Sunday, December 16, 2007

Khatami in Tehran University: Preaching to the Choir

A student demonstration in Tehran University on Monday December 10 was followed by an equally important event on Tuesday when President Khatami addressed the students on the commemoration of Azar 16, 1332, when three students were shot dead by the Shah’s police.

It was interesting that there were even references to Tir 18, when reactionary forces stormed student dormitories, leaving a path of death and destruction in their trail, during the Khatami’s presidency. Oddly enough, it was one of the most catastrophic events in which Khatami made a massive mistake by turning his back on the people who elected him to office. Regretfully, he assumed that there was no other choice. Indeed there was: He could have stood with the people.

The recent demonstration became more heated due to ideological changes in the university enforced by the Ahmadinejad government. Large numbers of qualified professors were expelled from the universities, many active students were arrested, and many students were marked by “stars” which made them unable to continue their studies for certain period of time, if ever. While we all consider education the best remedy for every problem, this Socrates of our time bars the students from school as a corrective remedy.

The government officials and Tehran’s pro-regime newspapers called the students the voice of American imperialism and the students, agents of imperialism and a handful of Kurdish separatists.

Khatami in his speech, on the other hand, reminded the students of their right to free speech and expression and mentioned that free speech is threatening only to those who adhere fanatically to rotten traditions and do not want to move on to the way of progress and well-being. He mentioned the role of the university in uprooting the dictatorship and said that its active role in society is alive and will continue and must continue.

He used the opportunity to criticize the government which reduces justice to only economic justice and economic justice to charity. He called for the respect of the principle of “innocence before trial,” and mentioned how Imam regarded it as essential among his eight mandates. Though he did not flatly denounce its dismissal as illegal, he said “Unfortunately not much attention is paid to it.” He did mention that it is not right that “everyone interprets the constitution according to his/her own taste.” It is noteworthy that it was not some “everyone” who came with such reading of constitution, but Ayatollah Jannati who is the Secretary of the Guardian Council, the assembly of appointees of either the valiye faqih or the head of the judiciary.

Ayatollah Jennati, the same day announced very clearly and firmly that in vetting the candidates for the parliamentary election, the principal of “innocence before trial” is not considered and indeed called it irrelevant. Keyhan, in his defense, wrote that Article Thirty-Seven of the Iranian constitution only applies to crime and punishment and not when “rewarding the candidates with the nomination for the election to the parliament as peoples’ deputy and representative.”

President Khatami’s mild position is quite consistent with his personality, with his philosophy and belief and his political record. Popular and loved and adored as he is, he is too conciliatory and too forbearing for this task. Using manipulation as a negotiation technique at this stage of the game, he should not expect any victory either over winning the people’s trust or convincing the ayatollahs to modify their position. Appealing to the arguments based on Imam Khomeini’s ideas of revolution and constitution or democracy, etc., Khatami not only wastes his energy, but might demoralize the people.

President Khatami knows that the Iranian revolution was not Imam Khomeini’s revolution. It was people’s revolution, and the Imam, peace and credit upon him, just joined and supported it. The kind of democracy we wanted was not “individual centered” democracy, in which case we would have waited for the Shah to die, hoping that his son would have been a kinder and gentler individual. The revolution that we desired was supposed to be a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Imam Khomeini, by proposing the velayat-e faqih and the Guardian Council and the Assembly of Experts and by appointing various reactionaries to sensitive positions, seemed quite aware that his six or twelve appointees had the unequivocal rights to vet the peoples nominees and that this might lead to a parliament and a government worse than what we had in the Shah’s time. If he could not predict and if he was not aware of the consequences, why the repeated references to his intentions?

After President Khatami’s trip to the United State last year, Fatemeh Rajabi in her notorious article, denounced him. Calling him all sorts of names, she demanded that he be defrocked. I wished someone would have listened to this wise lady and done that favor to President Khatami and all of us. He would have been better off without that robe and turban. Ironically, in essence, those two garments do not suit anyone better or worthier than him. Now worn by so many unworthy people, they not only add nothing to his stature, but keep him away from justice the way they, as on 18 Tir.

I cannot think of anything else but that robe and turban which might have prevented President Khatami from screaming, “No, you twelve, you are wrong, parliamentary seats are not rewards bestowed by you. Those seats belong to the people’s representatives, elected by the people. That right is granted to people by the constitution, written by the people for the people. Those seats are neither charity nor a reward. And for that matter, they are bestowed upon them by divine intervention either.” Without those two garments, he would have screamed what he had said once, that “We twelve and tens and ones and all, we are blessed to be people’s servants and should do what they want us to do. If they want us to pack and go, we have no right to stay a minute longer. And that time is getting closer and closer.” But alas, they got in his way.

I’m so sure that Khatami knows very well what I and many others know. The Constitution does not receive its importance and its validity from approval and disapproval of individuals. It is the core of a lawful society. And I’m sure he knows that it is not “unfortunate” to ignore or dismiss law, but illegal. If there is anyone who can say that, it is him, but for that also, those two garments got in his way.

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