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June 26, 2005

A constructive approach despite the frustration
Guest Author: Sara Jabbari Farouji

SJ-election.jpg At 7:30 AM, Saturday morning, I get up. Still half asleep, the first thing that comes to my mind is to check the news for election. I am so nervous that I do not know where to look it up on the web. But as soon as the Yahoo web page loads, it's the first thing I see in the news section on the screen: "Hardline Mayor Wins Iran Presidential Race." The news is like a bump on my head. I feel desperate. What can I do? What can we do? In what follows I try to analyze what gave rise to this choice for the public, and propose a plan for moving on.

The result of the election is the reflection of the average level of political consciousness of Iran. It is not something we can change; however, we should think of ways for confronting the hard times in the forthcoming years in the history of Iran.

Ahmadinejad has been chosen with 62.2% of the votes. Although there might have been some violations at the polls, the votes cannot have been doubled in contrast to Hashemi's 35% share of the votes. Obviously the economic and cultural poverty has led to this disaster. In our community of friends, and all the reformists, we all decided to vote for Hashemi, even though it was hard for us and he had no positive legacy in our hearts. What about the public mindset? How much did we analyze the patterns of thinking of the public? What should we expect in a country where more than 70% of the people live below the poverty line or on the boundary, even though it has enough natural and human resources to have better living conditions? The main concern of the majority of people is to have the basics in their lives. How can they think about other issues such as social freedoms when they have to struggle for their living from early morning to late night? I do understand that the domestic and foreign and cultural policies are intimately entangled with the economical outcome, but expecting the public to have this insight is far from reality.

What have we done to illuminate the people’s minds? How can we talk to them in a convincing manner? They have their own frame of reference, their usual patterns of thinking are too intricate to beat, and even their terminology and line of reasoning is too different from ours.

I know it is not easy; there are all sorts of frictions inside the country. Advanced tools of communication like the internet are not available for the public. In spite of all this, some necessary steps must be taken towards the growth of our political insight. We should learn how to discuss and argue with people around us, from our neighbors to the friend who has the opposite opinion. The "Conversation of Civilizations" should arise from within our daily life.

To avoid such an historical incidence or at least to minimize the probability of its occurrence in the future, we must start from now on. In the first place, we should think of ways to tone down the consequences of such a hardline government as this and prevent strangulation in the society. I do not want to suggest anything hastily now. Finding a practical strategy requires exchange of opinions and political experience of all Iranian intellectuals and university graduates from all over the world. Perhaps little can be done, but there is no choice except to move on. We are bound to keep hoping otherwise we die.

In the second step, I think, there should be some systematic study on the sociological composition of the society. Having some statistics of thinking patterns of the people and their response to social events and excitement will help us to find the cultural knots and veins. This will provide us with the information about how to orient our activities in the direction of illuminating the people’s minds, hoping that the resulting cultural growth will reduce the chances of repeating such historical mistakes in the future.

Sara Jabbari Farouji is a PhD students in Physics at Amsterdam University. She received her M.Sc. from Sharif University of Technology. She would like to use this forum as an opportunity to share her feelings and opinions and exchange views on the outcome of the elections.
Comments
Mohammad Fakharzadeh at June 26, 2005 05:03 PM [permalink]:

Salam
Thanks for your article, however I think your approach to this problem does not not lead to a true conclusion. I think instead of illuminating people’s mind we should pray that an angel comes down and illuminates our mind. Still, we – self claimed intellectuals!- talk about “cultural poverty” and necessity of “a systematic study on the sociological composition of the society”, and to justify the 63% votes of Mr. Ahmadinejad we claim that “70% of the people live below the poverty line or on the boundary” which is definitely wrong. Believe it or not, we live in a religious society. People found Ahmadinejad more honest and loyal to their religion and also his goals. Let's give him a chance!

Shabnam at June 26, 2005 05:03 PM [permalink]:

Sara,

"Finding a practical strategy requires exchange of opinions and political experience of all Iranian intellectuals and university graduates from all over the world."
Asking intellectuals and university graduates from all over the world to find a practical strategy... MMMMMMM... I think somehow you are putting too much weight on university graduates and intellectuals. Isn't Ahmadi Nejad a university graduate? In fact I think he was actually a professor. Does that make him an intellectual, or someone you want to discuss this strategy with? This elitism of people who have somesort of university degree over the rest of the population may be one of the reasons why none of us understood the outcome. Why do you (we) seperate ourselves from "the people"? just because we have an extra year or two (or some power of two :)) of studies, which clearly didn't teach us much about the real world and its struggles, makes us so above other people who had to work to earn a living and couldn't afford to go to universities? What about our elders? Grandparents or great uncles or aunts? If they didn't go to university, they shouldn't be a part of our discussion? When will we stop being so proud of ourselves for a few years of university, and start to appreciate the role of experience and hard work? In fact I think we should give a rest to out "dear intellectuals" for a while and talk to people whom you don't seem to count as intellectuals.

SRay at June 26, 2005 06:56 PM [permalink]:

Thank you for the nice article. Even some internet-savvy Iranians I know have voted for Ahmedinejad, out of their frustration and anger against Hashemi, and due to their belief that Ahmedinejad will do more for the poor than Hashemi. This might be true, but it might come at the cost of basic civil liberties and personal freedom.

Afghanistan under Taliban comes to mind: people were so fed up in the early 1990s that they chose the extremist Taliban who they thought were austere and honest. History proved that such a choice is often wrong :(.

In any case, Iranians faced a really bad Hobson's choice. I hope everything goes on okk, despite this tragic result.

itchy_thoughts at June 26, 2005 10:57 PM [permalink]:

"What have we done to illuminate the people’s minds? How can we talk to them in a convincing manner?"

What underlies here is that "we" know better than people, so we should try to set them right. I don't feel right about this part. If we preach democracy, we should practice it by respecting "ordinary" people's opinion.

I agree with MF here.

BTW, are the EU elites still pondering why the Dutch voted no?

Babak S at June 27, 2005 12:02 AM [permalink]:

As pointed out by previous commenters on this post, the basic assumption of this writing is wrong; that, the people are somehow incapable of thinking and analyzing and understanding their situation, and that this is only possible for a specific elite section of the society (wrongly referred to by the author as "intellectuals and university graduates"). This "elitism" is inherently pessimistic and ultimately incapable of curing our ills.

In rejecting this view point it is not enough to "respect" people's opinion, but to go all the way and understand and accept the basic fact that all normal members of the human society meet the minimum requirements for understanding, analyzing and forming an intelligent opinion on matters of importance to them.

There's no denying the fact that people do make mistakes, that is, they may choose things that may lead to a worsening of their condidtions. This may be because they have not understood the consequences of their choices. This is inevitable in any human endeavor. Is there anything the so-called intellectuals can do?

Here's what I think is the more correct approach to take:

Intellectuals are, in my definition, "those who spend a considerable amount of their time thinking about the issues surrounding them." The key is right here. The "intellectuals" do think a lot, but just as the body of thinkers in any field of human interest, this thinking does not necessarily lead to correct answers. The most important thing to do is in fact right here: to improve our (everyone's not just "the people's") thinking. That would also include such meta subjects as thinking about the ways to reach others, and not just a fictitious entity called "the people". There are many elements already developed in the long history of thinking of the human species, from logical consistency to critical discussions, etc.

In short, I am suggesting to stop blaming "the people" and start to improve our (everyone's interested in this) thinking patterns.

Alborz at June 27, 2005 05:57 AM [permalink]:

another revolution might just be the answer, we tried to change the system peacefully, im not saying violence is the way, but might just work. though i worry of foreign interference, i see no good future for iran with this regime. The first thing iran should do is to find a leader, a person who can unite iranians into changing the system and the middle east, some one like Cyrus, ardashir, khosrow, abbas, zand, mossadeq, we need some one to unite iranians.

hanieh at June 27, 2005 07:27 AM [permalink]:

Alborz, I agree with you on the uniting part. But I personally think we are past the days when a nation unites behind one leader. More crucial is to first unite behind a common goal. Great leaders and great speakers will inevitably emerge afterwards. However, we need many great leaders working at different fronts in order to avert the possibility of a "national hero" , or "father of the revolution" , which can very well turn into another dictatorship of another form.

itchy_thoughts at June 27, 2005 09:17 AM [permalink]:

Babak S.

"In rejecting this view point it is not enough to 'respect' people's opinion, but to go all the way and understand and accept the basic fact that all normal members of the human society meet the minimum requirements for understanding, analyzing and forming an intelligent opinion on matters of importance to them."

On the contrary, it is enough to limit to respecting people's opinion. That's the basic of a vibrant democracy. The rest of stuff like anaylzing and blah blah are just nice to have if you want to remain an intellectual. It is only good for you and your personal curiosity. It doesn't do the scoiety or democracy any good.

Your comment would have been suitable if the question had been how to have better intellectuals, but I think the question is how to help Iranians (which I think is wrong) and how to have a better Iran (which is not through better intellectuals).

In a real democracy, why would I need to consider what moves other people? I cast my vote based on my personal opinions and self interests, and others do the same. But the key is that the loser should respect the winner and vice versa. That's all.


BTW, average guys, individually, may lead dull lives watching dumb TV programmings and stuff to you guys. Collectively, they may fall temporarily for politicians tricks. But in the long run, they are the ones who make better decisions.

Elites on the other hand aside from being arrogant --with a potential of being dictatorial (dee down they root for a philosopher king)-- are constantly proven wrong. Look back where is a philospher who is standing valid. Wherever philosphers' ideas were also implemented at some point ended up paying a hefty price to undo those implementations.

Real lasting changes come from the grass root.

SG at June 27, 2005 09:06 PM [permalink]:

I think democracy presumes a lot of things (some of which our society seems to lack) and one of these assumptions is that a good democracy is self-sustaining, that is to say it doesn't turn its back to democratic ideals: It is conceivable that people vote a to dictator who once in power put an end to democratic processes and practices such as elections.

The mere fact that human beings have the ability to think is not by itself sufficient to guarantee that they all deserve to be given the chance to choose their leader. I think people who live in a democracy, if that democracy isn't to turn to its own opposite, should have first reached a minimum level of political sophistication.

In other words, they shouldn't just have the ability to think, they should have actually put some thought into relevant issues. But of course if they're too busy having fun, or they just don't care, or they're too hungry and unemployed to have a sound judgement, then they can't be really trusted with their own fate!

itchy_thoughts at June 27, 2005 10:04 PM [permalink]:

Babak S

I told you in my previous comment that the intellectuals tend be arrogant in a degree that they perhaps tilt towards being dictators.

You popped out that tendency very early on by saying:
"... is not by itself sufficient to guarantee that they all deserve to be given the chance to choose their leader."

You use the word "derserve" for their rights? I make no comment on this one.

C'mon, man. All of this squabbling is because at the end of the day people get "busy having fun".

The problem is that you guys underestimate average people's intelligence. Nothing is more transparent --free from intellectualism's smudges-- than the judgement of an average family who is worried about the upbringing of their kids. The judgement of an unemployed or a hungry person is even more transparent since their problems are more real. They don't have time for nonesense --philosophizing and spinining.

Sorry for my combataive approach. But when people have entrenched positions, it is the best way to provoke thoughts to make them loosen up from the old ways.

Babak S at June 28, 2005 12:14 AM [permalink]:

itchy,

I do not disagree with the fact that many intellectuals are arrogant. Just a little confused though, you don't think I wrote those words you quote, do you?

I don't have the mental stamina to write any more right now, but just for the record: it is my understanding that you and I in fact agree on this issue and the difference is superficial. I disagree completely, however, with SG.

itchy_thoughts at June 28, 2005 07:54 AM [permalink]:

My bad, Babak. My previous comment should have been directed at SG.

Iran is a Joke at June 28, 2005 06:10 PM [permalink]:

Today I decided I would find out what these popular "blogs" are all about and as I read on I am disappointed. I am dumbfounded that the discourse revolves around who is more capable to vote the intellectual or the uneducated lower class. The Iranian clerics and pseudo-election seems to have accomplished its mission - make the world think we had a legitimate election and then have people debate its outcome. There is no explanation for ilegitimacy....You guys can talk for hours about the "election results" but where there was no democratic election - candidates were hand picked by the cleric elite (whether intellectual or not - they are the elite in Iran)and votes in the original election were also handpicked by the cleric elite. Instead of headlines sprayed with "Iran's Election Results" it should have been called "The Big Joke that is Iran." It is thus an utter waste of energy and empty words to regard this pseudo-election as worthy of argument. It was not a product of a class war, nor was it the victory of a humble peasant "advocate for the common folk" it was only one thing - a big joke. It was the personification of power of the clerical elite (educated or not) that carry out acts of domestic terrorism against their own people. Concerned only with maintaining power and defaming islam - their methods whether backed by their intellectual degrees or their "rough" upbringing are a reflection of a passion for power and to maintain their people in a perpetual state of poverty of freedom for all Iranians. The Iranian joke will continue, but not perpetually as no tyranical regime ever has. Khamenei may have claimed that his pseudo-election was "a slap in the face for America" but at the end of the day America does not have the fraction of the level of its population living below the poverty level as Khamenei's great Iranian joke does.

An Iranian Student (AIS) at June 28, 2005 06:20 PM [permalink]:

I agree that it was all a sham and those who advocated voting must be really really ahsmaed by now.
But the debate is not useless. It can help us understand many things, including the present condition of political power and their influences upon each other and the people better. This opportunity should be used.

Iran is a Joke at June 28, 2005 06:45 PM [permalink]:

I agree with you Iranian Student and believe in discourse and support discussions but lets talk about what really happened - not what they would like us to believe happened.

Rancher at June 29, 2005 05:57 PM [permalink]:
A few questions my friends if I may. Was the turnout enough that it represents the will of the people? What do you think was the turnout in the first election and the second? Do you trust the government’s reported 30 million turnout in the first election? Other bloggers report empty polling places. At Iran Hopes 2005 It is 10.30 am, Tehran time. I just came back from a short trip around my place in downtown Tehran. I visited a number of poll stations: one around Vali-Asr square which was fairly busy. Another one in Felestin Street (Kakh) was rather quiet, I was there for almost 30 minutes, but I saw only 6 people turned up to vote! At Regime Change Iran. Reza from Tehran: This is 10 am in northern part of Tehran. There is no body in the site and I hope officials would announce the number of voters truly. Hasan from Qom: IRIB (TV & RADIO) is just showing certain places where people go to vote. Most polls are empty here in our city. Amir from Kashmar (east of Iran): No body is around, especially in the morning. Sam from Tehran: I did vote to save my country from likes of Rafsanjani. I voted for Mr. Moin Mehdi from Shiraz: I have counted 10-12 people in this poll in our area. Most of them were forced to vote. Majid from Tehran: I voted for Imam Zaman to come and save us from the regime. Fardin from Switzerland: Regime thugs attacked those of us who were protesting against the regime in front of one of the polling stations. Mohsen from Moscow: Here, only embassy staff will vote. Ehsan from Mashad: There aren't many people voting today. Most polls are empty Farzad from West of Tehran: No body is at polls now in Shahrake Gharb. We voted once and we saw the outcome. That was enough Razaghpour from Central Tehran: Most people here are voting for Moin Ali from Velenjak north of Tehran: I check the local poll 3-4 times today and there were no body at the polls. This is not a true election. Mohamed from Tehran: IRIB is doing its best to get people out of their houses. The regime media cast lots of great music which were once banned to encourage people to vote. Hadi from Esfehan: Poll stations are not crowded here. All of us know this is regime's game. Shida from Tehran: I just voted to have an official seal in my ID card. I needed that. Artin a christian guy from Orumiya: The regime had to shut some polling stations down due to lack of people to vote. Aidin from AzarShahr: I made a mistake by voting today again. But I voted for Moin. I hope he is not going to be another "Khatami". I hope the regime doesn't interpret our votes as vote to the regime. Sahar From Tehran: We will not be fooled again. No body is voting here today. Ehsan from Shiraz: As an Iranian, I never vote for an Anti-Iranian regime Masoud from Tehran: Wherever IRIB (state run media) is present, polls are crowded. People would like to see themselves on TV. Hadi from Najaf Abad: Thanks to people, we have boycotted this illegitimate election Elham from Tehran: As far as I know, no body has voted here. Mehdi Dehgah from Yazd: People have voted very well here. Shahin from Tehran: IRIB shows previous election videos. Ebrahim from Tabriz: People have done well to boycotte this sham election Hamid from Canada: I have come back to Iran to see my family. It seems that the regime is begging people to vote. Mahnaz from Tehran: it is 11 am here and no body is around Ahmad from Ghom: I believe it is gonna be a run off between Moin and Rafsanjani Tara from ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
friend at June 30, 2005 04:59 PM [permalink]:

Salam,

I am fascinated with Iranian culture and people, I think it has an amazing history, however I don't find places where to meet Iranians online. Internet is the preferred mode at this point. I am from Spain and wish to make friends from Iran, so I may practive my rusty Farsi as well :-) . I would appreciate if anybody can give me links of forums, chats or other online places I can get to mee Iraninas, preferebly from Iran. Thank you!!

Khodahafez,

Friend

SG at July 6, 2005 04:36 PM [permalink]:

I agree and disagree with Babak S and itchy thoughts. I agree on what they say about arrogant Iranian "intellectuals" (I don't have a problem being called "arrogant", but I just can't stand the other charge, that is, being an intellpffrrrt) and how some think that by getting a stupid university degree they understand the social phenomena better than a mere manual laborer. Great is the number of doctors and professors I have met and they say in private parties things that Mr. Hakha would say on TV. Even those who more or less deserve to be called intellectual, showed how out of touch they are with the reality of Iranians' world. So here I agree.

I disagree however, that in the long run people make choices that will automatically benefit them. Do you deny the fact that a minimum of civil education is necessary for living under democratic conditions? Just as an example, the very fact that losers in an election should respect the choice of the majority requires a degree of maturity. After Bush won his second term, about half of the American voters were depressed, but this didn't lead to chaos. In Iran, however, although Ahmadinejad won a landslide, Khamenei feared (and rightly so, I believe) that there may be some violence on the streets and warned everybody to stay away from celebrations. So anyway, there's a lot of room for education of the Iranians, poor ordinary folks and arrogant stupid elites alike.