I was contacted by Aljazeera English TV for an interview request on reaction to Bush's visit and to the Iran-US boat incident from an Iranian point of view. I declined the interview at first thinking they are looking for some expert on international relationship, which I am not, but when they insisted they are just after a lay man's view, I accepted the offer. Before going to their recording place, I also asked around other friends what they thought I should say, so I could represent a more collective view.
The recording was not live, it is scheduled for tomorrow. Excerpts of what I said will be edited for the program broadcast. I find these kind of interviews more difficult. You never know what part of what you say will be included and in what context. You also don't have a lot of time to explain the background to your answers, what the program makers are looking for are sound bites they can use and you just have to hope for the best that your point of view is reflected.
So for the record's sake, here is the gist of what I said on the subjects:
On Bush's visit:
"Its all very well sending messages of solidarity to the Iranian people but often these empty messages are not followed by any meaningful help or even worse judging by past experiences we will see the state department doing some kind of a deal with the Iranian regime or some US intelligence agency will give undue credit to the government of Iran. Iranian people who want to change the regime in Iran can not trust the US as a reliable or even well informed ally."
On the Iran-US boats incident:
" The incident highlights that those who fear war between US and Iran and campaign in No War marches etc. should also campaign against the Iranian government which seems to be hell bent on adventurism and actually welcomes war with US to solve its domestic problems and gain more allies. As usual however the US has made a complete mess of the situation and discredited her claims, another PR disaster and is totally losing the media and the propaganda war to the Islamic Republic"
Azarmehr, why does every U.S. policy have to pursue regime change? If we really want a "democratic secular Iran," then we should do ourselves and our countrymen the service of educating ourselves in a way that doesn't disconnect us from mainstream Iranian society. And indeed we are disconnected and insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
Regime change is a euphemism for revolution. And revolution is not what people need, or want in Iran. A revolution, according to some scholars, ratifies preexisting power sources; as it did in 79 (the Mujahideen-e-khalq and the ulama).
The poor will become poorer. The unemployed will remain unemployed, as new members join their ranks. The drug addicted will remain addiction afflicted as more drugs pour in in the lack of a security structure.
We advocate revolution ("regime change") without understanding the real human cost of such an event.
There is already a democratic system in place. But it is overshadowed by the vilayet-e-faqih, majlis-e-khobragan, the expediancy council, and the council of ministers. All of these hindrances would evaporate if we seek and accomplish the abolishment of the vilayet-e-faqih. This can be done by the clerics themselves, of course with popular support as well.
Indeed they are already advocating such changes. Let me give an example. The following is from Ayatollah Shabestari and Kadevar, who have both reached the level of itjtihad and served in the revolutionary government in one fashion or the other.
"The principle of Velayat e Faghih is neither intuitively obvious, nor rationally necessary.
It is neither a requirement of religion (Din) nor a necessity for denomination(Mazhab). It is neither a part of Shiite general principles (Osoul ), nor a componentof detailed observances (Forou’) It is, by near consensus of Shiite Ulama, nothing more than a jurisprudential minor hypothesis and its proof is contingent upon reasons adduced from the four categories of Quran, Traditions, Consensus, and Reason”
"Today we are deprived of a systematic legal philosophy, a comprehensive philosophy
of ethics, a political philosophy, and a sound science of economics. Is it possible to
rule on the universality and eternity of rules and values in the absence of definitive
views of these disciplines?"
"The meaning of perfection of religion (Ekmal e Din) is not that it contains everything
under the sun, so that if we were unable to find a specific item in it, we could go off
calling it imperfect. It is not perfection for religion to function as a substitute for
science, technology, and human deliberation.”
So please, let's stop advocating the Bush administration's policy of regime change. It is not helpful to those who can actually change things in Iran.
You did well messaging both issues. I had a question about strategy and messaging though: how can we combat the regime's "unofficial" diplomats here in the U.S. (Trita Parsi/CASMII/NIAC/etc.)?
The problem is: These guys (Parsi, etc.) are good at distancing themselves from the regime and lazy reporters rarely even notice the connections! The relationships are too complex and--as you mentioned--the media is just interested in sound bites. Moreover, too many liberals in the State Dept. just don't get the nuances. There are people who work for the U.S. government who are convinced their (U.S.) government is the root cause of the world's problems and unfortunately the Iraq fiasco has lent them credibility.
First of all the US Policy is not regime change at the moment. So your premise is wrong from the start. I was told this during my ILVP visit to US by the State Department officials in no uncertain terms. The US policy is changing regime's behaviour, like Libya, and they have a weboste for this :)) Read my previous posts about my meeting with State Department officials.
Secondly, what would you say happened in the Soviet Block? Were the velvet revolutions not regime change? What was the human cost and was it not worth it?
As for the clerics you mentioned and quotations from them. I would repeat what I heard Mr. Yussefi Eshkevari say. Those who are secular should pursuit secular ways for change and those who are clerical should pursuit their own ways. We shall wait to see who can gather up the popular support needed to dismantle velayat-e-faqih and how they do it.
It would be quite wrong of someone like me to quote some cleric to a Muslim faithful as what the true religious interpretation should be. As Eshkevari put it that would be tazahor or pretending.
Lastly, can you name me any social change in the recent history which did not have an element of international support?
Azarmehr, first let me apologize for sounding aggressive - it was not my intention. I believe we both want the same thing for Iran.
As far as regime change, I was responding to what you wrote. After you criticized the U.S. policy towards Iran you said, "Iranian people who want to change the regime in Iran can not trust the US as a reliable or even well informed ally."
The State Department might officially claim that regime change is not their policy, but we have to know that that is not true. There are obvious reasons why they would not publicly disclose that they are pursuing regime change. They might want to change the regime's behavior in Libya, but Libya is not nearly as threatening to U.S. interest as the Islamic regime in Iran. I am referring to their oil production, support of Hamas, Hezbollah, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, their control of the Strait of Hormuz, their pursuit of nuclear technology, and their dogmatic rhetoric that threatens the security of Israel.
If the U.S. can change the regime they can simultaneously rid themselves of all of the above mentioned threats.
When Condi asks for upwards of $70 million to give to "civil society" groups in Iran, she is pursuing regime change! If they wanted to change the regime's behavior, then they are smart enough to know that it begins by changing the U.S.'s behavior towards Iran.
Are you aware of who works in the State Department? Have you read the policy papers they write? If you have, then you would know that the U.S. policy towards Iran is regime change. That's why candidates like Barack Obama say, in reference to Iran and the governments failed policy, that we should tell the Iranians that regime change is off the table.
And about your statement that the faithful and the secular should pursue separate tracks towards change is baffling to me. How can you say that?
I was quoting those ayatollahs (formerly from the regimes power base) to highlight the fact that their is no concrete interpretation for how Islam prescribes government in the absence of the last Imam. What better source then to quote the clerics themselves. (disclsure: I am not a religious zealot)
Religion, namely Islam, is an integral part of Iranian society. You might not know that since you haven't been back since 79. The religious and the secular should pursue change hand in hand because they have more in common than you might think.
And as far as the Velvet Revolutions, we would be fooling ourselves if we thought Iran would have a Velvet Revolution. Those countries have their own histories. And some would say that they were only revolutions in name; countries like Georgia have not changed their "pre-revolution" policies, they just switched out whose in charge.
I think the answer to your last question is smack-dab in front of you: The Islamic Revolution in Iran! The U.S. and the Brits tried to change the regimes "behavior" in 53 by ejecting Mossadeq from power for their own interest. A direct consequence of those actions was the Islamic Revolution (which wasn't Islamic to begin with, it just took on an Islamic objective because Khomeini was so powerful and the ulamma were the most organized). It was a revolution against tyranny and to assert Iranian Independence.
The Islamic government today is the only independent government we have had since the Qajars, or maybe even the Safavids. Lets pursue change independently, because we can and it's our obligation. Anyone who wants to help in the current international atmosphere is pursuing their own national interest.
That is not to say you don't have a point about social change accompanied by international or superpower support; you do. But I don't think so in this case.
When Akbar Ganji was exiled from Iran after serving prison time, he was invited to the White House and publicly supported by G.W. Bush. He denied the invitation and eschewed the support because, according to him, "these governments don't hold the interest of my people to heart; they are pursuing their own interests."
I didn't think you were aggressive at all and actually quite enjoyed the exchange of opinions. Please feel free to comment as often as possible. As you can see no opposing view is moderated here.
Perhaps I shouldn't reply tonight, as I don't quite have a clear head ;). You see we all appeal to different sections of the Iranian community. What I say is interesting to some people and what the likes of Kadivars and Ganjis say is interesting to others. I accept that Islam is important to some Iranians at the moment and they will listen to Kadivars quoting from Islam more than they would listen to me. However it would be wrong and improper of someone like me, who is not religous in any way, to pretend to be a Kadivar and quote from Islam. It would be like Haleh Afshar pretending to be a Muslim. It would not be sincere and anything not sincere will backfire eventually in my humble opinion.
Kadivars and Ganjis should focus on their target audience and those not religous should be themselves.
Also remember that people's beliefs is not a constant thing. Many years ago the Dutch were very religous but they are not now. 28 years ago Iranians were far more religous too, which is why during the cultural revolution I felt 90% of the people were against us. I don't believe that to be the case now. Thousands of Iranians who are converting to the Zoroastrian faith is testimony to this.
You mentioned Georgia, but may I mention Czechoslavakia, Hungary, Poland and the Baltic states as successful examples of regime change. I have met many people from these places and been to some of these countries, I don't believe the overwhelming majority in these countries regret the regime changes at all.
As for Condi's $70 Million, who did it go to? It didn't go to the dissidents that want regime change. It was spent on stupid cultural exchange visits and VOA Persian!
When one seeks international public opinion, one is not seeking unhealthy interests of the foreign governments, one is seeking the public pressure of ordinary people around the world.
Even when one does seek international pressure from other states, of course their unhealthy interests must be noted, but there are times when our interests coincide and we should be clever enough to exploit those common grounds.
Perhaps tomorrow I wish I waited till I was more sober and replied to you ;))
First let me say, you managed to post without one typo... that's pretty good. I couldn't do it.
But as far as me mentioning Condi's 70 mil, regardless of where it went or even what it was really intended for, the Islamic Republic (IR) views it as part and parcel of a nearly three decade policy of regime change. True or not, it encourages the reactionary foreign policies of IR and fuels the demagogic rhetoric of right-wing, ultra-nationalist politicians (Ahmadinejad comes to mind). In effect, it expands and mobilizes their popular base of power.
And let me fully disclose, I am not religious either; at all. I am not waiting on the Mahdi's return. It's tough enough waiting for the new season of Lost to start (great show). Do you guys watch it in the UK?
I digress. My intention in quoting those religious scholars was to demonstrate that the system in Iran is defeating itself. One scholar, Dr. Mahmoud Sadri, calls it a "structural time bomb." The mullahs are fighting themselves and the most rational ones, like Kadivar and Shabestari, want to restore the traditional role of the ulama in Iran: a role outside the political arena. They understand that involvement in politics diminishes their religious role and message. And they go even further, advocating the separation of church and state.
And the cool thing is, these guys have more religious credentials than Khamenie'e! Khomeini (good riddance to him) did not intend for a man of such low religious caliber to occupy the office of the supreme leader; and it has sapped the system.
If the system can reform itself, namely getting rid of the bodies I spoke of in my first post as well as certain constitutional changes, there is already a democratic system in place. As Akhbar Ganji noted, Iran is the only place in the Middle East that if free and fair elections were to be held, mullahs would not gain a majority.
(A note about Ganji: he is a dissident that published essays about the regime's political assassinations. He is not a mullah. I believe he is an agnostic if I'm not mistaken. He works in exile with other intellectuals and civilian leaders like Noam Chomsky)
If we can avert a revolution, and the unpredictability that would accompany it, we can minimize the chance that the people's agenda would not be hijacked by some powerful organization or political leader - as it was in '79.
I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of empirical evidence pointing to the fact that revolutions which produce power vacuums ratify preexisting power sources (like Khomeini and the Mujahideen in '79). Not to mention the power vacuum in Iraq, which immediately uncovered Moqtada and his Mahdi Army, as well as the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution (supported by IR) as the prime candidates to fill that vacuum. And all the while, the unaffiliated Iraqi people and Sunni tribes have struggled to gather their footing.
As nearly 70% of Iran's population is under 35 yrs old - meaning they have lived under no other government but the IR - we need to do more than hope that we don't lose our footing this time around.
And thank you for not moderating my comments; Mochakerram
You see the problem is some people think if US spoke nicely to the mullahs and didnt allocate $70M to things like cultural exchanges etc, then IR would abandon its reactionary foreign policies and domestic repression etc. I am in contention with that view and I think that is poppy talk. The IR is scared of its own shadow and these reactionary and repressive policies are part and parcel of its existence. During the Carter adminsitration, when Khomeini was called a saint and Iran's Gandhi, did it stop the mullahs from taking over the US embassy? When Madeline Stupid Albright apologized about the US role in the 1953 coup, to the very mullahs who supported the coup, did it change the repressive and reactionary policies of the regime? Hell no.
If anything the regime sees such gestures as weakness on the part of the enemey and becomes even more confident.
Of course I know Ganji is not a mullah, when I put him next to Kadivar, I meant the religous spectrum. I am not sure if Ganji is an agnostic now, he may be, these people chop and change all the time, one day they subscribe to Khomeini, then Shariati, then Chomsky, then ... But I hope you get my point. I meant it is not appropriate for me to stand in their crowd and quote Islam to the faithful.
In any case, I am not stopping Kadivars and Eshkevaris and even Boroujerdis. They should do things in their ways and we should do things our way, and achieve a pluralistic society, and history wil be the judge of who was right.
I also disagree with you in calling Ahmadi-nejad an ultra-nationalist. These people may use national sentiments for their own purposes but they have no regards for Iran. In fact I consider them un-Iranians who have taken over Iran. For me they are the occupiers. Now I am digressing.
I agree with you on the dangers of power vacuum which is why we should endeavour to fill the power vacuum not conclude that regime change is bad!
You talk about getting rid of bodies like the Guardian Council, Supreme Leader, Expediency Council, etc. My friend that is regime change!
How do you do it however? Obviously you need popular support as you mentioned yourself. You seem to think the majority of people will be persuaded by different interpretations of Islam. I say only a portion of the population will be impressed by such methods and I am not stopping those who are active in this area.
The young majority, however in my view, dont even care about Islam or interpretations of it. They want to dance and party and wear the clothes they want to and live their personal lives as they please. However they need confidence, they need to know that the world will be behind them if they take on the regime.
See how popular mullahs are. A mulah complaining that taxis dont stop for them:
I am not sure if it is right to go on the terror network al-jazireh and condemn America. al-jaziareh is already doing it.
Perhaps you ae right anonymous, but I didnt go on there to condemn US the same way ALjazeera might, I wanted to criticize the disastrous role of the US state dept and US intelligencies in the last 28 years.
Any how the only thing they showed was when I was saying how much more organised and focused and more professional IRI propaganda is.
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