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Open letter to congressman Brad Sherman in regards to his Iran policy

By Massoud Tehrani

This letter is in response to a press release issued by the press office of U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman, a senior member of the House International Relations Committee, on April 4, 2003. Hosting Iranian opposition leader Reza Pahlavi, Congressman Sherman focused on ways the United States could encourage a free and secular democratic future for the people of Iran.

Dear Congressman Sherman,

I am sure some of my fellow Iranians, including Reza Pahlavi, are lifting their eyes to a foreign power to help change the current state of political affairs in Iran. Like them, I have some misgivings about the political situation in my country. However, I caution that well-intentioned people consider that the current political situation is culturally rooted. And this culture is changing, thanks to the power of independence. Therefore, it is up to all freedom-loving people to patiently support the changes.

One of the results of the cultural changes in Iran has been the reform movement. This movement is not just in the realm of politics and government. It is also a journey inside ourselves, for the purpose of developing a reformed self: a more independent, responsible, sensible, empathic self capable of overcoming our anger, our prejudices, our impatience, and our debilitating sense of helplessness.

The reformed self has been participating in the political process, as the formation of many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) by the people so vividly witnesses. An example of one of these NGOs is a grassroots organization in the south of Tehran, run by a woman who turned her tiny beauty salon into a community library. She established an office to help people of the neighborhood-youth, drug addicts, women, and others-and to demand services from the government and the mayor's office. The district in which the library is located, Nohome Aban, is the cleanest neighborhood in that municipality.

The reformed self has taken direct responsibility and action by voting, writing letters to officials, making phone calls, and demanding accountability. I have personally witnessed these reformed selves-no longer passive, inactive, complaining, and looking for outside help-bringing about ongoing changes in many arenas. A branch of the Cultural Organization for Youth, yet another NGO, has a leading role in policy-making concerning youth in prison. This group promotes education of the youth while educating the wardens to treat the youth as humanely as possible. Government officials seem to be welcoming them wholeheartedly. One of the members of the group, a female psychiatrist, ran in the last election for the City Council. She knew-and I knew-that she would not have a chance to get elected, but her participation in political affairs was very encouraging.

On the other hand, I also know many people who by their very inaction have lost hope and now think another regime would do things that they have failed to do themselves.

It's important to note that the reform movement has undertaken a formidable task: tackling some of the most sacred and untouchable cultural problems that had remained unresolved for centuries. In fact, some of these cultural problems were never solved because our attention was drawn "outside" to foreign domination. One of these cultural problems is the role of religion. There is a wealth of information coming out of the religious centers of Iran (i.e., Ghom) indicating that many religious students and scholars are seriously discussing the validity of religion as a governing tool and Islam as a political entity. Islam and the political entity have been treated as inseparable since the time of the Safavids, 500 years ago. The separation of the state and religion has never been discussed as thoroughly as it is being discussed at the present time--and rightly so. This is, after all, the first time that Islam has taken state power. In the past, political Islam was always considered to be on the side of the oppressed and, in modern times, it has been seen as the bastion of indigenous cultural identity in the face of foreign intervention.

The reform movement has seriously questioned the legitimacy of the minority that is holding power, the conservatives. I am told that the vast majority of these religious students read philosophy, postmodernism and things that in previous times would not have captured the interest of these groups, at least not on this scale. Mohammed Reza Khatami, the president, is himself a student of Western philosophy and an author of some non-religious best sellers.

However-and this is not said to justify their actions-the conservative of today was initially formed to oppose the Shah's despotic and dependent (upon foreigners) rule. They formed their anti-imperialist configuration to represent a force for self-preservation, cultural autonomy, independence of values-in other words, they formed as an umbrella group during the time when the liberal, secular democracy of Mossadegh had been overthrown and no voices of reason could be heard.

But now, in the last 23 years that the country has been left alone without any obvious foreign intervention, our society is moving along its natural path to examine herself, her history and culture, from within. Now we see serious challenges to the rule of the conservatives arising, and widespread critique of the political culture. What the reform movement wants to do is to curb the power of the conservatives-or any dominating power-and leave them as a minority political opposition who could have representatives in the parliament and live according to the rule of law and reason, respecting the wishes of the people. The reformers believe that the conservatives' old anti-imperialist historical mission has decreased in importance and does not stand for much any longer.

The reform movement as an indigenous movement is the natural response to social and political development. Some Iranians, especially the youth, like America at present because America has not as yet been an external arbiter, imposing its will, as during the reign of the Shah. As a youth, I was among the staunchest enemies of American intervention in Iranian affairs; I favored the clergy's adamant opposition to the foreigners and their values. And if the youth have not experienced foreign domination yet, I remember it very well. If America were to intervene, then anti - American sentiment would rise as it did at the time of the Shah. We have already experienced this with the war in Iraq. American intervention in support of demonstrating students is also staining the reform movement in the eyes of many Iranians. Reza Pahlavi should know that the American government and corporations are after their own interests and are building their own empire, nothing more. If tomorrow Iran recognizes Israel and yields to U.S. demands, Washington's outcry for democracy in Iran will evaporate. The reformed self does not like to yield any longer.

We have to remind ourselves that Western democracies were not always democracies. It took them long, arduous centuries to get here and they still have a long way to go. In fact, they started out borrowing from other countries, especially in the Middle Eastern world. And the U.S. has borrowed more than any country and still is borrowing--serenity and tranquility from Rumi, the Persian poet, and meditation from the East--and I hope that soon they can import a nonviolent way of problem solving along with humility from the East.

As many of my fellow Iranians would agree, the best way, the Western world can help the Iranian people is to stay out of Iran and her internal affairs. This is our responsibility; our reforms will determine our own future. Anything short of that would abort development toward a true independent democracy.

Historically the U.S. "democracy" has supported dictators-and in many cases, including in that of Iran, has installed them-and has often postponed the development of democratic governments in the third world. A better course for America would be to become an example of a mature, self-reliant nation and a nonviolent democracy.

"I have a PhD in sociology and I am an author living both in the US and Iran, but mostly in the US. My primary writing is about authoritarianism and I have published a few books on this topic in Iran."

... Payvand News - 6/23/03 ... --

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