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12/16/10

What Would YOU Have Iran Do?

By Kam Zarrabi, Intellectual Discourse

Dissertations, commentaries and opinions about the sociopolitical affairs and international relations regarding Iran may be classified into four distinct categories.

 One category, although  childishly entertaining, is deserving only of little attention, if at all, and is reserved for the mostly clueless and disillusioned younger generation of Iranians in diaspora who rant aimlessly out of anger and frustration just to let off some hot steam. The blogosphere enthusiasts responding anonymously or under some heroic-sounding pseudonyms to the various articles posted on Iran-oriented websites are  perfect examples, although not the only ones.

 

At a more serious level, we have three approaches to addressing the issues dealing with Iran's sociopolitical dynamics. One is the journalistic or analytical endeavors to elaborate on how thing actually are. Another category falls in the opinion domain, reflecting what the speaker or the author suggests as to how things should be. Finally, we have analytical prognostications by seasoned observers and academics as to what direction the country might be headed and what  the future might hold for Iran.

 

-Analysis-

 

One approach is that of honest, dispassionate journalistic analysis, free from personal biases or preferences.  And this is a most difficult task to undertake by any observer or analyst, no matter how skilled or experienced.

 

A good journalist endeavors to collect factual, pertinent data surrounding the subject in point, such as, for example, the 2009 presidential elections in Iran or the issues dealing with Iran's nuclear programs. But facts are simply unlimited in number and literally impossible to accumulate in-toto.  In choosing which facts to site, the analyst must determine the pertinence of the data available, as well as weigh the reliability of the sources of the data, and also apply good judgment in presenting a balanced picture free of personal prejudices. This is indeed a tall order.

 

A fact or a series of factual data can qualify as being unbiased and correct individually, but still be only a small part of a larger picture that might reveal a completely different perspective when taken as a whole.

 

This also applies to surveys conducted by the various polling agencies. As everyone knows, surveys carried out by different agencies do not always show the same general results. Moreover, depending on how the questions are posed and what segment of the population is surveyed, the responses are often forced in specific directions. On top of all that, survey results could be manipulated and interpreted in many ways, leading to erroneous conclusions.

 

What I am trying to emphasize here is that dispassionately objective and informed journalism is a rare trade; so rare, in fact, that any reportage parading as honest journalism should be viewed with a degree of skepticism and regarded at best as simply an objective analysis from one perspective.  This is why it is imperative for any student or enthusiast to access as many sources of analysis as possible in order to gain a more balanced understanding of the issues of concern. Unfortunately, most readers have a tendency to discredit and avoid analyses that oppose their personal views, and favor those with which they are in agreement, thus perpetuating and strengthening their own views, as wrong as they may be.

 

My conclusion here is rather simple: The less one knows, the more one is sure of the little that one knows. And the more one is sure of what one knows, the more opinionated and radical one becomes. With that, I enter the following chapter of this essay.

 

-Opinion-

 

Another approach to addressing the problems surrounding Iran's sociopolitical issues is for informed observers and analysts with solid backgrounds to use their knowledge and wisdom to offer suggestions as to what Iran should do. Here we are asking for opinions, which by definition entails one's personal preferences, biases and prejudices, whatever they might be. However, as is the case with every ideologically motivated statement, each opinion thesis must first present in its title what the desired objective or goal is.

 

Only if this requirement, that of clearly stating the object of achievement before entering the dissertation, is adhered to, can we avoid sophomoric ranting by the agitated lightweights blinded by passion and prejudice.

 

Someone might suggest, for example, Iran yielding to the requirements set by the United States or the 5 + 1 with regard to its nuclear programs. The rationale for that suggestion would then be believing that abandoning its nuclear enrichment programs would lift the economic and diplomatic sanctions imposed on the Iranian people and open up trade and diplomatic relations with the global powerhouses, leading ultimately to economic prosperity and democratic reforms in the country.  This opinion does deserve to be heard, with ample arguments and counter arguments presented in an open debate or forum.

 

As an another example: Should Iran discount the West's muscle flexing and threats of war as a bluff and maintain its defiant stance in order to gain greater momentum toward economic independence, prosperity and global prestige? There are also arguments for and against this point of view, which are certainly worth investigating.

 

Examples such as these abound; there is no shortage of topics for discussion. But where are the forums for such constructive exchanges of opinions?

 

Our Iranian/American organizations and forums are clearly engaged in formulating and offering their respective collective opinions in their publications and speaker presentations. Categorically, most if not all have a negative view of the Islamic Republic and are unanimously critical of the policies, both internal and external, of the regime. The main criticism against the Iranian regime is with regard to its violation of human rights, i.e., restrictions against and suppression of voices of dissent and the limitations imposed on opposition movements. This, as well as accusations of financial mismanagement, corruption and, last but not least, the rights of women, comprise the main issues of concern by practically all Iranian/American organizations and web sites.

 

While the concepts of liberal democracy, freedom, human rights and good management are universal ideals that no one could deny, pure criticism serves no purpose other than simply alerting the public that violations do exist - but these are not mind-boggling revelations! In other words, it is not news that the Iranian nation is under economic and sociological pressures; we all know that, both those inside the country and those of us outside. Please tell us something we don't know; for example, what suggestions do you have as to how to go about fixing the problem?

 

Pointing out what is wrong might make you look smart in the eyes of your peers and colleagues. No doubt, sympathizing with the jailed dissidents and championing the rights of women and other civil liberties make you the darlings of the enlightened progressives. But what does all that do for those whose cause you supposedly champion?

 

There is a more meaningful kind of criticism; it is called constructive criticism, which offers workable, not simply theoretical or kneejerk, solutions to the problems being addressed.

 

Yes, we can all agree and would join voices in criticizing, say, joblessness, a current dilemma right here in the United States, an issue that could make or break the presidency of Mr. Obama. Violent demonstrations have broken out by students objecting to the British government's decision to raise tuition fees. So, why doesn't President Obama sit down and create several million jobs? Or why doesn't the British government reduce rather than raise school tuitions to stop the rioting?

 

Many years ago, in the early 1970s, when I was the Director General of Mines at Iran's Ministry of Economy, each division was asked to present their proposed budget for the following year to the Office of Budget and Planning for approval. My Engineering Division was clearly understaffed and we were desperately short of vehicles and equipment to carry out a more effective job of monitoring and supervising mining operations throughout the country. My budget proposal for the following fiscal year was more than reasonable, so I firmly believed, and I could easily demonstrate that approval of my budget would result in better mine safety, increased productivity and more effective calculation and collection of tax revenues owed by mining companies who were always doctoring up their books and hesitant to pay their dues.

 

However, I was not surprised that, for example, the pleas by the Ministry of Interior, the Gendarmerie, Roads, etc., were even more deserving of attention. The Prime Minister, Mr. Hoveyda, openly wondered whether it was more important to provide the gendarmes serving as the peace officers in god-forsaken rural areas of the country with better provisions, so that they wouldn't have to steal eggs and chickens from farmhouses to survive, rather than to add to the fleet of Land Rovers  for the Mining Division. 

 

At the time, the question in the minds of all of us pleading for our respective cases was, 'How about cutting the corruption and the flight of the billions of nation's capital by the people at the top, so that the wealth of the nation could be better allocated all around?' Of course, none of us was going to brave such a provocative question there or then! We were there as intermediate level government bureaucrats and not given the authority to question the big boys above.

 

Kam Zarrabi is the author of In Zarathushtra's Shadow and Necessary Illusion. He has conducted lectures and seminars on international affairs, particularly in relation to Iran, with focus on US/Iran issues. More information about Mr. Zarrabi and his work is available at: intellectualdiscourse.com

Each of us had reasons to criticize the system for what we believed to be a misallocation of resources or, worse yet, a mismanagement of the nation's affairs. Most of us had one, two or three degrees from prestigious academic centers abroad or in Iran and were aware of the corruption and extortion all around us. We had the right to be critical and did criticize, although not too loudly or openly, for obvious reasons. However those criticisms, muffled or privately sounded off, might have eased our own frustrations, with absolutely no value in initiating any movement to bring about positive changes. We were ready to criticize, but had no workable, not merely ideological, solutions to offer.

 

Changes did finally come about, as they might yet again, but not by the likes of us North Tehranis, a bunch of well fed, gutless rats with foreign educations and connections who could speak two or three languages and who had developed a taste for imported high grade single-malt Scotch, and who preferred to celebrate January 1st over the traditional Norooz at those crowded night clubs.

 

We are the same bunch of chicken hawks now roosting in our safe perches in America or Europe, very vocal about what we see that we don't approve of in our former homeland, and are still without the time, patience or even a serious conviction in coming up with a set of meaningful, workable solutions.

 

I am here aiming this critique at our relatively well funded and adequately organized Iranian American groups such as NIAC to devote some time and energy to encourage intelligent discussions and debates focused more on what should or could be done to bring about whatever the desired objectives might be. If, as an example, we want democratic reforms, let us define what we mean exactly by such a wonderfully vague concept, as well as how to achieve it without risking the destruction of what is left.

 

-Prognostication-

 

There are a number of books written by Iran observers who predict various futures, grim as well as glorious, for the Islamic Republic. Some focus on Iran and others on the future of political Islamism as a rising phenomenon that challenges the current dominant global establishments.

 

-Conclusion-

 

The future is not already written in stone; all predictions, no matter how astutely formulated, may be proven wrong. Similarly, no authority, whether self-assumed or collectively accepted, is infallible. It is not, therefore, a waste of time and effort to engage in debates and discussions pertaining to the problems and difficulties the Iranian nation is facing, and to come up with alternative paths out of the quagmire. The hope and indeed the expectation is that even those who are deemed as infallible or too stubborn to penetrate might be influenced by the collective wisdom of opinion molders who are capable of and genuinely interested in offering their best.

... Payvand News - 12/16/10 ... --



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