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Interview with Professor Johan Galtung, the father of Peace research

Interview by Behdad Bordbar

A conversation with one of the most important dissident intellectuals of our time.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung, distinguished professor of Sociology, Peace and conflict research and world renowned founder of the academic discipline of peace research and founder of PRIO, is currently director of TRANSCEND, a global peace and development network. He has served at so many universities that he has "probably taught more students on more campuses around the world than any other contemporary sociologist. The long life peace activist during the 1970s predicted the downfall of the Soviet Union in 1990.

I had the honor to interview him on Iran.

Q: What is now known as Iran's Green Movement was born on June 13, 2009, in reaction to massive electoral fraud during the Islamic Republic's tenth presidential election. Tree reformist candidates claimed the election was rigged but government rejects any claims of fraud. In the aftermath of the elections, anti-government rallies evolved on streets of Tehran and peacefull demonstrators participated in silent walks. But government of Iran harshly reacted to that; numerous reformist politicians, journalists, Human Rights activists and students were arrested. There are serious concerns of torture, rape, show trials and systemic restrictions of freedom of peaceful assembly and association and freedom of expression. Sum up the situation in Iran as you understand them.

A: I am not so sure about the election issue.  As far as I understand the result were very compatible with the polls made by BBC (and ABC) before the election.  At any rate, the major issues you mention by far overshadow any election fraud, so I would focus on them.

The crucial point seems to me to be the contradictions built into a theocracy in this age of so much modernity and secularism, also in Iran where I have been many times.  And the point about theocracy goes beyond freedom of thought.  Theocracy means rule by the true, usually self-appointed, believers or at last not declared non-believers.  It differs from the Shah rule 1953-78 which was certainly autocratic, but not theocratic.  What Iranians want, possibly a clear majority, is a system that is democratic.  In that system, shia Islam will still play a major role, but there will have to be a separation between the theocratic Qom-based hierarchy and a democratic Tehran-based hierarchy, like Italy managed to separate Vatican rule and Rome rule.

Q: I want to ask you about nonviolence and disobedience. There are doubts about success of such strategies while oil rich regime is using violence on the one hand and maintains control of financial section, police, media and is backed by support of groups of loyalists and majority of Ayatollahs.

A: Nonviolence has been successful against worse combinations than that, like against the whole British Empire, against entrenched racism in the USA, against the post-Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe, against apartheid in South Africa.  But there are some conditions.  There had to be a relatively clearly formulated goal (independence, equal rights, human rights in general, one-person-one-vote).  I have not yet seen that clear formulation from the opposition in Iran; to be against the present regime is not good enough.  The whole outcome may actually depend on this as it becomes easy for the regime to say, they have no alternative.  There is also some doubt about how nonviolent the opposition is.

Q: United States and EU are blaming Iran for support of terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah? Iranian government though calls them freedom fighters and denies arming of the Islamist groups. What do you think about this political dilemma? Are you optimistic about any peaceful resolutions for Middle East?

A: In complex conflicts there are always many truths; this is one of them.  In no way does it cancel the points made above.  A strong opposition can be both genuine and be backed by the USA--UK-Israel.  Incidentally, USA and Israel also have strong theocratic elements.

The Palestinians are among the worst treated peoples in modern history by extremely brutal Israeli colonialism, initiated by the UK from 1917, supported by USA from 1967.  Yes, I think that within 20 years we have a solution, a Middle East Community with Israel and the five neighbouring Arab states, one of them being Palestine fully recognized, modelled on the European Community of 1958.  The only way out, and it helps that the US Empire, not the USA, is on its way down (The Fall of the US Empire - And Then What, TRANSCEND University Press, 2009; see I understand Hezbollah and Hamas, have had dialogues with them, and think they would have come much further with nonviolence.  They have a clear goal, however: a viable Palestinian state based on the pre-June 1967 war borders with some minor modifications.  There are extremist who go beyond that and there certainly are extremists in Israel, but this could be viable within a Middle East Community setting.  See my 50 Years: 100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives, as above.

Q: Iranians have suffered by intervention of colonial super powers and despotism, now Iran is under UN sanctions for insisting on producing enriched uranium. Nuclear issues are very technical for public; as I understand Iranian nuclear program is in the middle of nowhere, but US and UN sanctions are going on. In July 2009, Yukiya Amano, the incoming head of the IAEA said that he did not see any evidence Iran was trying to gain the ability to develop nuclear arms. I would like to hear your comments on effects of sanctions.

A: Those sanctions will stimulate the Iranian government and is a major factor keeping them in power, being so obviously unjustified.  Countries that have done so much wrong in the regions as that triple, UK-USA-Israel, fearing that their time is running out, naturally become paranoid.  My strong feeling is that a full admission and apology for the 1953 coup by the triple, and if Obama at least acknowledged something, would help a lot. 

Q: Group of Iranian dissidents trying to bring a case to ICC to prosecute authorities who are involved in atrocities and major crackdown in Iran. Do you think such efforts may help the betterment of daily life for my fellow Iranians?

A: The trouble with ICC is that it has become a court focusing on the minor crimes of countries down in the world hierarchy, particularly those in Africa, letting the triple (UK-USA-Israel) off with impunity.  The bombing of Iraq, the sanctions on Iraq, the Gaza massacre so similar to the Warsaw ghetto.  There is no equality for the law; hence no law.  A case will make them even more determined and they will be supported by many in the population.

Q: The Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi in her recent interview said if the United States pursues sanctions and help convince ordinary Iranians that sanctions are aimed at the regime, not the people,  it might eventually help to bring democracy to Iran. If you had a chance to send her a message what would that message be?

A: I would say that such sanctions, often called "smart sanctions," are very difficult to design and operate, like "smart bombs" there will be much collateral damage in the population so they could easily backfire.  What is needed is a Conference on Security and Cooperation in the West Asia, under UN auspices, to discuss the Middle East, the Kurdish situation, Iraq and Iran (Afghanistan is Central Asia), modelled on the excellent Helsinki conference 1972-75.  That situation was also very complex, confusing and confused with much at stake.  USA-UK not being countries in the region would be invited as observers; Israel as a participant which would be difficult for some, but they are in the UN. There is an excellent candidate for the role of Finland: Turkey, now playing a major bridging role in the region.

  1. I have used  to introduce professor Galtung
  2. PRIO stands for Peace Research Institute of Oslo:
  3. Galtung is currently director of TRANSCEND INTERNATIONAL:
  4. I have referred to this Interview of Ms Ebadi

The Peace Research course has been part of the University of Oslo International Summer School since 1969. PRIO is responsible for the academic syllabus, as well as for teaching and other practical matters. The author was admitted at this program in 2007.

... Payvand News - 01/27/10 ... --

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