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Iran Facing A New Century Conference At Oxford, England

By Syma Sayyah, Tehran


Walking in the side streets and little alleys of Oxford, breathing the smell of fresh cut grass on a fabulous spring day, when flowers are blooming and birds are singing everywhere, takes me so close to what I consider tranquility.   The air was pleasantly warm; sun was gleaming its tender rays all around; there was a gentle breeze; and it seemed to me as if heaven had decided to come to earth for a while and let us experience It!  On that day, I actually felt the joy of a city at peace and harmony with itself and its surroundings, quite unlike Tehran.



I was heading towards St. Anthony College to meet Dr. Homayooun Katouzian and present him with the Sadegh Hedayat's prize that had been awarded to him last February in Tehran.



I was sitting in the in the garden of St. Anthony College Oxford thinking that may be if I could sit there everyday and experience the peace that one can feel in such a wonderful environment on many such gorgeous and splendid days, then may be I could actually seriously think about doing a PhD - which would require several years of my life to be dedicated to a small and particular aspect of life, universe or knowledge - and have fun doing it at the same time.


The following week, there was a conference at Wadham College Oxford, organized by University of Oxford and The Oriental Institute, on IRAN FACING THE NEW CENTURY, which Dr. Katouzian  and Dr. Sheikholeslami were joint conveners. It would be a three day conference and guest speakers were invited from US, France, Iran and UK. The conference was sponsored by St. Anthony's College, Wadham College, University of Oxford and Persian Cultural Foundation.  The discussions were as wide and varied from National Identity & National Interests to Economy, Nuclear Power, Foreign Relation- US, Europe & Japan, Persian Gulf & the Arab-Israeli Conflict, ethnic Issues in Central Asia, major social issues and Iranian Diaspora.



I was only able to attend the last day of the conference due to family obligations.  But I was so lucky as I was there to hear the speech by Mr. Madjid Rahnema, the well known UN highly respected and active representative of the world over with a deep and long interest in education and development.


It was like magic. I was ecstatic, mad with joy, for at long last I had found the corner to my line of thinking.  I am not an academic; yet for the first time, here there was this giant of man of knowledge and above all experience talking about development, progress, poverty in general, and it all made sense to me.  I am a very pragmatic and action oriented person. What I was hearing was not pure theory; it was real; it made sense; it came from years and years of experience working at the UN, in developing countries, and from conviction.



Mr. Rahnema was saying that "elevation of poverty, as implied by organizations such as the World Bank, is getting rid of people's social, human and individual abilities," meaning that not all modernity is good.  Here is what I learned from his wonderful and most interesting speech, even though it did not relate to Iran directly.


People's normal situation for human beings has been that they learn to cope, live and get along, yet non lived in a state of destitute, depression, poverty -  what we call in Persian faghre.  In the past people lived in a real community, in a group, and they shared.  Ordinary individuals in the old days had an external/internal world, where they lived.  When difficulties came about, their inner qualities would change and improve or increase.  However, as things changed and modernity came about, then when difficulties arose external qualities went down and internal qualities became less relevant.  With modernity, reliance on Outside Sources increased.


Poverty: Definition of poverty according to the World Bank is "those who earn less than $1/day". However, the official poverty line in USA is $9,000/year or $7/day.


We are led to socially fabricated needs and resources that have to be satisfied.  People lose their own abilities in order to deal with the everyday problem, satisfying needs that are artificial. Presently, in the world, there is enough food to feed 9 billion people; yet at least 1 billion live under malnutrition. How can we solve this problem of poverty and hunger that stings this world of ours?  Will it ever be solved without the subsidies that are paid to Western farmers, when peasants in less developed countries lose to produce for themselves, and they to have to buy it cheaper from outsiders?



Mr. Rahnema stated that "what  we have learned are tools of Modernity, now we need new tools of Thinking!" He said that the time is right and we must find New Paradigm, New Certainties, and then may be we can find the right Change.  Changes that happen in this world are not products of these major institutions, rather they happen through Multiplicity of Different Actions and Forces.  He said that 'bastar-e' change must be widened. We must look into how people produce their food, what are their limits. If we change X or Y how much of this is possible.  Be real; be Practical. The question should be more substantial and less general.  We must ask: "WHO ARE THE ACTORS OF CHANGE", individual, groups at grass roots when we bring this Change.

Individuals' base is power. Power is not in states or in the market only. Everyone has power; if you don't you will be eliminated. Power base is different; different people use their different "abilities."  We must find new ways of doing things better.  The point he raised was that it is not the choice between Modernity and technology and the Past. We must free our thinking and be attentive in what others around us are doing, communicate with each other. Resolve whatever is in a Post Modern world by reaching for new paradigms and new Realities and new ways to change our lives. 


He stated that the Economy is the KING, and Markets should not easily be dismissed. Markets are creations of humankind and it is where people interact and exchange. However bear in mind that "economy is always embedded the society; now society wants to embed the economy."  It wants to run and rule it towards the kind of society that thy-the market- wants. Governments are disappearing and becoming less relevant everyday everywhere.


By our shopping and life choices we affect events in the markets. Therefore, we must accept our share of the responsibility in the market as they are results of multiplicity of causes, our choice, action, shopping and such. We should set up new Universal Alternatives, modern consolidation. We must open up to parameters that were not valued such as women, importance of gradual change, invisible or easily measurable things such as happiness, peace of mind and restfulness.


However, when we are faced with proposal for progress by agents of change led by the markets, we must not stop questioning and asking why replace things that are natural by things that can become scarce on local, national and international levels, and upsetting lives of people by what we consider PROGRESS! We should be very weary of corrupting the lives of people which has been going so peacefully for centuries; just consider what happened to American-Indian and Australian aborigines.


What is certain is that past is dead and future is uncertain, modern now means present.  We need to find creative approaches in a concrete way, and new ways of doing things to deal with changes that lie ahead, let us questions our certainty but not our idealism and remember that in this global village that we live in the Third World problems are actually the First World's problems.


Meeting Old Friends


It is only through the power of Internet that you are reading this article. The Net has indeed changed many things we do, and it has had major effects on our lives. It was through the net that I came to find Payvand, first as a reader and later as a contributor. But this has had other major impacts in my life. Here is my new story of the Net.


Some months ago, I had an e-mail from the head of one of the foundations that I am involved with. The email, which included an attachment, stated that, "Syma, I think this is for you".  The attachment was a letter addressed to the foundation saying that the writer went to College, in south west of England, with someone who had a similar name as one of their board members. He had come across the name when he had run a search for her name on the net, and he had requested that they kindly forward his email to her.


Well, what can I say? The power of the internet had done it again. I was speechless. I had lost my address book with all the moves that I had made since those many years ago in Plymouth. The letter was from one of my classmates Paul, at Plymouth Poly as we used o call it. I was ecstatic. I was so overjoyed and became so happy, especially since at the time my mum had been taken to the hospital and I was feeling pretty down.  To cut the long story short, we exchanged several e-mails and caught up with what we both have been doing with our lives and in our lives since we last saw each other some 30 years ago.  Paul managed to find, in the same manner, another friend Ali who also lives in England with his wife and his sons. They are both in the computer field, unlike me. We all did computer programming courses then.


The three of us met, after 31 years exactly, at Ali's house in England for a Sunday lunch. It was so wonderful and really great. I can speak for myself. I felt so close to these guys; suddenly time had disappeared and we were all in our late teens again. The kind of easy, happy friendship prevailed, it was so moving. I can only hope that you find good friends from your past to remind you of the good time you had so long forgotten with all that has been happening in our lives since.

... Payvand News - 5/5/04 ... --

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