Saturday, May 15, 2010

Can Friends Criticize the Islamic Republic?

In 1999, as the Vice President of Iran, I attended the official farewell ceremonies for Nelson Mandela who had decided to step down from the Presidency of South Africa. Among other programs in the agenda prepared for my visit, was a speech in a Mosque in Johannesburg . In that speech I referred to the reasons why the reformists had been elected. I mentioned that the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 brought along with it a wave of awakening among Muslim nations as well as a set of new standards for freedom fighters and activists as well as independent thinkers and scholars.  I noted that what happened in Iran became a manifestation of the  power of  religion in mobilizing and revitalizing the masses ,it became  a beacon of hope for downtrodden peoples in Palestine and other parts of the world hoping to restore their rights and gain freedom from oppression and occupation. As the Islamic Republic took shape and resisted pressures and fought sanctions and war, I said that the image of an Islamic democracy came to light and the great strides taken  by the Iranian people emerged amidst  thick clouds of  mis-perceptions and fallacies in the Western media. In the mean time, challenges and rifts among the original founders and supporters of the Revolution also emerged within Iran.
 During these years supporters and sympathizers of the Revolution in the world, grew in numbers and created many social and cultural institutions as part of the civil society they presided in. In this dimension, I noted, they have also closely followed the internal developments and trends  of the Islamic Republic. I then spoke about the internal challenges we face and the  philosophical , ethical and political reasons why we need an ongoing process of reform. I indicated how Imam Khomeini believed that the Revolution would be threatened not only by  foreign elements but also by backwardness, and deviation from the spiritual and ethical values. Therefore, we needed constant oversight by independent bodies  such as the Parliament, civil society, political and religious parties and media to  sort out the problems and prevent illegal action.
In the ensuing question and answer session a few among the audience criticized this approach and indicated that I should not have pointed to the internal challenges of the Islamic Republic. I responded that on the contrary, for those who believe and sympathize with Iran, it is crucial that they understand the pathology and the weaknesses.  I also mentioned that we should all learn from the mistakes, as we have been inspired  from the successes. However, I realized that for some like those in Iran, there is so much stigma attached to this issue that they cannot see things in a realistic and objective manner; that they are always  on the defensive.
After the controversial Presidential elections and tragic events last year, this approach has gained momentum in some analysis and writings of the external supporters of the Revolution . They put forward the argument that the Green Movement was instigated by Western forces and that there is no popular following for them . They also down play the tragic events and suppression of the voices of dissent that ensued.  I doubt that Muslim intellectuals living out of Iran would not have had access to uncensored news and footage about what has happened and is still continuing in Iran .

I also doubt that an objective critical analysis of these events would be to the detriment of the objectives of the Revolution. Denying that any challenge exists or blaming problems all on foreign interference will not serve to strengthen the Islamic democracy in Iran. Today more than ever, the Islamic Revolution would benefit from the objective criticisms of its supporters . As the Prophet SA has said : Your dearest brothers are those who gift you (inform you of ) your problems and shortcomings.

The question that remains is can we tolerate criticism ?

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