Iran News ...


3/19/03

Democracy

Roya's Corner...
By Roya Monajem, Tehran
royamonajem@gmail.com

Concerning the recent election of Islamic Councils, a 'democratic' friend said, Iranians still do not understand the real meaning of Republic and Democracy and they confuse Election with Selection. And I both agreed and disagreed with him. President Khatami says the same thing in a different way, when he talks about the effects of the long history of despotic regimes in this country. But my question is that if they are right in saying this, then why there are a great number of people who do not participate in the elections of their truly democratic countries where there can be little misconception in relation to the meaning of such concepts due to a comparatively much longer period of living under a democratic system? Are there different reasons for their and our non-participation? Although like many others I have reflected upon the subject for a long time and thought of the recent reformation movement in this country as the necessary stage in preparing 'us' for democracy, but today I am completely lost as I don't feel that the 'confusion in relation to the meaning of republic, democracy and...' as the main cause of non-participation of the majority of people in the recent election.

"Perhaps we can never reach a western kind of democracy in our country," I told that friend. "Perhaps there is a limit to genetic modification and manipulation!" When I see all these Iranian opposition satellite channels on TV taking "each other" as their opponent rather than their common enemy, I fall into a complete state of despair. These are the people who have been living in 'democratic' countries most of their lives, but they seem as 'ignorant' of the meaning and the rules of democracy as we are here under one of the most 'undemocratic' political systems where somebody else should decide how we should behave even in our own private life and people are taken as a bunch of dumb servants, or chandala, or outcast and outsiders, only good for being used as an instrument of staying in power.

Can it be that Iranians are genetically incapable of understanding democracy in a western sense of the world? Why didn't such a great number of people participate in the recent election (and thus turned it into selection that truly is from the beginning with the power of Guardian Council over the selection of candidates)? Why should one do something that one knows it will make no difference? Particularly, when one feels that 'the house is ruined in its foundation' as the Persian proverb says. Was the latest presidency election in America, this "super-exporter of democracy," very different from the kind of elections carried out in our and other undemocratic countries where elections are indeed selection?

And there is this ever more important question 'Is democracy really the solution?' As a nation whose attempts to take the path of democracy has been aborted several times since a century ago, mainly through intrigues and interventions of the very democratic countries of the West, should we not ask ourselves this question now? Must we really follow the footsteps of the West? Are we really doomed to do that? Are Westerners living a happier life? Do they enjoy life more? Are they more content? Do they reach their dreams more easily? Are they really freer? Are their hearts more filled with love? Aren't there people dying of hunger and living under the worst inhuman conditions? Do they decide what is good and bad for them independently or are they - like us but in a different way - similarly driven (brainwashed through media) to live in a pre-set and pre-decided way? Are they less like 'sheep'? Or are we just of different species of sheep? Isn't it really selection rather than election that occurs both in democratic and dictatorial countries? Why do we prefer to ignore truth? Don't we still see the four ancient casts of 'leaders,' 'warriors,' 'craft and business men' and 'people' under all the various forms of political systems? Can human nature change?

In his work The Decay of Lying: A Protest, Oscar Wilde says "The whole history of these arts (that is both Literature and visual arts) in Europe is the record of the struggle between Orientalism, with its frank rejection of imitation, its love of artistic convention, its dislike to the actual representation of any object in Nature, and our own imitative spirit."

"Is this really true?" I asked myself in absolute amazement. Europeans having 'imitative spirit?' Why did I always see it differently? Can't this be that basic quality for development of democracy, what Wilde describes as "the imitative spirit of people?" Can it be the reason for the West becoming the cradle of democracy? Perhaps it is this 'imitative spirit' that has helped Westerners to develop those personal qualities that are necessary for democracy to flourish. Perhaps this is what Iranians lack. But surely Iranians possess quite a powerful 'imitative spirit' too. And we should have a long history in it that Rumi has said, 'masses decay and degenerate due to their imitations' or using Wilde's term 'due to their imitative spirit.' Or perhaps we possess another form of such a spirit and due to the mutual interaction of form and content, it can not necessarily produce the same synthesis? What I mean is that if this quality can be considered as one of the necessary qualities that prepared people for democracy in the psychological sense of the word in the West, here due to its different content it may not produce the same results. And it is in vain that we wish and hope to see real and not sham 'democracy' and 'constitutionalism' in this country one day.

It was first the artist painter Parvaneh Etemadi, who attracted my attention to the presence of a peculiar kind of individualism among Iranians. Referring to conceptual works of art, she said, "Here people do not buy 'concepts' because they do not see themselves any less than any real 'concept-creator.'" And it is now more than a year that I am brooding on this idea and observing the psychology of our people more closely. Arrogance, vanity and pride on one hand and an exaggerated egoism on the other were the qualities I had noticed among Iranians for years and for which I couldn't see any visible reasons. If British possess more or less the same qualities, at least until recently, they were the 'conquerors of the world' while it is a long time that we have left behind our glorious days of Persian Empire and it is over three hundred years since we have not produced one single great philosopher or poet or medical doctor or artist or thinker or mystic. But I had never thought of Iranians as an individualistic nation. But surely this can very well be one of the most important traits that develops under despotic political systems where the freedom of expression is limited, not only due to political reasons, but religious as well. In Islam, music and visual arts and imitation of Nature is forbidden. No wonder our musical instruments are so small (to be carried under aba-s (cloaks) and chador-s (veils)) and we never developed the art of orchestration. No wonder our exquisite architectural monuments are limited to mosques and shrines and castles and our visual arts to decorative art and crafts. Here we painted on warp and woof of Persian carpets and gelims and praying rugs and sofreh-s (table clothes) and the tile-work on masque domes and... rather than on canvases. Aren't there here that we should look for our artistic styles in the Western sense of the word? Don't we have our own 'Classicism,' 'Impressionism,' 'Surrealism' and 'Cubism' and 'Conceptualism' in our carpets, at least from the point of view of form and color?

Where Freedom of Expression is limited, artists and creators can work only in isolation and in the privacy of their basements. As they cannot exhibit their works of art, they are not criticized in any ways and naturally they become self-centered and egoist and arrogant and proud. No wonder we know so little about the life of our great artists, no wonder we seldom know about their private life. And as long as political suppression and oppression continues the above qualities will survive in people and how can a self-centered, egoist, arrogant individual 'tolerate' any point of views except his/her extremely narrow and limited world outlook?

Another rather interesting fact is that it seems when the freedom of expression is limited (whether due to the ruling political system or authoritative parents or cultural values and norms) society produces either genius or nothing. In other words, intellectual and artistic mediocrity can not grow under authoritarianism. There are either very talented individuals or no-one and this is true about the whole world. Where are the Beethovens and Wildes and Neitzches and Shakespeares and Hafezes and Rumis and Dostoyevskys and Tolstoys and Van Goghs and...? Pearls are reactions of a living being to the pain produced by a solid particle that has managed to get into its shell.

Remove the layers of civilizations from the face of societies and you will see that the early social four casts still exist in all of them, but in a tragic comic way. You see Philistines among leaders and artists and you find non-warriors among army generals, you see educated individuals working as laborer and thus everywhere you see mainly mediocrity ruling all spheres of our human life. But this is democracy, the rule of people, is it not? And isn't' it true that 'people' can at most be only mediocre? Are these thoughts 'fascistic?' Am I becoming a Fascist? Can there be Freedom of Expression without democracy now that we know democracy is not necessarily accompanied by social Justice? In what ways is President Bush different from Alexander the Great or Changiz Khan the Mongol? Could League of Nations prevent the Second World War? Can United Nation prevent Anglo-American invasion of Iraq? Is our Parliament whose power is completely limited by the presence of Guardian Council and Assembly of Discernment of the good of the system, and Vali Faghih which thus makes it the most tragic comic parliament ever existed when we see that even MPs are deprived of freedom of speech and expression and are taken to prison straight from the Parliament each time that they attempt to throw light on what is truly going on in the country. How can we vote when we see that 'history is getting repeated?' If I were our leaders I would have done what Mohammad Shah did during the movement of Mashruteh (constitutionalism), bombing the Parliament! At least that puts an end to lies and pretensions and hypocrisies.

But it is beautiful to live in a free country where one can wear what one likes and be able to express oneself freely and is not forced to behave in a dictated way and feels that one has a voice in one's fate (even if quite superficially as in the west).

No wonder the idea of Redeemer (Soushians or Messiah or Mehdi) has remained alive in our Consciousness. It seems that only such Redeemers can save the world from so much barbarism and ugliness and injustice and hypocrisy and nausea and unhealthiness and in one word from this total mess. But haven't religions been responsible for a great part of this mess throughout the history of our human civilization?

It seems that we have no other alternative than 'creating a new world and a new species of humans' as a Persian poet says. Is there a hope with so much mediocrity and democracy ruling our world?

... Payvand News - 3/19/03 ... --



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