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Rumi - Quotes
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
― Rumi

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.”
― Rumi

“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”
― Rumi

“The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was.
Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along.”
― Rumi

“What you seek is seeking you.”
― Rumi

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
― Rumi

“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.”
― Rumi

“You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?”
― Rumi

“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.”
― Rumi

“Dance, when you're broken open. Dance, if you've torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you're perfectly free.”
― Rumi

“When I am with you, we stay up all night.
When you're not here, I can't go to sleep.
Praise God for those two insomnias!
And the difference between them.”
― Rumi

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
― Rumi

“Ignore those that make you fearful and sad, that degrade you back towards disease and death.”
― Rumi
“Knock, And He'll open the door
Vanish, And He'll make you shine like the sun
Fall, And He'll raise you to the heavens
Become nothing, And He'll turn you into everything.”
― Rumi

“Forget safety.
Live where you fear to live. Destroy your
reputation. Be notorious.”
― Rumi

“My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that, and I intend to end up there.”
― Rumi

“In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.”
― Rumi

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Demand for Referendum

Back in 1979, when Khomaini arrived in Iran he said: “our fathers, were not our political custodians, entitled to determine our destiny or authorized to choose a form of government for us; every generation have the right to choose its own form of government” We, the present generation of Iranians, fully agree with Khomaini and wish to exercise our right and form a new government of our choosing.

By Freydoon Khoie

Editor’s Note:
Much of the material in this article is inspired by the great book (The Quest for Democracy in Iran) by Professor Fakhreddin Azimi, at the University of Connecticut. With my deepest gratitude to Mr. Azimi, I share this paper with my readers and comrades in our struggle for democracy in Iran.

The legitimacy of a political system is provisional and in need of revalidation; it has to be periodically subjected to a formal or informal referendum or plebiscite and affirmed, modified, or rejected. Thus, every generation is entitled to determine its own form of government. After 34 years of Islamic Republic, we, the opponents from day one, and with many disillusioned former supporters in our ranks, would like to echo Khomeini’s statement back in 1979 and demand that the destiny and popularity of the Islamic regime to be subjected to a new referendum in 2014.

The 1979 revolution in Iran meant liberation and empowerment for a very small group of unelected Muslim clergy and their cohorts and catastrophe for the vast majority of Iranians. For its secular or moderate participants, its outcome was a far cry from the lofty ideals and sublime optimism voiced during the 1977-79 revolutionary struggles. The unexpected and disorganized revolution unleashed forces, expectations, and passions that left little scope for practical reason and prudence. The gang of winners, former street fighters and criminals broken out of jails, shocked by the departure of the seemingly invincible Shah and his incompetent generals, started acting as though they have occupied a defeated enemy territory and went on a looting, raping and breaking spree while their self-appointed leaders tried to sustain the fervor, and ruled with an iron fist, violence and intimidation of the whole nation.

Sloganeering was elevated to a national vocation and a lucrative pastime for the poor, unemployed masses that were manipulated by the agents and came to be known as ‘rent-a-craw’. The incitement of prejudice and hatred of the illusive west and signs of modernization remained a chief instrument for outmaneuvering the genuine pro-democracy forces and believers in common sense. The state’s use of naked violence declaring undefined ‘Islamic edict’ for control and repression and alleged desire for correction, purification, and salvation, persisted.

Revolutionary populist reliance on “the people” as in the beginning of the revolution, gave way to reliance on officially mobilized, semi-professional hired and paid demonstrators. The losers and the vanquished who escaped execution or survived incarceration, torture, show trials, public confessions under coercion, and other forms of ill-treatment either left the country or stayed and persevered in the hope that the regime would implode or a genuine reformist movement will emerge. The tenacity of advocates of decency rested upon a conviction that eventually sanity will triumph and the anti-authoritarian objectives and aspirations that had animated the revolution will be retrieved.

In the course of a century, the people of Iran had experienced two revolutions and many widespread social movements. It is thus not surprising that Iranian society should reveal far greater attentiveness to social democratic values than have other societies in the region. To many, if not most, of its participants, the revolution of 1979 sought to realize and extend the ideals and hopes that had inspired the 1906 Constitutional Revolution and the civic-nationalist movement led by Mosadeq. The outcome of the revolution of 1979 undoubtedly startled and disappointed all of those who had opposed monarchy’s authoritarian rule in the hope of achieving democracy. They would regret, and also suffer the consequences of the loss or reversal of the central ideals of the revolution - social justice; egalitarianism; civic, political, and social liberties; and rejection of undeserved privilege.

A century after the 1906 Constitutional Revolution, the pertinent issues and debates dominating Iranian public life have a persistent resonance: what does the rule of law imply and amount to, and how far has it prevailed? What are the preconditions of legitimate rule and the characteristics of misrule? What are essential features of decent government? What were the primary objectives of the 1979 revolutionary struggle to overthrow the monarchy? How politically sovereign are the Iranian people, and how representative is their government? Can bureaucratic rationality, administrative competence, and meritocracy be supplanted by or reconciled with clientelist loyalty and “correct” religious credentials? Can a credible notion of civil society be reconciled with a ubiquitous paternalistic and intrusive state bent on acting as the emanation of the divine, custodian of the sacred, and the sole arbiter of moral integrity and virtue?

Ali Khamnei and his clerical partners today cannot ignore such debates. They have deceptively characterized the revolution as having been motivated solely by people’s desire for ‘Islam’ and dedicated to creating an Islamic state. Yet a fundamental challenge for such a state has been to justify and validate itself not merely in generic terms-of having secured “national dignity” or established “Islamic values”-but by demonstrating its commitment to crafting a prosperous and decent and a free society. Indeed, the Mullahs have emphasized that they have sought to create a society consisting of a dynamic, self-confident, and dignified citizenry enjoying a wide range of rights and entitlements based on distributive justice, socio-economic development, public welfare, and nondiscriminatory educational and employment opportunities. Having appropriated a republican facade and certain formally democratic procedures and rituals, the Mullahs have hesitatingly claimed that the regime is soundly representative and firmly based on popular consent and support. What is significant about such claims is not their inaccuracy, plausibility or otherwise, but the very fact and audacity that they are made and invoked. Such claims reveal the continued and growing salience of democratic, and more broadly, social democratic aspirations in the Iranian public sphere.

For those accustomed to a cursory look at the society, what seems to have survived the grand claims of the regime is little more than enforcement of the dress code for women, formally introduced and imposed in 1981, against the will of the vast majority of the people and the Iranian women and the coercive upholding and valorizing of public norms of chastity. For more probing observers, the institutionalization of oligarchic Muslim clerical rule, resting on a narrow interpretation of Shi’ism, has had far-reaching consequences. With the abolition of the family protection law in March 1980, women became more vulnerable; many saw their agency and autonomy radically diminished or found themselves formally relegated to a position of subjugation. The symbolic significance of the dress code cannot be underestimated. Women found themselves, in many respects among the losers of the revolution. Of course, the female franchise could not be revoked, and women remained capable of playing an important political role. Divorce and inheritance laws were modified to compensate for their inferior legal status; other legislation designed to address some of their concerns was also introduced. Exemption from conscription, a diminution of prospects for early marriage, and a desire to compensate for lower social status gave them greater incentive to pursue their educational goals. Women came to constitute a high percent of those entering university. They were able to distinguish themselves in a variety of professions, with notable exceptions, such as serving as judges. Yet literacy among women was lower; only 10% of women were employed, and belief in inherent gender inequality remained an integral component of the ruling Islamic ideology.

While gender-based discrimination was and is intrinsic to the legal system, men were no less affected by the drastic curtailment of social and civic liberties, the Islamization of the legal code, and the radical overhaul of the entire edifice of justice-developments that were among the most conspicuous outcomes of clerical rule. In contravention of the Islamic regime’s most formal commitment to respect human rights, the new legal code was in every respect discriminatory toward religious minorities like Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Zoroastrians, and Sufis etc. Punishment for a crime differed depending on whether the perpetrator was Muslim or non-Muslim. The regime controlled judiciary amassed enormous power and enjoyed unusual and illegitimate prerogatives and resources to engage in a whole range of judicial and extrajudicial activities, including the investigation of wrongdoing, mainly political opposition, the administration of justice and punishment, formal and informal surveillance, and intimidation of alleged suspects. The judiciary deals not only with ordinary lawbreakers but also with vocal or active critics and opponents of the regime. The objective of creating a uniformly enforced and standardized system of justice remained a work in progress with evidence of regression. Juridical imprecision and loopholes, and draconian laws enforced at the discretion of unqualified judges, aggravates legal insecurity. The tenuous or discretionary nature of legality and of the rule of law has impelled Iranians to resort to a variety of inventive informal practices to cope with the situation which have made institutional corruption order of the day. Political, social, civic, and cultural life continued to be marred by abuses of human rights; gross discrimination; extralegal punitive measures’ the ubiquity of various agencies of surveillance, detention, torture, and interrogation; the activities of authorized or “rogue” secret agents’ the deployment of organized militia and vigilante groups recruiting the former street fighters and known criminals to attack and harass opponents or break up meetings and gatherings of the regime’s opponents. Evin Prison, once Iran’s Bastille under the monarchy, continued to evoke the same, if not a greater, sense of horror than before.

When in August 1999 mentally deranged Mohamad Yazdi, the notorious head of the judiciary, was replaced by another equally sadistic cleric, Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, there were expectations of change, as Shahrudi asserted that he had taken over a “ruin”. These expectations, however, proved illusory. The judiciary remained one of the key instruments for frustrating the pro-democracy reformers’ objectives; various forms of gross and downright criminal malpractice also continued. Ill-treatment and abuse had acquired a routinized, almost banal character in which the practitioners claim that they simply “did their job”. In late April 2004 Shahrudi issued a directive banning all forms of torture, abuse, and ill-treatment of the accused and the imprisoned. Such a ban already existed on the statute books; the decree reiterating it indicated its widespread disregard. The sixth so called Islamic parliament (2000-2004) whose members are hand-picked by Ali Khamnei, in a deceptive show of camaraderie with the public had tried several times to introduce legislation reinforcing anti-torture measures, only to find its efforts frustrated by the unelected Guardian Council of few septuagenarian Mullahs. The council rejected many similar measures passed by the parliament.

In May 2004, during its last days in session, members of the sixth parliament incorporated Shahrudi’s directive in a draft law that they hoped the unelected Guardian Council would find difficult to reject, but the effort proved futile. Far from heeding criticism of its disregard for civil liberties, the judiciary was intent on increasing its actively intrusive role in society to an extent that alarmed even many regime’s conservatives. In November 2004 it launched intense surveillance and control across the whole span of society, including city quarters, the bazaar, factories, seminaries, universities, schools, and women’s associations. This entity, whose activities duplicated those of many parallel organizations, sought to monitor more effectively and combat not only crime but also “vice” and all other forms of conduct deemed detrimental to the regime. Not only civic and gender equality, but also equality of employment opportunity remained elusive. Government employees, particularly at the senior level, are selected from among those with demonstrated ‘yes men’ and sycophancy characteristics and commitment to the regime regardless of education or merit. Illiterate candidates from rural areas received preferential consideration only because they are ready to do anything and follow blindly in return for economic gain. This policy intended to take advantage of their ignorance and poverty, yet these employees brought with them a certain set of attitudes and expectations regarding political office and its material or symbolic advantages. Many saw their blind loyalty to the regime as a license for an opportunity not just to pretend to serve the regime and the people but especially to gain status and influence so that they could enjoy a variety of benefits, spoils, and trappings in an institutionally corrupt system. Such attitudes exacerbated, and were in turn reinforced by, the consequences of the dearth of sufficient training, appropriate expertise, and managerial competence. Goodwill, commitment, and a desire to serve with integrity amongst the rulers were and are completely absent, and few high-ranking officials or senior civil servants have distinguished themselves by any exceptional accomplishments. This situation, rooted in the chaotic bureaucracy, militated against the rise of a capable civil service with a professional ethic. It was also a corollary to the regime’s institutionalized and barely disguised discriminatory policy of cultivating a large clientele of reliable supporters and beneficiaries, with scant attention to the consequent alienation of vast segments of Iranian society who demand regime change today.

Although the 1979 revolution was originally an urban phenomenon, the elite it gave rise to included come who came from rural areas or retained their provincial sociocultural outlook. The ruling clergy aspired to sophistication and cosmopolitanism. It may indeed have achieved these in terms of visible lifestyle, material comfort, and a lavish culture of consumption; to the extent of allowing their sons and daughters drive Lamborghini and Bugatti in a country that 50% of its population is pressed under poverty line, yet mentally it remained insular and continued to perpetuate its parochial sensibilities. Sons and daughters of Mullahs are spending their unearned millions in New York and London with no regard to what is happening to their people and to their country. 34 years of rule should have been sufficient for a class of skilled managers to emerge. Yet the system of bureaucratic recruitment, the criteria applied, and the mentality fostered, have ensured that officeholders continue to lack qualification, credibility, competence as well as self-confidence. Stories of incompetence or malpractice, abuses of office, and the amassing of riches abound. Regardless of whether they are true or fictitious, accurate or exaggerated, such stories, and the fact that they are repeated so often and perhaps widely believed, indicates a crisis of competence.

Besides radical changes in the political, administrative, civic, and judicial arenas, the structural transformation of Iranian society after 1979 was evident in areas such as social stratification and class rifts. The new ruling elite were characterized by avowed ideological commitment, broad similarity of social origins, and other social ties and affinities. In addition, a new class of nouveaux riches have emerged which, thanks to its links to the ruling elite, have amassed enough wealth to rival its royalist predecessor. The ruling elite, the nouveaux riches, and key bazaar merchants often overlap, are interconnected, and constitute a quasi-plutocracy. Many other social strata, particularly lower-ranking employees, feel worse off, whether financially or in terms of social status. The educated middle class is alienated and finds migration to the United States and EU attractive. The urban poor remain highly vulnerable. Demoralized and consumed by resentment and despair, they often give in to anomie and addiction and show a greater propensity for millenarian yearnings, falling for the deceptive demagoguery sermons of the illiterate but conniving Mullahs. By 2004 unemployment officially stood at 16%; but the unofficial rate is almost double, the average monthly income is just over $100. The country’s population of 75.7 million in 2012 had more than doubled since the inception of the Islamic regime, with some 70% below the age of thirty. Demographic growth and incessant rural migration have exacerbated haphazard urbanization. Changes in the educational system, the bureaucratic culture, and the norms and standards of public behavior are no less conspicuous. No one can fail to notice a decline in traditional civic virtues such as courtesy, honesty, and respectful consideration of others. In addition to suffering routine inefficiencies, one rarely visits a government office without experiencing some form of humiliation. The quotidian experiences of the urban population do not make for a psychologically healthy or relaxed life; civic pride, happiness, even minimal contentment, remains more elusive than ever.

Despite or because of restrictive official policies, interest in Western cultural debates and intellectual trends persist and is, in fact, on the rise. This trend led the authorities in the summer of 1992 to denounce what they dubbed the “Western cultural invasion”. Revealing little understanding of the hybrid and heterogeneous nature of Iranian culture, the official view rested on the untenable idea that there was a timeless, authentic Iranian-Islamic culture that could be retrieved and safeguarded by exhortation or fiat. Yet in an age of expanding global communications, turning the country into a culturally self-contained fortress is impossible. No efforts could counter, let alone overcome, the impact of the Internet on the urban population at large, including the clerics, especially in Qom, and on the transmission of knowledge and information. Popular awareness of alternative modes of life rendered tight social control unachievable and counterproductive. Even in its early and more insular phase, the regime had felt obliged to rescind its ban on music and chess playing, which had stimulated tremendous interest in both. Increasingly, the public shows its defiance of the rulers by embracing any practice or attitude officially discouraged or banned. Thus, official anti-Americanism provokes pro-American sentiments among the populace. In defiance of the stern moralism of the rulers, the entertainment-starved youth display a growing appetite for the vulgar components of global, mostly American, pop culture.

The official emphasis on the primacy of Iran’s Islamic identity have done much to revive strong interest in other components of the nation’s culture. The regime would eventually be forced to recognize, and attempt to embrace, the non-Islamic aspects of Iranian identity. Inadvertently, the Islamic regime played a major role in reviving interest in Iran’s specifically Persian and non-Islamic cultural legacy. Civic-nationalism, too, continue to grow in appeal among the urban population, and particularly the intelligentsia and university students. Despite its pan-Islamist rhetoric, the regime not only felt obliged to come to terms with Iranian nationalism but attempted to appropriate it. Clearly, just as ideologized Islam had transformed the Iranian political landscape the process of governing had crucially changed political Islam, forcing the clerics to make many concessions.

Clerical rule also affected historically rooted practices and traditions in Shi’ite Islam. The government attempted, unsuccessfully, to modify the clerical nomenclature and substitute the role of the officially designated Leader for that of an informally chosen grand ayatollah who owed his stature and role to the public acclaim of the faithful, for whom he was allegedly a revered model of learning and piety. Moreover, the regime remains unable to speak on behalf of the country’s entire Shi’ite clerical establishment. Many clerics maintain their distance from their rulers and opposed or criticized them in a variety of ways. Vocally dissenting clerics are treated no less harshly than other critics.

Upon his return to Iran on the eve of the fall of the monarchy, Khomeini made an assertion of considerable significance: our fathers, he stated, were not our political custodians, entitled to determine our destiny or authorized to choose a form of government for us; we have the right to choose our own form of government. The implications of Khomeini’s statement were and are far-reaching: the legitimacy of a political system is provisional and in need of revalidation; it has to be periodically subjected to a formal or informal referendum, plebiscite and affirmed, modified, or rejected. Thus, every generation is, or ought to be, entitled to determine its own form of government. Within 34 years of the birth of the Islamic Republic, its opponents, including many disillusioned former supporters, are now echoing Khomeini and demanding that the destiny and popularity of the regime be subjected to a referendum in 2014.

Islamic governance was indeed formally legitimized when, following the collapse of the monarchy, the Iranian people were asked to participate in a referendum that involved simply affirming or rejecting an “Islamic republic”. No alternative was provided, nor was the meaning of such a polity clarified. The people were thus given no real choice, nor the opportunity for careful reflection and an informed and meaningful decision on the future of the country. More than thirty-five years later all Iranians are certain about what an Islamic republic has meant in practice.
Opponents of the regime view a properly conducted referendum on its future as a valid expression of informed public opinion and seem confident about its outcome.

Those in power appear to share this assumption and are therefore unlikely to agree to such a test. Remaining inattentive to the evident signs of public disillusionment with the entire system, the rulers have thwarted the efforts of those who believe that reforming the regime is the only way to avert catastrophic collapse. Claiming to have learned from the past, the rulers sought to avoid repeating the mistakes of the monarchy; yet they tended to attribute the fall of the monarchy not to its heavy-handed clampdown on unrest but to its indecisiveness and leniency. Altogether they seem to have learned little about how regimes, self-deceptively or otherwise, see themselves as invulnerable-how they persist in alienating and antagonizing the public at their own peril. The days of the regime is over and they are already living on borrowed time.

Few observers would deny that the chronic crisis of legitimacy and representation and the attendant political disarray engulfing Iran constitute a serious threat to the moral fabric of its society. Apathy, cynicism, and hopelessness are compounded by anomie and pervasive forms of social malaise such as addiction, vagrancy, and crime, which are largely rooted in poverty. Promises of justice and equity, preeminent in revolutionary aspirations, have long run hollow. Religion can no longer effectively function as a force for inner restraint; the prevailing indifference to moral qualms and to socio-culturally sanctioned virtues is disheartening to most citizens. Coercive attempts to undo the secular ethos of the prerevolutionary era have set in motion a far-reaching process of secularization. Thanks to clerical rule and governmental appropriation of the sacred, the social process of secularization is probably more intensive in contemporary Iran than in any other Islamic society. Modernity has continued to move forward in every facet of life, and the clerics have felt obliged to come to terms with it. In reaction the regime has increasingly sought to promote beliefs and practices patently at odds with the dictates of reason and often dismissed as superstitious by learned clerics. The scripturalist and emotionally stern Shi’ism of such clerics have traditionally been at odds with cathartic popular Shi’ism. Similarly, efforts to fundamentalize Iranian Islam have contravened the long-cherished underlying tolerance of the country’s lay religio-cultural traditions. Such traditions had led the French ambassador to Tehran in the 1950s to describe Iranians as non-fanatical “Voltairian” Muslims.

Revolution, an essentially modern phenomenon, combined with the most effective means of modern communication, was, paradoxically, used not only to overthrow the monarchy but to resurrect pre-modern modes of thinking and systems of values. Inventing a purportedly genuine, pristine Islamic tradition of governance involved a costly, concerted, and ultimately unsuccessful struggle to confront modernity, to reverse the process of disenchantment characterizing it, and to roll back the march of secularization. The grand failure of this undertaking is best exemplified in the unsuccessful efforts to combine and integrate universities and seminaries. Radical secularists celebrate what they view as the implosion of the myth of politicized religion as a vehicle for national salvation and regeneration. More prudent advocates of disengagement between religion and governance, together with those who see religion, in the words of Charles Taylor, as one of the main “authoritative horizons” of life, fear that the decline of religious faith has eroded the foundations of morality and weakened communal values. Many Iranians feel hopeful about the future, at least the distant future. Few, however, would regard the near future with the same degree of optimism.

More than a thirty four years after its inception, the Islamic regime continues to face crises resulting from years of ill-conceived policies, poor management, and administrative inefficiency rooted in a lingering ideological-cliquish aversion to bureaucratic rationality and meritocracy. Such crises have manifested themselves in a variety of forms. The substitution of real or feigned ideological commitment to the regime for rationally ascertainable merit has cost the country dearly. Inefficient management, inadequate expertise, lack of bureaucratic coordination, and other structural constraints accentuated by deeper political problems account for a frustratingly slow rate of progress in the completion of development projects. The absence of coherent, clear, and sound economic policies has resulted in an economy marred by low productivity, uncompetitive domestic products, continued dependence on oil revenues, unemployment, inflation, and relative poverty for a vast portion of the population, engaged in an exhausting daily grind to make ends meet. An inadequate educational infrastructure, particularly at the higher level, has had a demoralizing impact on the young. In 2006 the available university places accommodated only one-fifth of the number of applicants, and even the relatively small pool of university graduates, including physicians, could not find suitable employment. Iran ranks first among developing countries in terms of a brain drain. The emigration of the educated, not unwelcome to at least some of those in office, has irretrievably harmed the country’s scientific, technological, educational, and cultural infrastructures. Of course, if at some point and in the right circumstances even a small number of such emigrants should return, they would make a significant contribution to revitalizing the country.

Iran’s underlying political, economic, and administrative problems, together with the dearth of imaginative, sound, and carefully implemented policies, have also largely accounted for many of the international setbacks suffered by the country. There has been no lack of skills for negotiating and haggling or a flair for adopting tactically offensive or retreating postures as situations have warranted. The doctrinaire assumptions informing the country’s foreign policy considerations have been more flexible than they have appeared; yet the country has lacked a clear, consistent, and effective foreign policy. Bereft of a strategic vision, it has remained virtually isolated, devoid of powerful allies, and unable to play the role befitting its historic regional significance, particularly in Central Asia, the Caspian region, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf. Iran is often seen as the chief beneficiary of the American misadventure in Iraq; the wise handling of its strategic advantages in Iraq requires skills greater than customarily displayed. But many challenges remain: how to reconcile issues of sovereignty, national security, and the right to develop nuclear technology as a source of energy while allaying international concerns about the military use of such technology, warding off external threats, and avoiding further sanctions and isolation. The implications of Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union under an Islamist but unusually flexible and modern-minded government, though stalled, could only be unsettling to the regime in Tehran.

Domestically, the lingering crisis of authority and the routinized privileging of loyalty over merit have vitiated efforts to deal with bureaucratic ineptitude and various forms of corruption. The result has been a widespread disrespect for laws, regulations, and even culturally valued civic norms. Such disrespect for instance, permeates the culture of driving, and, together with inadequate roads and badly built and poorly maintained vehicles, results in an annual death toll of 120,000. The polluted and congested but still expanding cities and the condition of the urban infrastructure reveal and symbolize deeper problems. Shoddily constructed and unsightly high-rises marring the Tehran skyline have enriched well connected real estate speculators but greatly damaged the capital’s aesthetic landscape. They reveal scant appreciation of the Iranian cultural-architectural heritage. Iran is catastrophically earthquake prone, yet few buildings in the country are designed to withstand a powerful earthquake. All the amenities of a modern society appear to exist, but quality and substance have invariably been compromised. Socioeconomic development has remained a key objective, but the kind of public scrutiny needed to ensure its thoughtful and beneficial accomplishment has been largely absent. Such scrutiny cannot be attempted without a secure public sphere of free expression and a broad range of fundamental liberties-in short, political development. Given its abundant natural resources, wealth, and trained manpower at home or abroad, Iran has a tremendous developmental potential, which has remained unfulfilled. This failure is inextricably intertwined with the crisis of representation and governance that bedevils Iranian public life.

A century after we first embarked on fashioning a constitutional representative government, the Iranian people continue to see themselves as lacking full sovereign status or equal citizenship. The old Constitution was tragically overshadowed by monarchism and abused by rulers who claimed extensive prerogatives. Yet, despite its inadequacies or ambiguities, which reflected historically specific issues that it had sought to address, the Constitution was in spirit committed to national and popular sovereignty and to a representative democracy. With careful revisions making it more coherent and workable while enhancing its democratic tenor and spirit, the Constitution could have served as the framework for the emergence of a functioning representative form of government. In contrast, the Constitution of the Islamic Republic contains greater anomalies and contradictions; its entrenched theocratic clauses cannot be reconciled with a republican and meaningfully democratic form of government. The provisions of the Constitution are effective only within the confines of Islamic principles, which are, at least in theory, determined by the six unelected jurists of the Guardian Council.

Public demands for greater rights than those provided by the present Constitution or for a reading that emphasizes its more recognizably republican clauses would also force a revision of the official narrative. The clerics initially treated the prerevolutionary period as prehistory. They considered a radical break with the immediate past-in contrast to the distant past with which they were intellectually and emotionally tangled-in every respect desirable and possible. Gradually abandoning this approach, they came to place themselves in the context of broader Iranian history. The regime’s dismissal of the Constitutional Revolution as marking the beginning of the erosion of the country’s sense of identity, and its lionization of obscurantist, anti-constitutionalist clerics, persisted. At the same time it constructed its own counter-narrative, portraying the constitutionalist and civic-nationalist struggles as having been inspired and led primarily by clerics. Indeed, from the outset the regime had felt obliged to appropriate some key notions associated with those struggles, particularly as it had failed to generate ideas and vocabularies of its own that would resonate in the context of the modernizing tempo of Iranian society.

The quest for a viable and decent polity in Iran has since the late 1970s been more far-reaching than at any other time since the Constitutional Revolution and the civic nationalist movement of the 1940s and 50s. The ongoing struggle is infused with the aims and ideas, and idioms that the Constitutional Revolution interjected into Iranian political thinking. Such aims and ideas remain vibrant and pertinent, and thus the Constitutional Revolution continues. It is a revolution that is at times intense and on occasion barely perceptible; yet it goes on. It involves a sustained overt or covert struggle against obscurantism and paternalism, and for individual liberty and autonomy. It aspires to create a rational and democratic government committed to the rule of law, and a tolerant and open society. Despite bouts of despair, the forces of politicized civil society in the country remain hopeful that Iran is moving in that direction.

Without a doubt and contrary to the early optimism of secular intellectuals and its other detractors, the Islamic regime has demonstrated resilience. Yet, with its ideological power dwindling rapidly, it has been tangibly afflicted by a chronic crisis of authority. Toward the end of Khatami’s presidency some feared that the domestic political impasse and regional conflicts might prompt the Revolutionary Guards to attempt a direct or indirect takeover. Others, however, maintained that the Guards, at least at the senior level, and the larger nexus of security and intelligence forces were already politically well placed, and thus unlikely to be uniformly supportive of such a radical venture. With Ahmadi-Nejad’s presidency, many feared that the predicted political ascendancy of the Guards and the security forces had occurred. His assumption of office did not, however, have a significant impact on the routinized structure of oligarchic rule. The crisis of authority continues to be a salient feature of the regime and has in fact become more acute. This situation creates considerable potential opportunities for the secular democratic opposition, which encompasses a wide spectrum of opinions.

The opposition, continuing to vacillate between despondency and buoyancy, has so far failed to assert itself and roll back public apathy and disillusionment resulting from the enormous blunders of the loyalist opposition. The diaspora opposition is even more politically, generationally, and culturally divided. Members of the older generation have had their lives torn apart by the corrosive melancholy of exile, loneliness, anonymity, and failure to adapt to the host culture, while the young seem insufficiently idealistic and display a thin grasp of their parental culture. Yet the fragmented opposition, both at home and abroad, has felt reassured that the movement for reform from within the regime has not rendered redundant the need for a broader and more vigorous opposition movement. The loss of optimism among intellectuals and activists at home regarding the prospect of reform from within could result in the informal coalescence of an invigorated democratic opposition. But whether such an opposition, deprived of the opportunity to organize itself, can make its mark depends on contingencies and crises that cannot be predicted, and on the success or failure of the regime to contain its crises and retain its exclusionist hold on power.

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