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Does Motherland Really Need You, O, Champion in Shining Armor?

By Kam Zarrabi

I am sure many readers have been anticipating my response to Mr. Moshfegh's last article that, quite characteristically, consisted mainly of personal attacks, unverifiable claims that we are just supposed to believe, and juicy hyperbolae. Even though he addressed me by name thirteen times in his mercifully brief run-of-the-pen, I am going to disappoint those readers.

The more serious issues and worthy opinions that are reflected in forums such as payvand, namely the unfolding geopolitical scenarios that will affect Iran's future, are too important for the seriously minded to become overshadowed by cheap personal vendettas.

As we all know, there are several competing factions among the various Iranian groups, as well as many regional and global strategic agendas that, each for their respective reasons, intend to influence Iran's destiny.

It is quite understandable that the competing groups are "competing" because each considers its own solutions for Iran's dilemmas to be the right ones, and the opposing views, well, wrong. The most constructive approach is, of course, an intelligent and dispassionate dialogue between these diverse views so that a reasonable resolution or synthesis might surface. But the ability to sit down and carry out an objective, productive, dialogue seems to have somehow been bred out of us Iranians. An old expression that would perhaps apply to more than just us Iranians has it, One Iranian is the nicest individual, two Iranians disagree and argue, three or more will start a revolt!

Within Iran, the administration has been convulsing between the forces of ultraconservatism and the less conservative or "cautious" reformists. The Islamic leadership, like any other hard-core conservative group anywhere else, has a tendency to view any change with suspicion, and to remain unyielding as long as it can. The theocrats regard religion as the soundest and safest of any alternative ingredient that can guarantee the nation's integrity and Islamic identity, particularly during hard times. They are not prone to relinquish power voluntarily.

The "cautious" reformists are by no means a liberal crowd in the Western sense of the word. The current President of Iran and his cabinet do not view a hasty and radical departure from the ultraconservative position as advisable or even practical at this time. They propose gradual change toward democratic reforms and a more secular system, but not categorically divorced from Islamic principles. In their view, separation of religion and state, while at least nominally practiced in economically advanced Christian societies, is not equally applicable to Islamic states.

Among the nation's intellectuals and the more educated middle class, the better-connected or moneyed cliques are strong proponents of a laissez-faire kind of system. They promote the philosophy that, if you want the chickens to also eat, feed the horses lots of oats! They do rather well for themselves, irrespective of the prevailing sociopolitical circumstances, against which they have successfully sheltered themselves. As long as a potential for business and profiteering exists, they prosper. If things don't work out, they're out-o-there in a flash. Their counterparts abroad who shed crocodile tears for the "Motherland" are generally no more than carpetbaggers waiting for the ripe moment to return like scavenging buzzards.

Then there are the old "intelligentsia," the Left-leaning academics that haven't given up on their dreams of finally creating a Socialist Democratic Republic of Iran. They are, by tradition, champions of the same "proletariat" that they intend to sideline and govern once their goal is achieved. The demise of the Soviet Union never discouraged them, as they simply blame it on poor management of a great ideology.

From the opposite pole we have the radical Right, our Royalists or Pahlavists, who offer their slightly modified version of the old monarchy as the solution for all Iran's ills. The Royalists propose a constitutional monarchy that would espouse a democracy reflective of the American model of a government "of the people, by the people, for the people." They want to establish another "White" Revolution, as in the old days, even at the expense of the very "red" blood of countless Iranians, if need be. They proclaim that the faults of the father should not tint or stigmatize the noble intentions of the son. By thus using the "father" as the sacrificial lamb and characterizing him as blameworthy, the concept or principle of monarchy supposedly remains blemish-free.

The Mosaddeghan "Nationalist Flank" movement still carries its diehard supporters among mostly the older intellectuals in Iran and abroad. Initially the most promising single movement that could challenge the Islamic regime, this group lost its momentum after the assassination of Dr. Bakhtiar and several other activists. The group's motto has always been the creation of a secular liberal democracy. It met its first failure in the 1953 military coup that reestablished the monarchy, and its last, when Ayatollah Khomeini forced Dr. Bakhtiar and his colleagues into exile.

There are also foreign or alien interests that are actively involved in the pursuit of their respective interests in dealing with Iran. While international strategies are always aimed at securing ones best interests at almost any cost, political competition among Iranian groups is not about who can claim the biggest prize at whose expense, but who can do the best job of bringing about productive reforms. It is, therefore, totally counterproductive, almost a no-starter, when each group considers itself the true patriotic front, and all others traitors, thieves or spies.

People who have labeled Reza Pahlavi as a traitor, have done so out of anger and disgust for his chosen strategy to gain political momentum. While such outrage is understandable, it would be unfair to regard Pahlavi personally as anything but a young activist who truly believes he can be of service to his former homeland. He may be wrong, and his strategy for seeking power even disastrous, but his intentions should not come under suspicion.

Similarly, while the majority of activists abroad, and many in Iran, consider the religious ultraconservatives as the biggest evil that has befallen our country, it should be remembered that Iran is also their country, and they are simply doing what in their minds is the best for their homeland. Again, they may be wrong, but not antipatriotic.

The leftist gang is not ready to throw Iran in bed with China or North Korea, or invite Castro to appoint Iran's next leader. As anachronistic as their strategies for a renovated Iran might be, they also have the best of intentions for their homeland.

Every Iranian, even if only by default, must be assumed to have a legitimate interest in the betterment of the conditions at home. The reason they don't all agree is that each has his or her own ideas of what "better" is and how to accomplish the task.

To sit back and accuse the "mullahs" of filling their pockets, ruining the nation, and laughing all the way to their banks in Switzerland, is as maliciously cynical as saying that Reza Phlavi has "sold out" the Iranian people to the interests of Zionists. Wasting time and energy in character assassination and defamation will reduce a potentially constructive endeavor to high school style debate competitions.

Meanwhile, waiting on the sideline, is the silent Motherland, with her all but forgotten children, from the unincorporated villages in Jaz Murian, Biabanak, Rivand, and Kohgiluyeh, to the overcrowded outlying precincts of the large metropolitan areas. They outnumber all the other groups combined by better than four to one, yet the great ideologues and self-appointed social reformists have historically seldom acknowledged these disenfranchised masses worthy of a meaningful consultation as to what they want. All these political movements claim to be representing the "average" Iranian; they all speak for the suffering masses of the nation of Cyrus and Darius. Since they believe the fifty million plus "average" Iranians don't really know what's good for them, they are gallantly volunteering to tell them exactly what's good for them!

Our more educated, fashion-conscious, urbanized women find the current draconian dress code archaic and unbearable. Our intellectuals rightly object to the restrictions of free expression and exercise of so many other freedoms such as the right of dissent. But, not that far away from the urban centers of intellectualism live millions of "average" people for whom the so-called Islamic dress code is their historical tradition, and who, as billions of other "average" folk across the planet, are too busy struggling to survive to care about those precious intellectual freedoms.

Perhaps that was why these historically disenfranchised and dispossessed masses found the resurgence of religion as a Divinely inspired guiding light so appealing to rally behind. For the first time in their collective memory, they saw a movement that they could all identify with. They didn't need to be literate, wealthy, or well-connected in order to belong to something much bigger, as they saw it, than themselves. Religious faith, not just its Islamic version, has played the most significant role in cultural identity of tribes and nations throughout history. This invisible force has provided a sense of belonging, cohesion, and self-worth to people whose otherwise dire carnal circumstances would lead them to hapless nihilism. I am talking about religion in its simplest abstractions, not the elaborate politics or hierarchical formalities of the system, ayatollahs and hojat-al-Islams.

I recall the annual Shiraz festival of arts, where plays by Berthold Brecht were staged and Karlheinz Stockhausen's avant-garde compositions were performed for a handful of pseudo-sophisticates, while the bewildered Shirazis wondered what universe those weird people had escaped from! In a village near Torbat-Jaam, there was, as was the case in practically every village small and large, a Vali-Ahd square, with the young Prince's framed photograph mounted on a stone obelisk, shaded by a few draught stricken trees, with a few scrawny goats and a starving dog nearby. Twenty-five years ago, the pictures of the child-prince, as well as those of his father, the Shadow of the Divine, were smashed and trampled by those who opted for their own traditional idea of the Divine, not its incarnated shadow on earth.

These days it is the hardcore religious orthodoxy, the jurisprudent ayatollahs, who now claim exclusive appointment from the Divine. Although they might enjoy more respect among the audiences than did the former Shadow of the Divine who was feared more than respected, they are no more trusted than are the local akhunds whose ceremonious presence is traditionally tolerated, often as a necessary encumbrance.

We are talking about the same "proletariat" crowds who have never heard of Marx, Lenin. Trotsky, or Guevara. Were they to be "liberated" by the forces of the intellectual left, the photographs of the liberation leadership would then adorn new obelisks in "freedom" squares throughout, only to be brought down, burned or trampled in turn, once the wind changes direction.

Now we all propose democracy, self-determination and representative government, not only for Iran, but for all nations aspiring to improve their lot. Each group mentioned above has its own prescription and method of approach, as well as their own unique concept of what true democracy means.

It would be safe to say that not a single one of these competing groups would propose a nationwide referendum for the twenty odd million Iranians of voting age to voice their true choices over these matters. After all, shouldn't people who vote at least enjoy a functional level of literacy and some knowledge of current affairs, if not of the world, of their home front? This is exactly why, no matter what party or ideology is seeking power and position, these masses are simply used as ballast, taken onboard when seeking to gain weight and establish ground, and very promptly dumped for takeoff.

Unfortunately, to be regarded as viable as an alternative to the current regime in Iran, all parties vying for position have engaged in highly predictable strategies. The first order of business is, of course, to criticize the current regime as strongly as possible. After all, if the status quo is not blameworthy, why opt for a radical change? No administration can ever be blemish free, not even in the most advanced civilizations of the world. With the current geopolitical atmosphere surrounding Iran, attributing any atrocity with any degree of exaggeration to, if not Islam as a religion, the Islamic regime, will not offend anybody except for the diehard Islamists themselves. So, let it fly, baby!

The Pahlavists, for example, claim that the brave nation has had enough. People are just waiting for their Majesties to arrive and rescue the nation from poverty and strife. One fellow wrote about the streets of Tehran being filled with addicts, convicted murderers and prostitutes, and about the abject poverty and hopelessness that supposedly engulfs the entire nation. It kind of makes you wonder if all that is at least half true, why don't they simply wait a couple of more months for the trophy to just fall into their hands!

The second order of business is to attack and attempt to discredit the opposition or any rival point of view. The same rather verbose fellow who had witnessed the parades of prostitutes and drug addicts in his frequent visits to Tehran, considers a criticism of the foreign policy of Israel, a sovereign state, as an act of bigotry and anti-Semitism. He also believes that to criticize or disagree with America's policies in the Middle East is no less than attacking America and its values. By the same token, this young immigrant who claims he still votes in Iranian elections, must consider nearly half the population of America as anti-American! Again, quite typically, anything mentioned about the Iranian regime that is not filled with the most derogatory adjectives is regarded by this "expert" as proof of advocacy and support for the clerical regime in Iran.

The third and final order of the agenda for these hopeful candidates is what exactly they intend to offer.

We hear grand humanitarian and noble aims that each group promises to deliver. Ideals such as independence, democracy, emancipation, general prosperity, etc. fly at absolutely no cost to these promoters of their good intentions. The current regime complains that it is being strangulated by the restrictions imposed by the clerical establishment. President Khatami and the Parliament have been struggling against the conservative forces to gain the necessary measure of independence from the hardliners' draconian control in order to implement the gradual reforms internally, and start a meaningful a rapprochement with the United States. Although positive changes have taken place, their successes have been far less than originally hoped for. Many observers within Iran, as well as foreign sources, believe that the ever-increasing pressures and threats against Iran, orchestrated mainly by America's neo-conservative masterminds, have strengthened the position of Iran's ultraconservative faction. Many also believe that Israel, the only state that benefits directly and indirectly from a continuing instability in the Middle East, has been responsible for creating and helping prolong the atmosphere of hatred and mistrust between Iran and the United States.

No one could or should blame the state of Israel for doing whatever it can to promote its own interests in the region and globally. Nations always do, and must do, what they perceive to be in their best interests or, better put, as much as they can get away with. If Israel today can boast the world's fourth largest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, it is simply because it could acquire those weapons. The prospects that Israel's military supremacy might some day be neutralized by a nuclear-armed Iran does not sit well with the Jewish state. It is, therefore, quite logical that Israel would go to any extent to retain its unquestioned and obvious superiority. Quite naturally, the Iranian leadership does not believe that Israel should be the only state to enjoy the right of safe passage to security and prosperity by shielding itself against potential attacks.

Our vociferous guru surprised me by elaborating on the economic inadvisability of Iran's nuclear power generating industry, using his argument as the proof that Iran's real intention is to develop nuclear weapons.

Why Iran's access to nuclear weapons alarms this young man, I could only guess. But, realistically speaking, as long as known enemies of the state exist, armed with weapons of mass destruction, and admittedly ready to embark upon preemptive strikes against anyone they choose to regard as a threat, any responsible leadership is obligated to provide the most effective deterrent to safeguard its nation.

That said, being a UCLA alumnus myself, I should look into this fellow's academic records to see where he gained all the claimed expertise in the economic management of hydrocarbon resources to conclude that, for a major oil and gas producer like Iran, nuclear power generation is illogical.

The point I am trying to make is, the current paranoia about Iran's nuclear ambitions, just like the allegations that the "regime" is harboring Al Gha'eda terrorist leaders, plus the threat of a military incursion into Iran by the United States, and the potential Israeli "preemptive" attack, all help increase tensions and anxieties within Iran and the region, which must delight the Israeli leadership no end.

With these varied forces and agendas bearing down on the Motherland, what exactly do our gallant champions of the future Iran have in mind?

Isn't it time now to dispense with childish polemics and adjective-laden sloganeering and get right down to the real issues?

The Motherland awaits your response!

... Payvand News - 5/21/03 ... --

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