Saturday, March 08, 2008

Thus Spake Imam Khomeini

February, the anniversary of Revolution is a good market for those who are still alive and shared the flight with Khomeini to Tehran, or were present in the Alavi School and participated in the firing squad show on its roof, to bring us anecdotes and present them like antiques to customers like me browsing and surfing online for something interesting.

This year, in addition to the general and generic words of the Imam’s wisdom on freedom, human rights, democracy, independence, plenty of special anecdotes or stories appeared in the memoirs of his friends, all related to the problems at hand: election and government turning to the military and security forces. Oddly enough, most of these anecdotes were narrated by the reformists, and not a single one by fundamentalists.

Among the anecdotes there was one from Ayatollah Nateq Nuri’s memoir:

“In the early days of the revolution, there was a rush of women to come to visit Imam. They all wore black chadors, head to toe covered; and many of them, in order not to get lost, tied their chadors together. They would go into a frenzy and emotional crying and sometimes fainted. We were very worried for safety and security; it would have been very easy for a bomb to be carried under them. But we knew that if we had told the Imam to bar women for that reason, he would not agree. We were also concerned about the lack of female paramedics to help in case of an emergency. Sometimes the Imam would go to the second floor to rest, and when these women arrived he had to come downstairs. So one day I told the Imam that these coming and going up and down tired him, but the Imam noticed my real concern and said, 'Do you think that the revolution happened because of my tapes or because of you? No it happened because of them.'”

I like this anecdote. If I were in the Imam’s position I would have said the same. As a matter of fact, most of the sayings attributed to him are simple, sensible, true, and almost the best, and many of them, as Iranians say, are “tooth-shattering.” Even the timing should not be objected to; today is as good as any other day. Even instrumental usage of these sayings, to corner the fundamentalist as a devoted followers of Imam, is justifiable up to a point, although it has been proven ineffective. But the important question remains as to how long we should use a failing method. I never expected of Ayatollah Nateq Nuri to ask Imam, “Well sir, if these people made the revolution and not me or your tapes, then why is it that there is no place for them in the government?” It never occurred to me that he would be able to ask these questions since this kind of dialog has never been the part of that generation’s discourse. However, thirty years later I do expect that young journalists and thinkers or even younger clerics, who constitute the bulk of the reformists, would take a critical approach, and substitute a dialectical or analytical discourse for the kind of discourse once fashionable in Najaf and Qom's seminaries.

Since the revolution, the Imam’s words have become a kind of syllogism by itself. Being dealt with as the absolute, they have been legitimized and accepted by all as ultimate truths that do not need any further proof or arguments. “The people’s vote is the ultimate criterion,” “Our politics is the same as our religiosity,” “Islam should come for the strength and survival of the Islamic Republic and not vice versa,” are all from this category. They all sound good, some of them are even self-evident, and some are universally accepted. It is quite irrelevant to discuss the content of the Imam’s words of wisdom which, like many of their kinds should be cherished by those who have a taste for them. Though, the troubling is the usage of his statements as documents and manifestos, as substitutes for law, as ultimate guidelines as how to run the country and how society ought to conduct itself. How long should a country rely for its basics and fundamentals on the saying of a man who considered himself very ordinary and who made a massive mistake in appointing incompetents to be in charge of the peoples’ life remains a question.

Not only are older clerics, who shared the Imam’s beliefs and ideas, but even young lay journalists and analysts still wrap their pleas for justice in the Imam’s words and appeal to his ideas to salvage the last vestiges of what is called the Islamic Republic before it completely turns into a military-security state or explodes into chaos.

All these cries for justice have fallen on deaf ears, with flat denials of the leadership’s spokesman, Hosein Shariatmadari of Keyhan who refuses every argument given by reformist by misquotes from the Imam or anyone else who might be of any help, and with a simple clear bold answer of Mesbah Yazdi who once said: “All this talk about the people’s vote and people’s rights are nothing but a marionettes show. We are doing our duty and nothing could or should keep us from our duty.” His callousness aside, there is a bitter truth in what he is saying. These men in the Guardian Council are given a nonnegotiable right to do what they are doing. Indeed, the reformists are fighting an unbalance and unequal war, armed only with the Imam’s words whispered in someone ears, against those who are given the master key to all the Imam’s army and treasure.

All this came to a head just days ago when Ayatollah Tavasoli, rest in peace, in a formal session of the Expediency Council, of which he was a member, during his emotional opening speech passed away due to heart attack. It was indeed a great lose to the reform movement to loose one of its main bodies in a high place. The speech that caused his emotional outburst was none other than the same old routine, nothing worth dying for. The story of the couple who claimed they had met the Twelfth Imam and were rejected by the Imam as “crooks” had been told last year by Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. Also the account of the Imam’s will barring military interfering in politics and taking sides with either party was the topic of Akbar Ganji’s article in Rooz Online several weeks ago. To argue against the militarization of government, Ganji, in his recent article The Government of Ahmadinejad and Ruling of Sultan, has invoked Imam Khomeini’s will “… the military should keep away from all the political parties, even the most Islamic one, and stay away form all the other branches of government. It is the only way that military could be trusted to defend the country.” (Ganji forgets that the main reason for the formation of the Revolutionary Guards was to protect the government internally against the possible internal opposition.) His invocation of the Imam was indeed very surprising from the man who boasts that he is a champion of a critical approach and defines himself as “dissatisfied intellectual,” one who would remain critical even if we would have the most democratic system.

As why should Rafsanjani wait so long to reveal his document, his correspondence, and his anecdotes about the Imam now or gradually as they are needed? I’m not surprised at all. That is our pragmatic Rafsanjani! But one wonders how a person like Ganji should wait so long to address such an important issue as the role of the military, and in this context, and in this fashion. That military should not get involved in the affair of government is accepted by many constitutions including ours; it is argued for, it is challenged, and it is proven as fair and just. While we all may accept and respect this principal, we are only bounded by it since it is an article of our constitution. If the Imam is especially emphasized it, that is his privilege; otherwise, it does not and should not have any substantial effect in its significance or its being honored. Making the case for this on the basis of its having been mentioned in the Imam’s will, in fact not only does not add to its value and its importance, but only reduces it to the triviality of whatever goes in one’s will. Indeed, as is the case with the laws governing wills, they are always subject to more scrutiny and further objections of the beneficiaries. It is a disgrace for documents of such importance to be safeguarded in one’s will. Indeed, the Imam’s emissaries do not do him any favors, either, by turning him into such an irresponsible role model of statesmanship for those who want to follow his footsteps.

The novelty of Ayatollah Tavasoli’s speech was in Hasan Khomeini’s recurring dream of his grandfather’s appearance in them. However, the reformists, using their last arrow in their quiver, not only exposed their despair but somehow acknowledged their defeat as well. Judging from the front pages of the newspapers, even the reformists’ press, this news could not arouse any sensation among the people, or breathe any fresh breath into the lifeless body of the reformists. It was business as usual. Khamenehi went public in Azerbaijan, his native Azeri-speaking and zealous Muslim providence, to urge Azeris to vote. He harped on the necessity of participating in the elections. It is interesting that he abandoned the commonly-used term “religious duty” as well as the call for “splendid participation” which detracts from the solemnity of the act of participating in election, and does not have any alarming ring to it; instead, he used the uncommon term mojahedat, endeavor or fighting for Islamic principals. (The close relationship between the term mojahedat and jihad, holy war, was probably meant to send a double message to the people as well as to the reformists.) It seems that while our reformists have lost even their last arrow for nothing, the fundamentalists are ready to take over new equipments.

I can not believe that it happened so quickly and so easily, as if it had been rehearsed a hundred times. Reading the newspapers online these last several nights, the mute reaction of the public to all the recent events, the blunt answer of Keyhan (the spokesman of the Vali Faqih) to Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-pur’s speech in the memorial service held for late Ayatollah Tavasoli, and calling the content of his speech as lie and fabrication; more crying and complaining by the reformists; the already semi-retirement of Mehdi Karrubi and his wife (at least according to the state radio, TV and Press), and finally the last-minute agreement of the reformists to participate in the elections in spite of all the humiliation brought upon them, Sayyed Mohammad Khatami’s embarrassing speech which was uncharacteristic of his usual profound talks calling on the people to participate in the elections as “cheerful victims” to foil their plot (!), I feel that the parliamentary elections would not have a better fate than the last presidential elections. I feel that one more time we have to accept the humiliation of being defeated unfairly, once more we are defeated and crushed by a coup rather by a fair competition, once more those who appear to be with us are turned against us, once more our generals naively picked up fake and rusted weapons in a serious decisive battle. And once more our leader surrendered with a fake smile.

Hey Mssrs. Reformists, get real! It is our destiny you are compromising. It is time for alertness and awareness. It is not the time for exchanging niceties. It is not a good time to take a nap; didn't you learn that from the last presidential election? It is not the time for day dreaming either. I hope and I pray to God that the inventory of the Imam’s words and tales soon runs out, I hope he appears in everyone’s dream every night and instructs them and then finish with that as well. Then we would both feel free. He would feel free of us hanging to his shroud and will rest in peace, and we would be free, knowing that the legacy he left behind is not the windmills of Cervantes and we can’t fight with them like Don Quixote. Indeed what he left behind is monstrous and dangerous as hell. We need something more substantial to fall back upon, like a good constitution with plenty room for amendments.

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