us with social paranoia in an age when we need to build constructive and mutually beneficial relationships with every country in the world that is willing to do the same. But, how can we expect to be welcomed as a full partner in the civilized world when we continue wishing death upon one of the most influential and important nations on earth every Friday, fan the fire of violence in a very tense region of the world, and spend our resources in trying to achieve weapons of mass destruction? We have to learn to stop these foolish acts to challenge and antagonize the world and become a truly peaceful nation, in words and in deeds. Believe me, the rest of the world doesn't owe us anything. In fact, after 25 years of wreaking havoc in our region and the world, we have a lot of hard work ahead of us to even deserve the privilege of becoming a respected member of the world community.

The third major distortion that lead to our defeat 25 years ago and resulted in the disaster called the Islamic Republic was our anti-Semitism. This is a very sensitive issue in our society, but we need to discuss it and try very hard to get over this unjust and degrading attitude. After centuries of harboring anti-Jewish sentiments in our hearts and souls and decades of blaming Israel for everything from the price of tea in China to the plague in Europe, it is not enough to deal with this issue in a passive approach. It is incumbent upon us to take some affirmative action to rid ourselves of this intellectual disease. And we have to start by consciously avoiding to blame Israel as the cause of every human misery in the Middle East. The reason for our low levels of development, poverty, lack of education, and all other miseries that afflict our societies was, and is, the tyranny that we all suffered under for ages. Israel had nothing to do with creating or prolonging it. It all existed long before 1948, and unless we developed the courage to take responsibility for our own fate and roll up our sleeves to do something about it, they will be with us for a long time to come.

So, why is it that we consider it our national duty to fight Israel? Is it because Israel is suppressing the Palestinians? Well, so are the Chinese suppressing the Tibetans; Turks, Arabs, and Persians are suppressing the Kurds; Srilankans are suppressing the Tamil; Hindus are suppressing the Sikhs and the Moslems; and so on, and so on, and so on, forever. So, why Israel? Why has Israel been chosen to be the target of our vengeance and the unfortunate beneficiary of our self-righteous attitudes and phony claims of defending the underdog? I submit that aside from our essentially intolerant religious culture and the constant propaganda by the Islamic Republic, there are two very specific reasons for this engrained animosity. One is the influence of the Palestinian movement on our revolutionary intellectuals of the 1970's. The idea of our duty to defend the Palestinian rights in their struggle against Israel was transplanted in our national movement by our heroes of the armed struggle against the Shah's regime, the Fedaeian and the Mujahedin. Our revolutionary heroes of that era felt duty-bound to defend the armed struggle of the Palestinians in return for the training and support that they were receiving in their guerilla camps. The political literature of our national movement of that era was filled with anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian sentimentalism. So, it was only natural for our intellectual community to feel this affinity with the Palestinian movement. Denouncing Israel as the brutal suppressor of the helpless and defenseless Palestinians became an integral part of our political paradigms, and to this day we feel duty-bound to defend the Palestinians against the Israelis.

The other factor that caused and promoted anti-Semitism in our intellectual community was -and still is- the international anti-Jewish propaganda. The anti-Semitic attitude was spread for decades among the intellectuals of the third world by the Soviet Union to serve its aims of the Cold War era. We bought the idea that Israel was a malignant and alien transplant in the Middle East, created by the United States to serve as its military base in the region. This was all Soviet propaganda and we swallowed it whole, and are still regurgitating it to this very day. We never gave ourselves the chance to examine the historical background of this issue properly to realize that not only Israel, but all nation-states of the Middle East are very recent creations. Except for Iran and Turkey, all other nations of the Middle East, including Palestine, are no older than about 80 years. They were all created in the 1920's by the victorious nations of the First World War as a result of the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire. So let's not forget that Palestine is only about 30 years older than Israel, and that both were created by the influence of the western powers, one at the end of the First World War, and the other at the end of the Second World War.

In any event, the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has nothing to do with us. It is an unnecessary burden on our shoulders at a time when we have enough problems of our own to deal with. We cannot solve this very complex problem, and the best that we can do for the Palestinian nation is to stop our interference and urge both sides to stop the violence and start peaceful negotiations toward an eventual settlement. There may be a lot of unsavory people and states in the world, committing all sorts of atrocities against a lot of innocent people. I mentioned just a few examples above, and Israel's conservative Likudniks can be considered as a part of that unsavory bunch. But, we very appropriately do not arm the Tamil against the Srilankans, or lend material support to the Tibetans against the Chinese. Because these conflicts, as heart wrenching as they are, have nothing to do with us. What we need to concentrate on is who among this maze of unsavory bunch in the world is our enemy. Who do we need to fight against, directly and urgently, to liberate ourselves and achieve our freedom? We all know that our enemies do not live in Tel Aviv; our enemies are not scheming against us in Washington, Moscow, London, etc.; our true enemies are all inside our own country, imprisoning our students, murdering our intellectuals, ignoring our votes, and stifling our every expression of freedom. I strongly urge any responsible Iranian intellectual to refrain from giving wrong addresses as to who the real enemies of our nation are and where they reside. Israel and Washington have, unfortunately, become the substitutes for our real enemies, and this can only confuse our nation on where they should aim their anger. The only beneficiaries of these wrong addresses and the resulting confusion are the tyrants of the Islamic Republic. So, let's stop wasting our time and energy looking for the rooster's tail in Tel Aviv or Washington, and start looking for the murderers of the Forouhar family in Tehran; let's stop trying to define whose terrorist is whose hero, and start demanding an open national debate on this non-sense called "Islamic democracy;" let's stop sophistry on the beneficiaries of democracy in the east or the west, and demand a national referendum on the legitimacy of the tyrannical system that has imposed itself on our people by force of terror. Let us not be blinded again by our pseudo-nationalism. Let us be true nationalists and keep our eyes on the ball. It is so very important that we kick the ball in the right direction this time.

About the author:
Mohsen Moshfegh was born in Tehran in 1958. He holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Oklahoma University (1981) and Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering from UCLA (1988). He is married with two children and lives in San Francisco Bay Area where he works for Bechtel Engineering.

... Payvand News - 4/8/03 ... --

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