Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Unconditional Right to Waterpipes?

This was the second article about water pipes in Mohammad ‘Ali Abtahi’s blog. Roughly, he argues that life in Iran is no fun for the young people. There is no other entertainment, entrance exams for the universities are hard, there are not so many jobs, housing is almost unobtainable, marriages are unaffordable, depression is epidemic. To make a long story short, if in other countries they try to discourage the use of tobacco, in Iran this policy is unrealistic due to the existing problems.

I think Iran is quite ready for all the progressive movements. Our record on birth control, our higher education, and the participation of women into the work force all indicate that we Iranians are ready and willing to make progress as quickly as anyone else. I hope we will be the first country in the Middle East to reduce the use of tobacco to a bare minimum.

However, a survey of the recent writings of Abtahi and other reformists indicates that such objections are targeted at different objectives than what they appear to be shooting for at first glance. Abtahi’s article on water pipes followed his sweet article on Sayyed Mohammad Khatami's trip to Tabriz. At end of this article, he said, “I wish the government would not hinder to the use of Turkish.” Having these two articles, one after the other, appealing to ethnics and younger people, made me doubt his sincerity. There were several comments on these two issues, particularly the one on water pipes, which I agree with on his timing in expressing his sympathy with the youth and with Azeris.

Since Mehdi Bazargan’s provisional government, some ambiguous, spectral entities named “they,” “them,” “others,” and “those” and which are held responsible for whatever goes wrong have become a fixture of the Islamic Republic. Those nameless individuals, who were in the possession of the “blade” of the knife in the Bazargan’s hand (Bazargan famously complained that he had a knife with no blade, i.e., had only the trappings of power but was unable to wield it) now have released a few fake blades here and there but are still in possession of the “sharper and the sharpest,” are still around and we hear from them. Every President in power complains about them, and even Ahmadinejad who himself, along with his cronies, could scare the devil himself, talks about the hoodlums who are preventing him from doing his duty. It seems that no matter who is in charge in Iran, these nameless figures who posses the real sharp blade are the main operators.

Though Abtahi is a little more courageous and addresses “those” as a collective “government” which is doing this and that, still it is interesting to find him manipulating what he objects to and how he objects to it. Abtahi’s two articles are not an invitation to the people to simple participation; rather, he is trying to manipulate people to vote. He cleverly sweeps under the rug that fact that there is a big difference between voting and participation.

His two recent articles very clearly were aimed at this. “Come and vote for us, you Azeris and you young people, we like you and we are concern about you. You have the right to speak your mother tongue and we won’t stop you, and we care about your entertainment and we will give you the water pipe. We are not like ‘them,’ the bad ones, ‘those’ who are not giving you water pipes.”

No, Mr. Abtahi, do not delude yourself and do not mislead the youth and do not lie to the Azeries, or other ethnics for that matter. The above problems (which are the least of our existing problems) are not limited to this or that government. They are the direct result of the whole system which has no regard for something called the Constitution; indeed, after three decades, those who are supposed to be its guardians are denying it shamelessly.

I’m afraid you cannot for ever hide behind the veil of being reformist versus conservatives or reactionary. Not that there is no difference, there is a big difference. However, you all are under the same umbrella, despite your differences because you are not doing your jobs, the job which has been invested and entrusted in you by the people, i.e., to be the guardian of law.

Reformists cannot hide behind the popularity of Khatami either. Surely students love Khatami. He is such a loveable person; he looks good, he talks well, he thinks well, and he wishes well. He is knowledgeable and very compassionate indeed. He could become an Islamic Dalai Lama. But it all means he is a very good person and is very popular, nothing more could be concluded from his popularity. There is a lot said about Khatami’s two terms presidency; there is no comparison with what we have now or at any other time, but did he help advance the reform he was talking about? Did we get closer to a lawful society? Did we get closer to democracy? Did we mange to have a healthy election? We should remember that the last presidential election took place during the Khatami administration. He could not maintain the basics of the democracy and a lawful society, a fair election process.

It is interesting that in his recent meeting in Tabriz, the banner over the stage read, “The government which is not based on people’s vote does not have legitimacy. –Imam Khomeini.” Such a superfluous statement! What if the Imam had not said such thing? It is well known that he did not believe it. He was opposed to parliamentary government and called it a violation of the shariat. Until statements of this importance receive their validity from some higher authority, i.e., the Iranian constitution, we do not have any meaningful reform, but business as usual. Our problem is simply that the constitution has been replaced by statements from “those” and “they,” who are sometimes good and sometimes not so good, as much as ever.
It was so sad to read these articles, it was so sad to witness people whom I like and respect are so simpleminded or consider us as to be simpleminded, it was so sad to see that those in whom we have great hope do not have the courage to wake up and indeed want us to take a nap with them as well. Please, Mr. Abtahi, please, President Khatami, wake up. The monumental document written by the people should be respected by all of us, and you and “them” as well. That is the only authority which gives any rights to the people, and no one is above it. Unless the constitution is place above any and every individual, talk about freedom, democracy, lawfulness, civil society, etc., is meaningless. Please, Mr. Abtahi, do not talk about our rights to water pipes or our rights to speak our mother tongue. People can even write poetry in Chinese if they want to, They don’t need the government’s assistance for that. Please stop this juggling act!

The other interesting act performed by the reformists is addressing the people when they should address the authorities. They tell people about the existing problem which “others” have created. What is the use of telling people that they have this and that right? Believe me, the people are well aware of this. The one who needs to know is 'Ali Khamene’i, it is Guardian Council, it is the Assembly of Experts, etc. Tell them! Wrap your cloak around yourself and straighten your turban and go to those ayatollahs at the top and tell them what you are preaching to the people. Go to Ayatollah Khamene’i and give him the news of what is going on, see if he is aware of it all, and remind him regarding the Imam’s intentions, as you keep telling us every other night, and see if he has heard about them, and ask him why on earth he is not implementing the Imam’s alleged intentions. While you are at it, tell him that the people are unhappy at how his clique is governing the country. Also ask President Khatami to remind him about Her Holiness Fatima, whose happiness is God’s happiness. Ask president Khatami to tell him about the speech he delivered a few months ago (I think it was in Kashan), that in the present circumstances Fatemeh is not happy and therefore God is not happy; see if he knows any of this. And tell him all about the unjust brutal basijis and the lack of wisdom and justice of Judge Mortazavi. And please tell him about the recent murder of Dr. Zahra Bani-Yaghoub in prison, and all the other illegal arrests, and see if he knows about these, too!

And as for having these arguments as a campaign strategy, I do not even for the sake of getting rid of Mahmud Ahmadinejad wish to have our campaign follows the American fashion. What was wrong with the first, or even second, election of Khatami? What was wrong with that low-cost, spontaneous, publicly-generated form of campaign? Thank you Mr. Abtahi, please leave that style of empty promises, appealing to class, race, and gender and age kind of campaign to the professional politician like Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Reformists do not need to flatter to win, they will win if their candidacy is not tossed out by the Guardian Council. Our problem is not attracting votes. Our problem is that the system has been rotten from its inception and needs a genuine reform, not just a magical quick fix. Our problem is that those who are on top think because of their robe and turban that they have inherited the government. Reform should start there. No one can inherit governing power. We all know how difficult this can be. Those in power do not want to let go of what has fallen into their laps, and I do not blame them. Even if they do let go, they will never ever be able to take it back.

Yes, there is a lot which could be done for the people, old and young. Reformists can return to power and stay for another few terms. If they leave something behind, something substantial, then they would leave a legacy and make history. But if it is just a matter of getting elected, then let’s get ready for another Tir 18, another police riot against the dormitories, another round of arm-twisting and threatening. It would give the people a chance to breath a little, but nothing more. As I see the front runners on the tour of the cities, not much should be expected. At this point, the reformists’ message is, “We are good, elect us,” as opposed to “trust us.” But still, why not be hopeful?


Anonymous said...

People talk about the need to reform Islam. Now you can stop talking and start helping.

With the help of our readers we went through the Koran and removed every verse that we believe did not come from Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate. We would like to publish Reform Koran in as many languages as possible. If you could help with translation, editing, or distribution of the Reform Koran, please email us at koran-AT-reformislam.org.

In Memoriam of Aqsa Parvez.


Mina said...

Dear MAS,
I'm sure your heart's in the right place, but I'm not a Muslim, so I don't think it's any of my business to interfere in your religion's internal affairs.
I'll follow your progress, though. Keep in touch.

Mina said...

It might interest you to know that one of America's Founding Fathers had a similar idea. Read
the Jefferson Bible
This should not be construed as support or criticism of your project, which is purely an internal matter for Muslims to handle.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mina,

You do not have to be a Muslim to have an opinion or to strive for World Peace.