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August 17, 2006

Ganji's Assumptions
Guest Author: Cyrus Ferdowsi

Robin Wright recalls in a Washington Post article that

A year ago, President Bush issued a statement saying [...] "[Ganji's] valiant efforts should not go in vain. [...] Mr. Ganji, please know that as you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you."
In the same article, Ganji recalls
"I was in solitary confinement in prison and had no contact with anyone when Bush announced support for me." Interrogators, however, "talked to me as if I had had dinner with Bush the previous evening."
Wright adds that "Bush administration support is dangerous for Middle East democrats these days."

Wright, I guess, is doing what he is paid to do. Ganji, however, reveals here that the art of self-delusion is still alive in him. Is he suggesting that because the interrogators use Bush's support as evidence against Iranian liberals, Bush should stop supporting them? Can we not apply the same twisted logic for, say, the same liberals' belief in basic freedoms? These beliefs are used everyday as evidence by regime's interrogators and revolutionary courts that these people are "irreligious," "lackeys of the West," "traitors" and "symbols of corruption on Earth." These are actual charges brought against many who had merely dared to advocate freedoms of opinion in Iran, including Ganji himself. So, should we also stop believing and advocating our own freedoms because they are used as evidence against us?

It was only last year, when Ganji wrote in his Republican Manifesto

[The US] plan depends more on the behavior of the Iranian regime than it does on the conduct of the opposition forces. [..] [T]he only way out of a US-Iran face off is the establishment of a democratic system in Iran. [...]They believe a widespread democratic social movement can pre-empt an American military attack on Iran. With such a movement, a military attack will no longer be an issue. [...] Did Afghan Mujahedeen stop their fight and join the Taliban? Did Iraqi freedom fighters stop fighting Saddam and join his regime because America was going to attack Iraq? If they had done so, wouldn't they have been condemned by freedom lovers around the globe?

But now, he is doing exactly what he had advised against in his writings. He "scoffs at the $75 million that the Bush administration has allocated for programs to encourage Iran's democracy movement. He said the funds would be better used for Iranian- or Islamic-studies centers at American universities." But why? Why not spend that money in programs that promote international solidarity with the people of Iran in their struggle to attain their freedoms? What use are all those Iranian-studies programs if Iranians suffocate while being studied? By missing the chance to engage the world's superpower in a program of support for the Iranians' struggle for their freedoms, Ganji is now a good candidate to be condemned by freedom lovers around the world.

Interestingly, Ganji's own account shows his fallacy: even though he was in solitary confinement, the interrogators accused him anyway. This shows clearly that it is misguided to believe that Iranian liberals' actions, specifically their seeking help from the outside world, is what causes the regime to mistreat them. It is the ideas that they advocate, which go against the very existence of the tyrannical rule of the regime, not the real or imaginary support they receive from outside, that the regime fears and tries to eliminate. So, when the regime and its agents mistreat us anyway, why not encourage the free world, which can lend enormous resources to ourcause, to support our struggle for freedom?

Ganji had it right in prison! Only by encouraging the US officials to help the Iranian people can we avoid a bloody war before it becomes unavoidable by the conduct of the regime in Tehran. Ganji is wasting aunique opportunity, given to him for his acknowledged position in the eyes of the people of the world and their governments, and created byhis previous couragous and correct ideas and the efforts of those who spread those ideas by translating them, holding long vigils, signing petitions and making a noise for his and others' freedom, all around the world. Instead of spending time with Hollywood celebrities, he should meet with those who can actually make a differnece, through helpful laws that would bind any cooperation with the regime to its respect for human rights and its conduct towards its citizens. The effects of these lost opportunities can be already seen. Last year, Bush repeated the "we stand with you" language used earlier for Ganji in his 2006 State of the Union address. This is exactly what Iranian liberals need. Now instead, human rights are losing their place as an issue altogether in the language of veteran US politicians. This would be a fatal blow to the cause of freedom in Iran.

In his more philosophical thinkings, too, Ganji is slipping.

"I realized that repression is in the essence of revolution," he said, smiling. "And I realized that we cannot produce democracy with revolution."

He forgets that the longest standing democracy of the world was in fact created by a revoultion of the sort he thinks must be "repressive in essence." Not only that, it had to rid itself of slavery (the brazen face of repression) through a bloody civil war. Yet, the people of the US now enjoy the sort offreedoms Ganji is yearning for. The simple truth is, it is not revolutions per se that are repressive, but the ideas behind them. There is a link: repressive ideas seek their domination through revolutionary and violent methods, but the inverse (which Ganji states) is not true.

The truth is that Ganji is distancing himself from American officialsfor two reasons: one is that he fears, as he reveals in Wright'sarticle, harsher treatment for himself and his freinds by the regime.For not telling this straight out he is at least to blame fordishonesty. Second, and more importantly, he is against US policiesbecause he still carries with him, from his younger days, deep and untouched assumptions about the US, an ideological baggage against "US imperialism" and the sort, albeit in a lighter and modified version.

As a young man, he rallied behind Ayatollah Khomeini, served in the elite Revolutionary Guards at the same time as Iran's current hard-line president, then worked in the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, churning out its propaganda.
One is left wondering if those years had a permanent effect.

At this time it seems, unfortunately, that Ganji can only be trustedwhen he says, "We still don't have the emergence of a Gandhi, Havel or Mandela." Sadly, that is right. Gandhi, Havel, and Mandela never had a baggage of unattended assumptions, from their early days of supporting their later adversaries, affecting their thinking and actions years after they had nominally rejected them as false. Ganji, unfortunately, does.

Cyrus Ferdowsi was born and lived most of his life in Iran. As a child, he experienced the upheavals of the 1979 revolution and the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war. In school he felt the urge to resist the brainwashing of the religious state propaganda by reading alternative ideas, and by studying math. The latter has now turned into a profession. Cyrus's central issue has always been "freedom." The meaning of the word, however, had to be clarified by rational thinkers and rational thinking. He also writes at his personal weblog, Liberal Iranian.
Shabnam K at August 18, 2006 12:24 PM [permalink]:

It makes me sad to say this, but I have to say that you are right...

arthemis at August 18, 2006 12:57 PM [permalink]:

I had a go at Mr. Ganji myself a while ago, but he has improved since. Iran is such a closed country that it often takes a while for those who come outside to be able to get attuned to the thinking, particularly on issues such as democracy or human rights. I am still hopeful.

Omid at August 18, 2006 07:29 PM [permalink]:

Very interesting and thought provoking arguments. Thank you Mr. Ferdowsi for sharing them with us.

AIS at August 19, 2006 05:09 AM [permalink]:

Great post. I totally agree.
Arthemis, I'm afraid we'll be fooling ourselves this way. He is not a 2 year old child to be so influenced by his guardians.
For god's sake, he is supposed to be a journalist !
No he knows what he's doing and it ain't noble.

houran at August 21, 2006 02:34 PM [permalink]:

Mr. Ferdowsi, your arguments only work here if you:

1. assume "the world's superpower" is actually motivated by "the cause of freedom in Iran" and genuinely concerned for "the Iranians' struggle for their freedoms".
If you live in these great United States of America, you should know how self-serving our foreign policy has always been. So if that is recognized (and it should be), then why don't Iranians have a right to turn their back on ill-motivated "help and support?"... and I put those words in quotations cause it's arguable what help and support that really is!
I agree the outside support of Iranians' fight for freedom should be welcomed, but not blindly. Never blindly. All I'm saying is know what your "supporters" are ultimately seeking and if it smells funny, you may want to say no thanks.

2. assume that revolution brought about by foreign forces would be successful... at which point I ask you, when has that ever been the case? Even in your own examples of successful American revolutions, was there an outside government pushing American along to cause change? No, those revolutions (and I agree with you in their success) belonged only to the Americans.
America has played government maker countless times before, sometimes by outright overthrowing the existing government (I would even point to Iran in 1953 as an example) and sometimes by quieter, distant support, but either way I would be hard pressed to think of a time it worked! Any changes in Iran (or anywhere for that matter) belong to it's people first and foremost. You need a leader that recognizes what the people want and what's best for them. And that kind of concern really doesn't come from outside of your own borders.

Cyrus F. at August 21, 2006 06:01 PM [permalink]:

Dear Shabnam, arthemis, Omid and AIS, thanks!

Dear houran,

1. Which part of the argument? The argument that relates to the foreign policy of the free world does not start with the assumption that they *are* motivated by the cause of the freedom in Iran, but that they *should be*, even if they are not themselves, by Iranian liberals; and that this is the only way we can avoid a bloody war before it becomes unavoidable by the conduct of the regime in Tehran.

I cannot understand how the help and support for a free Iran can be ill-motivated. What do we have to lose?

2. The examples are numerous! Virtually in all cases a country made the transition from a tyrannical system to freedom you can see the trace of the support given by foreign forces in exactly the same way advocated in this article. Take a look at the Soviet bloc, which itself included dozens of nations. Or South Africa. Etcetera.

The 1953 Coup in Iran is in fact an example for the opposite effect. On every occasion the US actively supported a dictator for security purposes in the cold war era, the results show that the policy failed miserably. Saddam is an even fresher example.

Craig at August 28, 2006 02:29 PM [permalink]:


Bush administration support is dangerous for Middle East democrats these days

Who would those people be? It's hard to support pro-democracy movements that don't exist. Lebanon is run by criminals and cronies, posing as democrats, when Lebanon is in fact a proxy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And that is as good as democracy gets in the middle-east.

Honestly. I've been reading ME blogs from all over, inluding blogs by arabs who teach political science at major western universities, blogs by arab journalists working for western news organizations. There are no pro-democracy arabs.

There MAY be pro-democracy Iranians in some numbbers, but that's not entirely clear to me, and I've been reading a lot of Iranian blogs.

Take what support you can get, and be happy to have it. Or, don't. Entirely up to you. I wish you luck witha peaceful change of government in Iran, because the government is going to change, peaceful or not. And peace is better for everyone. There's no doubt in my mind on this issue, and there shouldn't be in anybody else's either. The US has never been more clear broadcasting it's intent to the world than it is right now with re: Iran.


assume that revolution brought about by foreign forces would be successful... at which point I ask you, when has that ever been the case?

Are you serious? Not a big fan of history, are you? :D

Rancher at October 20, 2006 10:34 AM [permalink]:

Regardless of the motivation of our foriegn policy, which should be self serving, the fact is that a free Iran is in our best interest. So we are genuinly concerned about Iranian freedom and it would be stupid for pro Demacracy forces to turn their back on $75 million.

Irani at November 1, 2007 04:18 PM [permalink]:

Ganji can never be for a democratic Iran, since he believes that the current regime can be reformed. Well, the current regime structure velayat e fagigh trumps peoples votes.
How can one support democracy and be for Velayat e Fagih? Wasn't the Velayat e Fagigh who was responsible for chain murders?