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IRAN: On the virtues of evolution rather than revolution

By Farhang Jahanpour

Iranians toppling a statue of the Shah during the 1979 revolution

In response to a couple of recent articles that I have written about the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution and the current situation in Iran, I have received some angry and occasionally rude comments. The writers who comment on social media often lack the honesty or the courage to give their real names and hide their identities behind some pseudonyms. They have even accused me of being guilty of facilitating the fall of the Shah's government, of treason, of being a fanatical supporter of the Islamic Republic, being dishonest and trying to deceive the people. As I do not have the time or the desire to answer every one of those charges, I thought it would be useful if I try to explain where I stand regarding the Islamic Revolution and the future prospects for the country.

One major problem with political discourse in Iran is and has always been that, instead of getting engaged in free and civilised discourse, we make use of insults and personal attacks, assume a position of superiority and try to suppress any free expression of views. It is sad to see that this trait is not limited to Iran, but even those who have lived for many years in the West and have witnessed free expression of views still make use of those vile tactics.

I don't need to justify myself to anyone, but I was not responsible for the revolution. I was a strong supporter of the Shah's government and I was totally opposed to violent change, and I made my views clear in all my lectures and writings at the time, and I nearly lost my life for doing so. I was and still am strongly against any revolution or violent regime change, especially when it is engineered from abroad. I believe that democracy is a process and requires time to mature, and that it cannot be imposed on a nation with the use of bombs and bullets.

The Iranian revolution was destructive and totally unnecessary, and it put Iran back by decades. The situation in Iran under the Shah needed reform not a violent revolution, but we are where we are. To be fair, on a number of occasions, the late Shah toyed with the idea of introducing a greater measure of democracy by allowing free elections, in which real political parties could compete, but at the last moment he hesitated and turned back. With the vast oil wealth that the government enjoyed after the quadrupling of the price of oil and relative stability in the country, the Shah would have been able to move towards greater democracy, but he was frightened that it would get out of hand and would topple his regime.

Dreaming of the good old days is just that, a dream. It may give some people false hope, but it will not change the realities of the present time. It is comforting to lull ourselves with a fantasy, but we cannot avoid facts. It is as unrealistic to dream of restoring the former monarchical regime to power, as it was to bring the Bourbons back to power after the French Revolution or the tsars back to power after the Bolshevik Revolution.

A major shortcoming of the intellectuals under the Shah was that during all the years that they spent in opposition, with gestures of being leftists and enlightened while leading comfortable lives and benefitting from the Shah's government, was that they were good at constantly criticising the regime without ever bothering to analyse the situation honestly and to put forward constructive proposals.

When I asked my friends on the eve of the revolution what they wanted to achieve and how they were going to bring it about, they answered that it was treason even to ask such questions. Those questions had to wait until after the revolution succeeded. The only thing that was needed was to topple the regime. Many opposition groups at the moment suffer from the same illusion. They are really the ones who are deceiving themselves and others, except that now the stakes are much higher.

The Shah's government was stable and did not have many foreign enemies waiting to tearing the country into pieces, and so even its fall ensured a more or less smooth transition to a new regime. However, even then we saw huge upheavals, terrorist acts and mass killings after the revolution, and the vacuum created tempted Saddam Hussein to wage a devastating eight-year war which killed and wounded about a million people and inflicted about a trillion dollar worth of damage.

Some officials in the US government and other foreign powers who are calling for regime change, do not have the interests of the Iranian people at heart. They have repeatedly and openly called for the bombing of Iran and the waging of war against it. They are looking for the slightest excuse to turn Iran into another Iraq, Libya, Syria or Yemen. They are supporting the Mojahedin-e Khalq, the monarchists, Mohammad bin Salman, the Israelis, militant Baluchi terrorists or other separatist groups, with the single aim of toppling the regime. Their aim is to weaken and even to split the country between various warring factions, as long as their companies get their filthy hands on Iranian resources, as has happened in Iraq and Libya.

Many critics admit that Iran is on the brink. The situation is extremely serious and potentially devastating, not for those living abroad, but for the millions of Iranians who will have to cope with the consequences of a violent or chaotic regime change. We have seen examples of it in Iran's neighbourhood, and we still seem to be rushing forward blindly ignoring the dangers that threaten the country.

What the critics of the current regime have to do is not just to criticise it, but to spell out exactly what aspects of it they wish to change, what they want to put in its place, and how exactly they are going to achieve it. The current regime has shown that it is much more ruthless in suppressing the opposition than the Shah's government was. Whether we like it or not, there is a sizable section of the population that has benefited from the current regime and will fight to the end to keep it in power.

Those who wish to avoid this catastrophe should come forward with clear, considered, realistic solutions, and not engage in insults or mere wishful thinking. What is most needed at the present time is an open climate of discourse and dialogue, at least abroad where people can express their views freely. Any attempt to suppress the views of Iranians of different ideologies and persuasions is a real disservice to the future of the country that they claim they wish to help. Above all, they should realise that the past is gone and will not be restored. It is the future that we must be concerned about.

As Rudaki wrote:

رفت آنکه رفت، آمد آن کامد، بود آنچه بود خیره چه غم داری 

هموار خواهی کردن گیتی را، گیتی است کی پذیرد همواری

رو تا قیامت آید زاری کن، کی رفته را به زاری باز آری

اندر بلائ سخت پدید آید فضل و بزرگمردی و سالاری


About the author:

Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Languages at the University of Isfahan, and a former Senior Research Scholar at Harvard. For the past 30 years he has been teaching courses on the Middle East at the Department of Continuing Education and is a member of Kellogg College at the University of Oxford.

... Payvand News - 02/07/19 ... --

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