Monday, November 15, 2010

Iranian Philosopher Comments on Boycotting Philosophy Congress in Tehran

Translator’s Note: On November 10, the United Nations Educatioanl, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) cancelled plans to hold its annual Congress for World Philosophy Day in Tehran. The Iranian government now claims that it will hold the event without UNESCO sponsorship. This congress which was scheduled to be held on November 21 and 22, had been boycotted by a number of international philosophy scholars, including Jurgen Habermas. In addition, a group of Iranian philosophy scholars inside Iran and abroad had issued a Persian language “Call for Boycotting the Show Congress for World Philosophy in Tehran.” (http://news.gooya.com/politics/archives/2010/10/112308.php). Below are excerpts from an interview with Mohammad Reza Nikfar, an Iranian philosopher in Germany who was one of the signatories of this statement. This interview was conducted by Hossein Azarnoush of Radio Zamaneh on October 31, 2010. This translation was published by Tehran Bureau on November 14, 2010.


Philosophy Is Not a Police Officer or Interrogator: A Conversation between Hossein Azarnoush and Mohammad Reza Nikfar about the first Congress for World Philosophy Day in Iran

Source: http://zamaaneh.com/idea/2010/10/post_839.html
Translated by Frieda Afary


RZ: Dr. Nikfar, This year, the Congress for World Philosophy Day is being held in Iran for the first time. Three statements have been issued so far to protest the convening of this congress. Why are Iranian intellectuals and philosophy graduates opposed to holding the congress in Iran?

MN: Imagine if those who condemned Socrates to death, also established an academy of philosophy. Such an act would have been a bitter, satirical and shameful spectacle. That is the situation we face today. Those who have forced important thinkers out of Iran, those who have murdered, tortured and imprisoned many university students and professors, are holding a philosophy congress. Interestingly enough, the teaching of philosophy along with other fields in the humanities have been suspended at the universities. There is a strong effort to give philosophy an Islamic foundation.

What could be a greater affront to philosophy than a government’s effort to set the foundation, direction and framework for it and expect it to become the ideological police officer and interrogator of other fields of study?

Philosophy in our time is critical thought. Its role is to examine and evaluate the following: what we know, what is correct conduct, what is our human condition, how we articulate ourselves and our world, and what barriers stand in the way of socialization and dialogue…

Our first criticism is naturally directed at the power whose function is to suppress the truth. Philosophy questions everything. We are dealing with a regime whose leader claims that he is not accountable to the earthly world but to another place.

Philosophy as questioning stands in opposition to this regime. Philosophy is about doubt: doubting everything, including everything considered holy. This holy regime which ultimately tries to use torture in prison to force its holiness on the doubting mind, is the enemy of philosophy.

Philosophy is wonder about the work of the world. From this vantage point, the Iranian regime is interesting for philosophy. How can so much shamelessness, deception and self-righteousness become synthesized? This is an interesting philosophical question. There needs to be a congress to discuss this subject.

RZ: One of the central issues of the congress is Islamic philosophy. If, as you correctly point out, philosophy is based on doubt, and jurisprudence is based on servitude and obedience, can we speak of “Islamic philosophy” as a synthesis of these two? In principle, is it correct to use the expression “Islamic philosophy?”

MN: First, concerning the expression:

Islam is the name for an occurrence which once took place in Arabia. This event, along with the characters involved in it, can be and must be examined independent of its aftermath.

Islam is the name of a religion. A religion which for whatever reason represents a great mass of people, is something that transcends its original occurrence.

Finally, Islam is the name of a glorious culture or civilization which has been greatly influenced by that religion and the consequential events which have taken place in its name.

Islamic philosophy is a cultural occurrence and a cultural current which is Islamic in the third sense stated above. Its likes can be found in the world of Christianity and Judaism or in India.

A philosopher qua philosopher is not concerned with jurisprudence. Ibn Rushd [Averroes, 1126-1198 C.E.] had studied jurisprudence. However, his Imam and leader was not a jurisprudent who had founded a school of thought, but rather Aristotle. In a work entitled Fasl al-Maqal [On the Harmony of Religions and Philosophy] which he called the final word in the discussion on the relationship of religion to philosophy, he distinguished between the discourse of religion and the discourse of philosophy. The role of philosophy was rationalism, questioning and arguing. Religion, in contrast, was a discourse on the level of popular opinion.


The role of a philosopher who makes such a distinction is not to create a synthesis but to discern divisions. Ibn Rushd is the most discriminating philosopher of the world of Islam.

Another philosopher on a par with Ibn Rushd is Muhammad Ibn Zakariya al-Razi [865-925 C.E.] His works have been destroyed by the jurisprudents to prevent us from having access to them. He is not a Muslim philosopher. However, had his works survived, they would have been placed within the framework of Islamic Philosophy, which for the historian of philosophy, characterizes not a faith content but a period and a diverse culture.

The main accomplishment of Al-Farabi [872-950 C.E.] and Ibn Sina [Avicenna, 980-1037 C.E. ] was also not the creation of a synthesis. If a synthesis was created here and there, it was a synthesis of Greek philosophy with an understanding of God and creation and the relationship of God to the world and the subject of prophecy.

In any case for the Islamic philosophers, the issue was not jurisprudence per se. In fact, if that were the issue, and if they had theorized about this subject, perhaps we would have been better off.

If you read Ibn Sina’s The Cure, you will see that in many cases, whenever he articulated a view, he concluded with critiquing the views of others. But who were these others? They were Greek philosophers whom Aristotle had also critiqued. In works such as The Cure, Islam and the real theoretical currents of the environment in which the book was written, were not really present. Nevertheless, such a work can be recognized as a work from the world of Islam.

Islamic philosophy is the philosophy of an age which has come to an end. If we consider Ibn Rushd’s death (1198 CE) to be the foundation, we are eight centuries distant from it. In its totality, this philosophical current belongs in a museum. It is significant from the standpoint of cultural studies and not for the sake of its philosophical content.

In order to understand the philosophical content of medieval Islamic philosophy, one must study the new philosophy. Without Kant, we cannot extract much from Ibn Sina. . We will learn some expressions and classifications which will be of no use and with which we cannot know our current place in the world. However, with the aid of the new philosophy, we can find things here and there , which can appear attractive and relevant on the basis of a new interpretational background.

A living philosophy has to be relevant. We can no longer really relate intellectually to Aristotle’s Physics. His description of nature is important. However, the work as a whole is only useful for a historian of science. Aristotle’s Organon can still be read. However, more and better logical information can be gathered if we read newer books. The Metaphysics is interesting. The most interesting however are the Nicomachean Ethics and the Politics which are still directly relevant to our situation. For instance, you will not find a single important book in defense of democracy which has ignored Aristotle’s very thought-provoking critique of democracy.

We can find a set of relevant works and pieces among the writings of Islamic philosophers. For instance, the discussion of the nature of reason, or the relationship of body and soul in the works of Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd can be relevant to current debates. However, this subject is not something that the seminary of jurisprudence can tackle. . .

RZ: To what extent have you received support for the call to boycott the congress, of which you are a signatory.

MN: The response has been great. Friends who are in touch with Iran say that the statement has received support from university students in the field of philosophy and other fields of the humanities, as well as independent scholars. These friends say that they have received e-mail messages from many university students who have expressed an interest in signing the statement with their own names and profiles.

The statement has also received much support abroad, as far as I know. Most major media have covered it. Many Iranian students and professors have added their names to the list of original signatories. International professors are also aware of this call.

The Iranian regime knows that international guests are aware [of this boycott]. That is why the official site for the congress does not include the list of international speakers. For the first time in the history of the Congress of World Philosophy Day, the names of some of the guests have been withheld until the last moment. Such a gathering does not deserve to be called a “congress of philosophy.”

October 31, 2010

This translation was published by Tehran Bureau on November 14,2010.
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2010/11/iranian-philosopher-comments-on-boycotting-philosophy-congress-in-iran.html


Read more!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Where Did Iran’s Islamic Economy Come From and Where Did it Go?

Translator’s Note: Below are excerpts from an interview conducted with Dr. Sohrab Behdad. He is a professor of economics at Denison University, Ohio, and co-author with Farhad Nomani, of Class and Labor in Iran: Did the Revolution Matter? (Syracuse University Press, 2006). The interview was conducted in Persian by Reza Talebi and was published on the website of Radio Zamaneh (Amsterdam, Netherlands) on August 14 and 17, 2010. This translation was published by Tehran Bureau on October 23, 2010.

***************************************************************************
Where Did the Islamic Economy Come From and Where Did it Go?
Source:
http://zamaaneh.com/special/2010/08/post_1330.html
http://zamaaneh.com/special/2010/08/post_1334.html

Translated by Frieda Afary


RZ: What was the economic orientation of the [1979]Iranian Revolution, considering that slogans in defense of the oppressed were given at that stage? Was the Islamic economy, in the beginning of the revolution, more socialist or liberal?

SB: It would be better to examine this events by starting from the early 1970s. At that time, there was no talk of an Islamic economy or the “oppressed”. There was talk of toilers, workers, the rural population, the dispossessed and the urban slum dwellers who were formerly part of the rural population and had escaped the poverty of the countryside to face the misery of urban slums. There were mainly two theoretical standpoints for explaining the economic-social situation: Marxist perspectives and those of Shariati and his followers.

During these years, the “nationalists” were asleep and did not have much to say. After the revolution, most became “religious-nationalist,” first nationalist and then mostly religious.

Although there were differences among Marxists, they demanded some type of socialist revolution. Regardless of whether they saw the “main contradiction” as imperialism or capitalism, their theoretical direction was ultimately socialism.

The other main force however was constituted by Shariati and his theoretical followers. Shariati provided a theoretical and ideological framework for the religious intellectuals who were intimidated by the Marxist theories of Left intellectuals. This framework put religious intellectuals on par with their Marxist competitors.

While Marxists relied on historical materialism and the class struggle to explain historical developments, the followers of Shariati based themselves on Shariati’s philosophy of history. They believed that “on the basis of a scientific determinism, from the beginning of human existence, . . . there has been a dialectical contradiction. . . between two antagonistic and contradictory elements . . . which has been ubiquitous and has shaped history.” * This was the contradiction between the followers of Abel and the followers of Cain. “Cain, the property owner, killed Abel. From that point on, the system of private property emerged.” According to Shariati, this was the beginning of the liberation movement in the history of human civilization, a movement for the emancipation of the freeborn human from the yoke of property and property owners.
In Islamology, Shariati writes that “Abel has survived historically and is not dead” and the movement continues.


While Marxists ultimately aimed for establishing a proletarian state, the followers of Shariati aimed for a “monotheistic classless economy.” For Shariati, just as for Marxists, it was considered a given, that in the age of imperialism, capitalism could not be the pathway to overcoming misery and underdevelopment in underdeveloped countries.

RZ: Given this state of affairs, what was the economic orientation after the revolution?

SB: With such a set of ideas, Iran was moving in the direction of the 1979 Revolution
without being aware of it. The dominant theories, Marxist and Islamic (Shariati) were both radical and leftist. Both Marxists and the followers of Shariati aimed at overthrowing capitalism. With the rise of the revolutionary movement, opposition to “dependent capitalism” became the dominant theme of the slogans and demands of the revolution. If you examine the leaflets from the months of January and February of 1979, and the speeches given during the first two years after the revolution, you will see that all, whether Left or non-Left, Marxist or Islamic, followers of Shariati or otherwise, (with the exception of the nationalists) were aimed at overthrowing “dependent capitalism.” The common slogan for all was “Down with the dependent capitalist.”

All political groups were determined to free Iran from the influence of imperialism and the evils of “leech-natured capitalists,” who were considered to be the main enemies of the people and the revolution. Therefore, there is no doubt that in the beginning of the revolution, the general economic plan was the negation of capitalism with a type of indeterminate socialist direction . . .

The Islamic Republic had neither a clear understanding of how to combat imperialism-- other than to rant and make faces at it--nor an alternative to capitalism. There were slogans about nationalization, confiscation, forming councils and expropriating agricultural land, urban houses and locations.

RZ: Were these actions planned?

SB: These were all spontaneous actions that were proposed and executed in the heat of the revolution. Some of these actions were inevitable. Factories whose owners had left them with heavy debts and empty warehouses, banks which had given their cash reserves as booty to capitalists and heads of the regime, were all left bankrupt and ownerless.

The government “nationalized” them and took them over. On the other hand, formal and informal confiscations were taking place throughout Iran. In the meantime, some landless peasants came to own land, slum dwellers of Zoorabads [“squatters’ ghettos”] outside city limits built huts made of brick without permits and received water and electricity, and became Islamshahrs [Cities of Islam].

It was clear that rival groups inside and outside the government who were competing to prove their revolutionary appearance were determined not to be outdone in terms of expropriations, confiscations and redistribution. When the revolutionary dust settled, it became clear that in those passionate days of revolution, there were those who were not combating either capitalism or imperialism. They were only after collecting and seizing choice property (booty).

The following were the two sides of the economic formation that appeared:

On one side there were the “oppressed” who continued to earn their daily bread through a piece of land in the countryside or as workers in the city or the countryside. In the meantime, the size of the army of the unemployed increased. Factories which were left idle and without raw materials and ownerless could not maintain their own workers, much less employ youth who had just entered the job market. These new entrants in the job market and those who had become unemployed turned to “freelancing,” i.e. anything from transporting people in exchange for a fee, to driving trucks or running small stands and street vending. Under these circumstances, the number of those in the working class decreased and the army of street vendors and illegal cabbies increased. In addition, many very small enterprises were established in which no more than one or two people worked.

On the other side, the booty had landed in the hands of a few very large enterprises (most important of all the foundations) which took over the largest economic firms. These giant oligopolies had not only economic power but also political power, since they were part of the government, and unlike other departments of the government, were not accountable.

Farhad Nomani and I have examined these issues in detail in the book, Class and Labor in Iran.

RZ: So there was no economic policy in effect?

SB: Up until then, meaning the first one or two years after the revolution, there was no economic policy in effect. There was a scuffle over determining the economic direction. There was nothing but what was written in the constitution. . . . Populist views with mass appeal were offered, such as aid for creating cooperatives to hire unemployed high school graduates. But there was no general policy. Under these circumstances, production was declining, and the economic situation was worsening.

Once the [Iran-Iraq] War [1980-1988] began and the economic sanctions went into effect, the Islamic Republic adopted a dual policy. On the one hand, the state sought to guarantee property rights, restart the economy and increase production. On the other hand, it sought to increase subsidies, ration and distribute staple commodities, ration raw materials and foreign currency, and control prices. These measures prevented the per capita consumption from dropping down as much as the decline of the gross national product. This is a policy that governments follow as much as possible in order to prevent increasing dissatisfaction with the burden of war, high prices and shortage of commodities. This dual policy was followed throughout the incumbency of Mir-Hossein Mousavi as prime minister [October 1981-August 1989].

These quotas and rations provided a great advantage for those close to the political establishment. They were able to acquire huge sums through rent-seeking activities. If collecting booty in large para-governmental enterprises was the first stage of the “primitive accumulation” of capital in the post-revolutionary economic crisis, then, rent- seeking and the acquisition of special privileges were the next stage. In this way the two massive economic poles of Iran reshaped themselves after the revolution, albeit more massively than the previous era.

The giant monstrosity of the oligopolies favored by the government cast its shadow on the landscape of Iran’s broken down economy, an economy which had several hundred thousand very small economic enterprises, each of which had less than two employees on the average.

RZ: Is the above compatible with “Islmaic economics?” It has been said that the economic theory of the post-revolutionary era was “Islamic economics.” Please explain when this theory arrived on the scene, where it came from, what it achieved and what its fate was.

SB: Islamic economics was a new discourse which entered Iran around the time of the 1979 Revolution. However, the discussion of Islamic economics had started in the early twentieth century in India and by Muslims. With the victory of the Indian independence movement in 1947 which led to the partition of India and the formation of Pakistan as a Muslim state, the discussion of Islamic economics gained prominence.

In the 1940s and 1950s, there were heated debates about Islamic economics and its particulars. One of its most important theorists was Abu Ala Maududi, the founder of Pakistan’s Jamaat-e Islami. In 1941, prior to the creation of Pakistan, Maududi had presented his views on Islamic economics in a famous speech.

Maududi had a very conservative view concerning the economic system. While he rejected capitalist and socialist systems, he uncritically accepted all the foundations and relations of capitalism, and even landlordism (Zamindari). However, there were others like Muhammad Iqbal, the prominent poet, or Khalifa Abdul Hakim, who demanded egalitarian social revolution, from an Islamic standpoint.

In the 1940s and 1950s this discussion spread to Egypt and to a limited extent to Iraq, Malaysia and Indonesia. However, in Iran, there was no talk of Islamic economics until the climactic days of the revolutionary movement. Aside from issues related to the revolution, this subject is worthy of attention from an epistemological perspective . . .

It is remarkable that Islamic intellectuals in Iran were ignorant of the discussions of Islamic economics which were taking place in a neighboring country with an Islamic state. Even if they did know about this discussion, they did not attempt to present the discourse on Islamic economics. And if they did, they were not successful in extending that discourse to Islamist circles. The Islamists were attending Shariati’s sermons in droves and were hearing about Fanon and Marx. Shariati never spoke of Islamic economics.

In Iran, before the revolution, we did not have an Islamic economy or Islamic economists. . . Examine the Islamic publications in Iran before the revolution, to see if you will find even one that contains an article about the convening of the first international conference [on Islamic economics] in Mecca in 1976. One can ask why the theological seminaries [of Qum] and the Islamists had no relation to issues raised about Islamic economics in the Islamic world.

The point is that in Iran, the revolution came first, became Islamic, and then brought about an Islamic economy which had very little to do with the Islamic world. The discourse on an Islamic economy began with Bani Sadr’s discussions and the publication of the book, Iqtisad-e Tawhidi [Monotheistic Economics] only a few weeks before the victory of the revolution in February 1979. From that point on began the debates and arguments among the Islamists.

RZ: The book, Iqtisad-e Ma [Our Economics] was published before the revolution, wasn’t it?

SB: Yes, you are right. Iqtisad-e Ma which examines the school of economics in Islam, is the translation of Iqtisaduna by Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr, an Iraqi theologian. It was published in Arabic in 1961. Its Persian translation was published in two volumes. The first volume, translated by Mohammad Kazem Mousavi Bojnurdi was published in 1972 by the Islamic Press. The second volume, translated by Abdul Ali Espahbodi was published by the same publisher in 1979. However, previously, Islam and Property by Seyed Mahmud Taleqani was published in 1965.

Elsewhere, I have examined the economic theories of these two books in great detail. Here, I will suffice it to say that prior to the revolution, these two books had not been successful in starting a discourse on Islamic economics.

The intellectual milieu before the revolution was such that Marxists aimed for socialism. The supporters of Shariati saw themselves on the pathway to achieving the classless monotheistic society.

Taleqani and Sadr expected very little of Islamic economics, so much so that in a footnote, [Bojnurdi]the translator of the first volume of Iqtisad-e Ma, took issue with Sadr for defending capitalism. Bojnurdi wrote: “It needs to be pointed out that we do not approve of the views of the author which implicitly defend capitalism (and surely he did not mean to do so)”.(p. 244) On another page, this very same translator added the following in a footnote: : “Capitalist property is illegitimate. The means of production which capitalists have gained by pillaging, robbing and exploiting the people, belong to the real producers. It seems that the author has erred in considering that a commonality of views about private property exists between the anti-human capitalist system and the just system of Islamic economics. . . “(p. 235)

These notes by the translator reveal the ideological orientation of the time, and explain why those who opposed the regime did not favor these books and their Islamic economics. It was only after the revolution that these two books, and specifically, Iqtisad-e Ma gained fame. . .

RZ: What finally happened to the Islamic economy?

SB: During the first few years of the revolution, one or two other works on Islamic economics were published. The most important was Conceptions of Property, Capital and Labor from the Standpoint of Islam, written by Habibollah Peyman. It was published around 1979. (The date of publication is not stated in the copy that I have). Peyman relied on Islamic epistemology and jurisprudence to argue that, based on the principle of ownership by God, the separation of workers from the means of production, a separation which is the basis of capitalism, is not permissible in Islam. (I do not know if Peyman still believes in these views). Therefore, all the natural resources should be under the control of the workers in order for them to benefit from their creative labor power.

Furthermore, Peyman argued that the means of production represented the achievements of human civilization, and no one had the right to monopolize them. Thus, Peyman considered the accumulation of capital to be un-Islamic, and rejected it. The conclusion of Peyman’s argument was that all should have the right to use the means of production and utilize natural resources. In that way, no one would have to sell his or her labor power, and the condition for the exploitation of the worker by the capitalist would not be created. Peyman next reached the following important conclusion: In modern society, which has large industrial and trade enterprises, those enterprises should be held as cooperatives under the ownership of the people.

Peyman’s critique of capitalism, and the plan which he proposed for the ideal Islamic society, was attractive to the religious youth who felt estranged from secular tendencies. Peyman’s interpretation of the Islamic economy was a religious manifestation of an intellectual current which had taken shape years before the revolution and which Shariati had sought to link with Islam. . .

The above views as a whole represented the dominant thought of the time of the formation of the Islamic Republic. The constitution was also written and ratified on the basis of this trend.

However, this was not the only Islamic theoretical framework in Iranian society. The method of thought and interpretation of Islam which called for the establishment of the rule of the oppressed, faced severe opposition from the owners of capital (bazaris) and prominent theologians of the time. . .

The confrontation began over legislation for urban land distribution and continued in some important ways with agricultural land distribution (Peasants had considered that confirmed and had expropriated and distributed the land prior to any discussions in the legislature), the nationalization of foreign trade, and labor laws. One after the other, legislation ratified by the parliament was being rejected by the Council of Guardians.

At this point, legislation for land distribution was temporarily ratified on a much smaller scale than was originally proposed. After a few years of quarreling between the parliament and the Council of Guardians over the Labor Law, the Council for Expediency was created. This council ultimately ratified the Labor Law. The real argument was over the extent and limits of private property rights.

The ideological and political direction of the revolution called for rejecting large property ownership and limiting rights to property and capital. However, the confrontation on this question took place within the framework of Islamic jurisprudence which approves of private property and respects its boundaries despite all the arguments about “ownership by God.” On this basis, return on capital (profit) is also acceptable, just like murahaba (an accepted method of financing a debt in Islamic Shari’a) and muzaraba (partnership between labor and the owner of capital). Therefore, from the standpoint of jurisprudence, land distribution legislation (legitimate expropriation) or imposition of limits on the rights of capital in labor contracts (the Labor Law) could not be acceptable.

In the Fall of 1985, “The Office of Cooperation Between the Theological Seminary and the University” headed by Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, at the Qum Theological Seminary, published the results of its jurisprudential research concerning Islamic economics, under the title, An Introduction to Islamic Economics. According to this interpretation, Islamic economics does not necessarily aim at providing social equilibrium and preventing the concentration of wealth. Rather, like neo-classical economics, it examines the trade-off between economic growth and social justice, and considers the former preferable to the latter.

Based on the views of the scholars of the Qum Theological Seminary, the profit motive was justified and compatible with Islamic Sharia Law. The outcome of the free market was also considered logical and fair. This point of view in fact did not distinguish between neo-classical economics in its pure form (such as that of Milton Friedman) and Islamic economics. From this point of view, economics was economics. It could not be considered Islamic or non-Islamic. It was the cultural-political system that was Islamic!

With the intensification of the war [Iran-Iraq War, 1980-1988], and its rising cost, the intensification of the economic embargo, and most importantly the decline in the price of oil in the world market from around $30 per barrel in 1979 to less than $6 per barrel in 1987, maintaining the status quo became increasingly difficult. The foreign exchange reserves from the beginning of the revolution had been used up. As Hashami Rafsanjani revealed years later in a Friday sermon, the country’s foreign debt had reached billions of dollars. Up to that point, the economic policy of the Islamic Republic mainly consisted of providing for the cost of the war and preventing a massive decline in public consumption through the system of rationing.

As the gravity of the situation increased, the rations decreased and the lines increased. At the same time, the number of martyrs from the war increased daily. The open market for commodities and raw materials gouged people. Of course it created a large profit for its perpetrators. There was little stamina left for continuing the war and little possibility for finding the utopia of Islamic economics. By 1989 when the war had ended, the project to establish an Islamic economy was for all intents and purposes considered closed, and there was no longer any talk of the rule of the oppressed. . .

*See “A Disputed Utopia: Islamic Economics in Revolutionary Iran,” by Sohrab Behdad. Comparative Studies in Society and History: An International Quarterly. Vol. 36, no. 4 (October 1994).

This translation was published by Tehran Bureau on October 23, 2010
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2010/10/where-did-irans-islamic-economy-come-from-and-where-did-it-go.html




Read more!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Letter from Iranian Political Prisoners to Brazilian President Lula da Silva

Translator’s Note: Five Iranian political prisoners including Mansour Osanloo, the leader of the Tehran Bus Workers Union and Isa Saharkhiz, a reformist journalist have called on president Lula da Silva to exert pressure on the Iranian government to release all political prisoners. Although a translated version of this letter has been published on the Internet, its substance strays in several respects from the original. I am providing my own translation for the sake of accuracy.

************************************************************************
Letter from Iranian Political Prisoners to President Lula da Silva
Source: http://www.akhbar-rooz.com/news.jsp?essayId=31779
Translated by Frieda Afary


Honorable President Da Silva:

We the signatories and endorsers of this letter know that you have traversed a difficult road to democracy -- from the grassroots level of union struggles to the level of the nationwide Brazilian workers' federations and the arena of global politics -- with the support of the votes of the democratic and freedom-loving people of Brazil.

As a group of union and syndicate activists, political activists, and activists promoting various creeds, we have been incarcerated in the prisons of the Islamic Republic solely for having performed our union and professional duties and for our votes and opinions.

We are aware that you have defended the rights of an Iranian woman and mother [Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, sentenced to death, originally by stoning] and were even prepared to offer her asylum. Having witnessed your humanitarian attitude, we were compelled to ask of you the following: In order to become better acquainted with the Iranian authorities who present themselves as your friends, ask them to take measures to observe our human rights and freedom. Although their attitude and response to [the demand] for the release of the aforementioned woman already gives you and the world a flavor of what these gentlemen consider to be respect for human rights.

Your Excellency Da Silva, as a part of the labor-intellectual representatives of various unions and professions, we ask the following of you, a member of various labor unions and federations and one of the leaders of the major nations of the world, and specifically of Latin America with its famed record of seeking freedom and justice. Ask the Iranian authorities who present themselves as your friends to free all union, labor, and political prisoners and prisoners promoting various creeds. By making such a friendly demand, you will gain a better understanding of these authorities.

In conclusion, we send you and the people of Brazil our best wishes for further success.

Long live the international solidarity of toilers and freedom fighters.

Mansour Osanloo
Heshmatollah Tabarzadi
Rasoul Bodaghi
Reza Rafie
Isa Saharkhiz

August 23, 2010
This translation was originally published by Tehran Bureau
http://to.pbs.org/aUGnw5





Read more!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Appeals to Iran’s Hunger Strikers

Translator’s Note: For the past two weeks, 17 political prisoners in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison have been on a hunger strike to protest constant abuse, solitary confinement, lack of phone call rights and family visits, lack of access to medical care, books and newspapers. So far, only one hunger striker, photojournalist Babak Bordbar has been released. The remaining hunger strikers include student activist Majid Tavakoli and young human rights activist Koohyar Goodarzi. In addition to protests by the families of these prisoners, a group of political prisoners including Mansour Ossanloo of the Tehran Bus Workers Union and Issa Saharkhiz, a reformist journalist have issued an open letter to urge the strikers to end their hunger strike. The letter states: “the democracy-seeking Green Movement needs capable forces and prolific youth like you to build a free Iran.” The “Green Convergence of the Women’s Movement of Iran,” has urged the strikers to end their strike in order to “achieve their ideals in full health.” Reformist leaders, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have also expressed their support for the demands of the hunger strikers and have urged them to end their strike. Below are excerpts from an appeal by a young woman political prisoner at Evin prison. Her letter was originally published by the Rahana News Agency.


**************************************************************************
Let Us Not Give Up Our Only Right by Choice
by Mahdiyeh Golroo
Source: http://www.rhairan.us/archives/21681
Translated by Frieda Afary

. . . What can I say about those who refuse to tolerate a cesspool-like existence? Indifference is not part of their creed. This is the story of those who are tired of panegyrics, slander, superficial kindness, eloquent feasts, stereotypical happiness, pretensions of boldness, threadbare eloquence, equality without justice, frugality bursting with prodigality, and flamboyant ignorance.

. . . Now, although I am only a few steps away from them [hunger strikers], I am the most distant and the least informed. I know these loved ones have no energy to walk, talk or listen. They are suffering somewhere near me behind these same bars. But they are patiently resisting, without cries of pain or beseeching.

. . . My only hope is for you to remain healthy. My only wish is that you respect our only right by choice, that is to remain alive. Remain alive and see the bright days that are ahead and are impatiently awaiting the results of our efforts.

. . . During these not so distant years, so many prisoners in Evin prison’s cells have given up their lives for their goal. But how long shall we adorn the whip handles of dictatorships and executioners? Foresight is the responsibility of those who are wise.

To live is to do miracles
Otherwise birth is nothing but the memory of a fruitless pain
Let us not simply cover our noses
This harmful stench is not the world
It is an infection, an injustice

Mahdiyeh Golroo
Women’s Section of Evin Prison
August 3, 2010


This translation was originally published by Tehran Bureau on August 9, 2010
http://to.pbs.org/aRsymY


Read more!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Green Movement and the Working Class

Translator's Note: Sohrab Behdad is the coauthor with Farhad Nomani of Class and Labor in Iran: Did the Revolution Matter? (Syracuse University Press, 2006). Below is the translation of an interview with him conducted by Ms. Mahindokht Mesbah of the Persian Language Deutsche Welle Radio on June 16, 2010. This translation was published by Tehran Bureau(http://to.pbs.org/bxvLSd)on July 11,2010.*

**************************************************************************
The Green Movement and its Claim to Transcend Class
Source: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,5685730,00.html
Translated by Frieda Afary


Deutsche Welle: The subject of our interview is the place of the working class in the Iranian protest movement known as the Green Movement. It seems that workers and laborers have not participated in the protests of the past year, at least not under their own independent banner. It seems that they have been potential, but not actual, participants in the movement. Do you concur with this view?

Sohrab Behdad: To some extent. However, one has to ask how workers can be discerned among the ranks of the protestors. It seems that the distinguishing marks being applied are obsolete. We have to acknowledge that the image of the Iranian working class is no longer the traditional one. Many are educated and young. Their attire and demeanor are no different from those of the middle class. The traditional image of a worker is that of a person who wears a greasy outfit and has a gaunt face.

Another issue is the lack of labor slogans within the Green Movement. The reason for this lack is that the protests have revolved around the right to vote, elections, human rights, and freedom. It is not true that workers have not participated in these spontaneous movements.

The next issue is that working class demands do not have the possibility of being directly manifested in the society. On the one hand, the present political situation has limited workers through suppressing their organizations. On the other hand, the leaders of the Green Movement have not yet expressed a strong interest in raising their issues.

The very fact that the question has been raised and is being asked by you reveals the fact of workers' presence in the movement. It is not true that there has been a lack of participation by workers per se. However, it is clear that labor issues have not found an organic expression in the slogans of the Green Movement.

DW: Some say that the labor movement in Iran has always been secular and that it has not joined the Green Movement because the Green Movement's leading figures are straddling the fence between religion and secularism.

SB: This is not true. The Green Movement is essentially secular. The issue is that Iranian society is in search of democracy and social justice. However the movement has not gone beyond the democracy-seeking stage so far. Its leadership has paid less attention to the question of social justice.

DW: Do you think the continuation of the Green Movement will enable it to represent labor issues after it has passed through the current political demands?

SB: That is inevitable. The Green Movement cannot succeed unless it raises social justice demands, which include workers' demands at the center. During the Khatami era, Reformists failed because they did not take the demand for social justice seriously, and did not make efforts to organize social forces. When there were disturbances in Islamshahr [a working-class city near Tehran], Reformist newspapers paid them no attention. Reformists better have learned from these experiences.

DW: You referred to the reform period. Some labor representatives say that the disappointment of workers with the eight years of reform has made them indifferent to the comings and goings of this or that [leader], and that the workers do not wish to pay a heavy price without getting results.

SB: I question the identity of these representatives and the validity of their statements. On May 1 this year, ten workers' organizations issued a statement. In addition to specific labor demands, they demanded the abolition of the death penalty and the abolition of discriminatory laws against women. These are the slogans of the Green Movement.

DW: I'm glad that you mentioned slogans that go beyond class. Some say that the Green Movement does not have a class origin, and hence it is incorrect for it to raise the demands of this or that sector or class.

SB: This statement can be simultaneously correct and demagogical. To speak of going beyond class is like saying "hameh ba ham" ["All together!" -- a slogan of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's ]. It signifies doing away with the demand for social justice. It violates social justice.

DW: Another view is that the income gap and the economic and social status gap between the middle class and workers is narrowing on a daily basis, and that a kind of proletarianization is evident in this [middle] class.

SB: Precisely! This has taken place in Iranian society during the past 30 years. This very issue reveals that social justice is also very important to the middle class. Iranian office workers are in fact laborers who have become white collar. The issue of social justice is very important to them as well. That is why it needs to be addressed.

For the Green Movement to say that it is opposed to corruption will not bring about the realization of social justice. Throughout the world, corruption exists and punishment for it also exists. The movement has to raise specific demands that are relevant to changing the living and working conditions of the laborers.

DW: Many also say that if workers join the movement and a general strike takes place, the movement will be complete. How objective is this view, which takes its example from the last months of the Pahlavi regime? After 30 years of repression and the use of force, do the proper context and means for a general strike by workers exist in our society?

SB: A large portion of Iran's workers work for the government, the Pasdaran [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps], and the foundations. In Mr. Karroubi's words, we cannot speak of freedom for workers in a society in which the employers are the Pasdaran. We need to speak in terms of the existing reality in Iran. At this time, the possibility and context [for a general strike] do not exist for the working class.

What we need to realize is that if the current economic situation worsens, and the "plan for targeted monetary subsidies" is enforced, the buying power of millions will decrease. This will have repercussions.

DW: Is it possible to predict what will happen? If the situation worsens, will there be wider protests with a stronger message from the people?

SB: The social dynamic cannot be predicted so easily. In the above case, protests will certainly increase. There will be greater dissatisfaction. However, it will not necessarily lead to violence and riots. We cannot predict the form that the dissatisfaction and protest will take. The form of social protests depends on the character of organizations, concerted actions, and the maturity of the leaders and representatives of the social currents.

* For another important analysis of the Green Movement and Iranian labor struggles, see "The Green Movement Awaits an Invisible Hand" by Dr. Mohammad Maljoo (http://www.merip.org/mero/mero062610.html). An earlier interview with Sohrab Behdad concerning his book Class and Labor in Iran can be found at http://iranianvoicesintranslation.blogspot.com/2010/02/class-and-labor-in-iran-interview-with.html

Read more!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Message from Five Independent Iranian Labor Unions

Five independent Iranian labor unions sent a message of solidarity to the second World Congress of the International Trade Union Confederation held in Vancouver BC, Canada from June 21 to June 25, 2010. The message describes the Iranian government's relentless attacks on independent labor union leaders and activists. The text of the message is being reprinted from Iran Labor Report.



**********************************************************************
Message of Solidarity to the General Assembly of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
Source: http://iranlaborreport.com/?p=952
Persian source: http://www.iran-chabar.de/article.jsp?essayId=30528
Translator Unknown


We send plentiful greetings to our friends and colleagues participating in the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Assembly. Friends, we are extremely distressed that no representative of the Iranian labour movement is present among you to demonstrate the solidarity of Iranian workers with your General Assembly, and to inform you of the day-to-day issues of today’s Iranian labour movement. Nevertheless, know that despite the distance between us, we see ourselves by your side and wish for a most productive and victorious week for you and for the global labour movement.

Comrades and colleagues, for nearly a decade now, you have come to our aid with your strong support, and have been intimately involved in our problems and struggles. We nevertheless wish to inform you that the Iranian labour movement is enduring one of its darkest times ever.

Throughout its lifespan, the Iranian government has not only completely disregarded its commitments to international labour conventions and basic workers rights, but in light of the political situation in Iran during the past year, the government has paved the way for fiercely attacking even the most basic workers rights, and to strike against the few existing Iranian labor organizations with ever increasing intensity.

Our colleagues Mr. Saeed Torabian and Mr. Reza Shahabi were captured at home and at their workplace, in front of their families, in broad daylight and without presentation of any warrants, on completely fallacious charges. It has been two weeks that their families and colleagues have absolutely no information about their fate or condition. Also within the past two weeks, two other labor activists, Mr. Alireza Akhavan and Mr. Behnam Ibrahim, were captured and transported to an unknown location. Messrs. Mansour Osanloo and Ibrahim Madadi have spent the last three years in prison because they organized a labour union. Not only have they had no respite or liberty throughout these past three years, but they have also been denied medical attention while being detained in the most dangerous and deplorable prisons.

Members of the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Factory Syndicate have not only been thrown in prison for labour related activity, but have also been fired from their jobs. The execution of Mr. Farzad Kamangar, and the other baseless detainments, sentences of prison time and whip lashing for the very few Iranian labour union activists, has created extremely troublesome conditions for them, and for any potential basic labour union activities. Not only educators themselves, but their relatives and loved ones have suffered as a result of these problems. Many of them are in prison or on their way to prison.

Friends and colleagues, this year we witnessed in the ILO’s annual meeting that Iran’s government was not only not reproached more than previous years, but actually received a “bonus” by being removed from the ILO violators list. We know very well that you make every possible effort at your disposal to see that the Iranian labour movement is not sacrificed to governmental political and economic turbulence [Persian expression used here is "zad va band" which can be translated as conspiratorial deals--FA]

We hereby recognize your current efforts in support of the Iranian labour movement with utmost gratitude, but respectfully request and expect that you continue your support with redoubled intensity and effort. We wish for you to take greater steps towards driving back the horrendous conditions imposed upon Iranian workers.

To obtain their basic rights, workers have no other recourse but the expression of class solidarity. More so than ever before, we reaffirm our reliance on international workers solidarity. We hereby shake your hand in concordance, and send our warmest regards and our greatest solidarity to you.

Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Vahed)
Syndicate of Workers of Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Company
Union of Free Workers of Iran
Committee for Re-Certification of the Mechanics and Steelworkers Syndicate
Association of Electrical and Steel Workers Kermanshah


Read more!

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Kurds and the Green Movement

Translator’s note: On May 9, five political prisoners were executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Four of these prisoners were Kurds, including the young teacher, poet and writer, Farzad Kamangar, and a young woman, Shirin Alamhouli. Following these executions, a general strike took place in Iranian Kurdistan on May 13. Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and many activists of the Green Movement also condemned the executions. Three months prior to the May 9 executions, Abdullah Mohtadi, secretary general of the Kurdish Komala Party, had issued a statement aimed at forging solidarity between the Kurds and the Green movement. Large translated excerpts follow. My glosses are interpolated in square brackets. This translation was originally published by Tehran Bureau on June 7.
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2010/06/the-kurds-and-the-green-movement.html
*******************************************************************
The Kurds and the Green Movement
Author: Abdullah Mohtadi
Source: http://www.komala.org/farsi/km/etl-f/2010/100126AbaM.htm
Translated by Frieda Afary


The Kurdish people have never called for violence to solve social and political problems. Today, more than ever, they refuse such solutions. Let’s not forget that the good will of the Kurds and their belief in dialog and peaceful solutions have time and again cost them the lives of their leaders.

Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, a famous Kurdish leader, lost his life while he was engaged in negotiations. Why? Because the “negotiators” of the Islamic Republic suddenly turned out to be terrorists. They personally murdered him and his accompanying negotiating team in the heart of Europe. [Reference to the assassination of the leader of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, and two other Kurdish delegates in Vienna on July 13, 1989.]

We demand a free and democratic civil society in which social and political problems are resolved through freely conducted discussions in the media, in society and ultimately through the ballot box. We demand a tolerant and pluralist society in which religious, linguistic, cultural and philosophical diversity is not a pretext for prejudice, repression and deprivation but the source for the richness and beauty of our country.

In particular, I would like to address the young generation of our country, the awakened generation which is courageously standing up to dictatorship, the generation which is soberly inspecting the imposed presuppositions of the past several decades. I would like to share some realities about Kurdistan with them.

One of the most obvious lies of the Islamic Republic concerns Kurdistan and the Kurdish people. These lies must be questioned and re-examined by you. The generation which has tested the lies and malicious propaganda of this regime must know that the Kurds have been bombarded by the regime’s propaganda for the past 30 years.

During the past 30 years, the Kurds have faced the dictatorship and brutal suppression which you face today in the streets and detention centers. The justice-seeking, freedom-loving and humanitarian demands which you have today, have been theirs as well.

A regime which has branded you as “enemies of God” because of your demands, has declared the people of Kurdistan to be “enemies of God” for the past 30 years. [This designation] has been used as a pretext for imprisoning and torturing Kurds or putting them in front of execution squads without any recourse.

Do you know how many young Kurdish women were raped in the “luminous era” of the Islamic Republic? They were raped by the “unknown soldiers of the Mahdi” in order to not be sent to paradise as virgins. Do you know how many were executed or hanged without any court of justice or due process?

Kurdistan was decimated. Families lost loved ones. Imprisonment, exile and deportation became the norm. Parties that had roots in the history, struggles and hearts of the Kurdish nation were remunerated with the bullet or the scaffold.
The real reason for the siege of Kurdistan and its demolition with tanks was not any violence or beheadings committed by the Kurds, or any Kurdish collaboration with foreigners, or any other outright lie fabricated by the regime. It was the fact that the Kurdish people did not participate in the referendum on the Islamic Republic. [A referendum on creating an Islamic Republic was held in Iran on March 29-30, 1979. The people were offered a simple yes or no vote on the formation of an Islamic Republic]. The reason for their non-participation was that the Kurdish movement and its political organizations were secular and democracy-seeking. They were not willing to be subsumed by a monopolizing fundamentalist political Islam.
In the beginning of the revolution, when not only the clergy but today’s religious revisionists were smitten by the government of religion , Shaikh Izz al-Din Husayni, the vanguard of religious revisionism in Kurdistan and the religious and spiritual leader of the Kurdish people, openly called for the separation of religion from state. He defended democracy, the rights of dissidents and equal rights for women. Did you know that?
Did you know that we took a position against the hoopla over the takeover of the U.S. Embassy at the very time it occurred, and called it a weapon for leading the dissidents astray and subsequently suppressing them? [In November 1979, a group of Ayatollah Khomeini’s followers took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 American staff members hostage until January 1981. Many progressive critics of the regime supported the hostage taking as an “anti-imperialist” act. The regime used the embassy takeover to divert attention from growing domestic repression.]
Did you know that there was no compulsory veiling and no Hezbollah organizing in the free Kurdistan? Political and cultural organizations mushroomed everywhere. There was press freedom, and guaranteed security for all. Did you know that back then, Kurdistan had turned into a haven for freedom seekers from every corner of Iran?

Yes indeed, those wielding power and wealth in the Islamic Republic, hold a grudge against Kurdistan for the above reasons. They could not tolerate the presence of freedom in Kurdistan. That is why they have been crushing Kurdistan with bullets and fire since August 17, 1979.

Do not believe the lies of the Islamic Republic concerning the people of Kurdistan. The lies of the rulers and the regime’s media are not limited to the past six months. For the past 30 years, we have been suffering not only from direct violence and suppression but also from the weight of a mountain of false and divisive accusations. Discard the predominant superstitions concerning the Kurds. Update your views on the people of Kurdistan and their demands.

Let me add that we have never capitulated during these dark decades. We have not genuflected but we have also never resorted to blind and terrorist tit for tats. We have kept our moral high ground vis-à-vis the enemies of freedom. Today’s young generation needs to know that in Kurdistan, young people have lost their lives, but they did not capitulate. Many defiant heads were beheaded. The picture of the mass executions of Kurds, a picture which won the most prestigious award for best photo of the year, did not only prove the brutality of the soldiers of the Guardianship of the Jurisprudent. It also made everlasting, the image of the pride and honorable resistance of the people of Kurdistan. [Reference to the picture of a firing squad in Kurdistan in August 1979, taken by Iranian photographer Jahangir Razmi. It won an anonymous Pulitzer Prize in 1980.]

Today’s young generation in Kurdistan fully believes in the popular political and civil struggle, and is ready to join hands with you for our common freedom. Let us comprehend each other better in order to forge a stronger unity of youth throughout Iran for freedom and prosperity.

The demands of the Kurdish people in the past few decades have not been unknown, ambiguous, unusual or unjust. During the first few years after the revolution, these demands were presented to the delegations of the Islamic Republic by representative councils of the Kurdish nation.

The people of Kurdistan do not demand special rights or benefits for themselves. They do not demand separation from Iran. Their demands are not outside the common framework of contemporary democratic regimes and recognized standards of human rights. The people of Kurdistan rightly demand that the effective leaders and political and cultural figures of the Green Movement and the practical activists of the movement, approve and support the demands of the people of Kurdistan, and in so doing allay their rather legitimate fears.

A new understanding of the history of the past 30 years is being shaped in many areas, and former false and misleading interpretations have been replaced by objective and clear interpretations. It is expected that writers who are effective in shaping public discourse, will further explore and discuss the conditions of the people of Kurdistan and what has happened to them.

Once again, I would like to express my solidarity with the democracy-seeking movement of the people of Iran and support the minimum demands of the movement, i.e. free elections, as well as immediate demands such as stopping executions and brutality, freeing all political prisoners and prisoners promoting various belief systems, freedom of speech, assembly, and association, as preconditions for a truly free election. I would like to warn against the danger of conciliation aimed at silencing the movement and the loud voices of the people who demand changing the political system of the country.

Once again, I would like to emphasize that the Kurdish people have suffered the most from dictatorship. They stand to gain much from the democratization of Iran. Therefore, any achievement of the popular movement against dictatorship will be warmly supported by them.

In conclusion, I consider it necessary to list the following as my understanding of the minimum demands of the people of Kurdistan. I hope that under the present circumstances, these demands will become the basis for unity within the popular justice-seeking movement in Kurdistan.

1. The annulment of execution orders, and in general, an end to political executions in Kurdistan. Freedom for all political prisoners and prisoners promoting various belief systems.

2. The dismantling of the repressive environment in Kurdistan. An end to the brutality of the military, security and police forces. An end to arbitrary arrests and any type of torture and abuse in prison. An end to arbitrary harassment, intrusions and searches conducted by government agents in Kurdistan. An end to the irresponsible shootings of civilians by the police.

3. Freedom of speech, publication, press, association, assembly.

4. Freedom for civil organizations such as trade unions and organizations of workers, teachers, university students, high school students, and non-governmental organizations.

5. Freedom for independent women’s organizations in Kurdistan, and organizations that strive for women’s equal rights. Freedom to choose one’s clothing.

6. Complete freedom for political activity in Kurdistan, including unconditional freedom for activities of Kurdish political parties.

January 25, 2010


Read more!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Statement by A Group of Azeri Activists & Intellectuals Concerning the Green Movement

Translator’s Note: During the past few months, several online articles in Persian have attempted to analyze the participation, or lack thereof, by Iran’s Azeris in the Green Movement. Some have criticized the Azeri desire for autonomy as “pan-Turkist.” Others have criticized the leaders of the Green Movement for not working to safeguard the Azeris’ cultural and linguistic heritage. Some who are critical of the Azeris’ pursuit of autonomy point out that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, leading reformist opponent Mir Hossein Mousavi, and many other prominent Iranian politicians, theologians, and secular intellectuals over the past century have been Azeris. A large portion of Iran’s Azeri population of approximately 15 million, however, do not believe that their right to preserve their culture and mother tongue have been honored by Iran’s current leaders. On April 2, 2010, a gathering of 10,000 Azeris near Lake Urmia, located between the provinces of West Azerbaijan and East Azerbaijan, protested the government’s lack of attention to the drying out of the lake. The protesters also demanded the preservation of Azerbaijan’s cultural heritage. Over 100 were arrested. Earlier, on February 21, a group of Azeri activists and intellectuals chose International Mother Language Day to issue a statement that addressed the Green Movement. Below is the full statement without the names of the signatories. My glosses are interpolated in square brackets. This translation was originally published by Tehran Bureau on April 15, 2010.

****************************************************************************
Our Standards Concerning the Democracy-Seeking Process and the Green Movement

Source: http://azdemokrasi.wordpress.com/2010/03/30/%d8%ad%d8%a7%d9%85%db%8c%d8%a7%d9%86-%d8%ac%d8%af%db%8c%d8%af-170-%d8%a7%d9%85%d8%b6%d8%a7%db%8c-%d8%ac%d8%af%db%8c%d8%af-%d8%a8%db%8c%d8%a7%d9%86%db%8c%d9%87-%d9%85%d8%b9%db%8c%d8%a7%d8%b1%d9%87/

Translated by Frieda Afary

February 21, 2010


Eight months have passed since the start of the anti-dictatorial movement in Iran. This movement, which began by protesting the results of the presidential election, now promises fundamental changes in our society’s political life by giving voice to demands for democracy and freedom...

Although this new, rising movement has been able to take advantage of means such as the Internet and satellites...to introduce itself to the world at large, it has not been able to establish itself as a nationwide movement inside Iran. Thus, so far, the burden of this movement has fallen on the backs of the urban middle class in Central Iran. Its geographical scope has been limited to Tehran and, at most, several other cities. The meaningful silence of Azerbaijan (which is famed for being the vanguard in important political developments in modern Iranian history) is a clear example of this.

The following has to be pointed out: The low level of national consciousness and the superficial understanding of the concepts of freedom and democracy among activists in prior nationwide movements made it possible to create a simple unity of the people. This time, however, the intensification of discriminatory policies, the effects of ethnic oppression on the economic face of Azerbaijan, and the passage of two decades since the new national democratic movement of Azerbaijan have greatly increased the level of consciousness. So much so that any coordination or new unity is conditionally based upon the satisfaction of the minimum demands of the people of Azerbaijan and the preservation of and respect for their independent national actions.

During the past few months, we have seen statements from leaders, intellectuals, and political organizations in defense of the [Green] Movement. All of these statements share the call for democracy, human rights, secularism, free elections, free speech, a free press, free flow of information, and nonviolence...

However, we cannot speak of democracy without specifying its form in Iran’s multiethnic society. We cannot speak of free speech while we remain silent about the freedom to speak one’s language (which is the prerequisite for any freedom of speech), or while we occasionally make use of a literature promoting ancient [Persia] and totalitarianism, a literature rooted in tendencies opposed to human rights and democracy. [The above] constitute some of the defects and contradictions that will ultimately lead to a rash government and limit the benefits of a temporary democracy to Central Iran.

Therefore, while we welcome this valuable movement toward democracy, we the undersigned declare that in our opinion, the political future of the country will have a proper basis for growth and sustainable development if the following principles and issues are enforced and safeguarded. If the leaders of organizations and parties that support democracy pay attention to the following standards, we have no doubt that the basis for greater coordination and harmony among the people can be created.

1. Amending or rewriting the constitution based on the recognition of the collective and individual rights of the Turks and other nationalities.

2. Guaranteeing the sustainability of democracy in Azerbaijan and other national entities through the formation and defense of state legislatures, civil society institutions, workers’ unions, a free press, and state-based parties.

3. Recognizing the Turkish language through the use of the mother tongue as the language of instruction at schools and universities, and the dedication of a nationwide radio and television network to this language...

4. Guaranteeing equal rights to women in all arenas, and recognizing independent women’s organizations in Azerbaijan and other national entities.

5. Condemning all expressions of inhumane violence, whether contempt, discrimination, or torture (physical or emotional). Abolishing prison sentences for dissidents, participants in civil society, and political activists and promoters of all creeds.* Categorically abolishing the death penalty.

6. Safeguarding the participation of Iranian nationalities in the central government, commensurate with their population size.

7. Cultural detoxification via the correction of textbooks and programs on the Voice and Face of Iran [Iran’s radio and television network] that currently promote the superiority of a particular ethnic group and religion over others.

8. Recognition of freedom of thought and religion. Safeguarding equal rights for religious minorities and recognizing their independent organizations in the national entities.

9. Amending all laws that are contrary to the content of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, its conventions, and supplements.

10. Decentralization and the abolition of all symbols of discrimination. The creation of equal economic, social, cultural, and political conditions through allowing the people of Azerbaijan and other national entities to manage their own affairs.

*Based on Daryoush Ashouri’s suggestion, I have translated fa’alin-e aqidati as “promoters of all creeds.”



Read more!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Feminist Political Scientist, Fatemeh Sadeghi, Condemns “Temporary Marriage” as Exploitation

Translator’s note: Fatemeh Sadeghi has a PhD in political science and has taught at the Islamic Azad University of Karaj near Tehran. Soon after the publication of her controversial article “Why We Say No to the Compulsory Hijab” [http://iranianvoicesintranslation.blogspot.com/2009/07/fatemeh-sadghi-is-assistant-professor.html] in May 2008, she was suspended from her teaching post at the university. Below are extended excerpts from an article which she recently published in Alborz, a site devoted to a critique of political economy. In this article, she critiques both conservatives and Religious Revisionists who defend the practice of temporary marriage. To find English equivalents for certain terms, I consulted the glossaries in Shahla Haeri’s Law of Desire: Temporary Marriage in Shi’i Iran (Syracuse University Press, 1989) and Janet Afary’s Sexual Politics in Modern Iran (Cambridge University Press, 2009). Following Daryoush Ashouri’s advice, I have translated the term no-andishan-e dini as Religious Revisionists. My glosses are interpolated in square brackets. This translation was originally published by Tehran Bureau on March 15, 2010 (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2010/03/temporary-marriage-and-the-economy-of-pleasure.html).


*************************************************************************
“Temporary Marriage” and the Economy of Pleasure
By Fatemeh Sadeghi
Source: http://www.alborznet.ir/Fa/ViewDetail.aspx?T=2&ID=275
Translated by Frieda Afary

In Iran, “temporary marriage,” which was originally called sigheh [a renewable contract of marriage for a defined duration] or mut’a, [Arabic term for a temporary marriage] has long been one of the challenging aspects of the culture of Ithnā‘ashariyyah' Shi’ism in contrast to other branches of Islam, whether Sunni or Shi’i. [Ithnā‘ashariyyah', or Twelver, Shi’is believe in twelve divinely ordained leaders, or imams]

During the first decade after the [1979] revolution, problems such as young people’s sexual needs and delayed marriages due to economic difficulties prompted some officials to renew and promote “temporary marriage” as a solution for the problems of the youth. At that time, this issue prompted opposition from many women. They expressed their views in journals such as Zan-e Rooz [Today’s Woman] and Zanan [Women] and the newspaper Salam. Many of these women considered the revival of the custom to be harmful to women and their rights in society.

During the past few years, the ninth government [Ahmadinejad’s first administration, 2005-2009] and the seventh and eighth parliaments have turned the revival of this custom and its promotion as “temporary marriage” into one of the foundations of their sexual politics. The government and the parliament went so far as to ratify the new family law bill despite women’s strong opposition. This bill gives legal justification to conditional polygamy, including multiple [permanent] wives and sigheh. It no longer even requires permission from the first wife.

The opponents of the practice of sigheh, as well as its supporters, have criticized it from a variety of perspectives, both intra-religious and extra-religious. Here, I do not intend to engage in a critique of the defenders of sigheh in the manner of scientific articles and from a specific perspective. More than anything, my goal is to raise questions related to this topic in our society today. Therefore, I will make use of different perspectives without directly citing them.

First, it needs to be said that the use of the expression “temporary marriage” for sigheh is in fact new. More than anything, this expression has been used to sanctify the custom. Based on jurisprudential views that defend this custom, the goal of sigheh or mut’a is only sexual pleasure. The philosophy of marriage, however, goes beyond sexual pleasure. In the beginning of this article, I put temporary marriage in quotation marks, in order to emphasize this point. In the rest of this article as well, I will continue to use the term “sigheh” instead of temporary marriage.

In summing up the views that defend sigheh, several attitudes can be discerned. Some defend sigheh from the vantage point of men’s sexual rights, and some defend it from the vantage point of women’s sexual rights. The latter view has defenders in Iran as well as other Muslim countries. The recent statement of a Saudi Arabian woman who asks why women cannot have multiple husbands if men can have multiple wives attests to this point. After summing up the viewpoints inside Iran, three distinct attitudes can be discerned:

First, traditional Twelver Shi’i jurisprudents defend this custom and believe that Islam has designated certain rights for men in the Qur’an, one of which is mut’a or sigheh. Basing their position on certain verses and interpretations, they believe that the prophet [Muhammad] considered this custom permissible for men.

The second group consists of some Religious Revisionists who claim that “temporary marriage” can even be interpreted in such a way as to observe women’s sexual rights.

The third group consists of some members of the political elite. Many statesmen and members of the current parliament fall into this group.

Each of these attitudes is based on different foundations. Therefore, in order to offer a critique, I will base myself on the very foundations upon which these viewpoints rest. Nevertheless, given that all of these views reach a common conclusion, I will end by critiquing the general attitude that pervades these viewpoints. I shall begin with the first viewpoint.

Traditional Jurisprudence and Sigheh
Based on the assessments of some traditional Twelver Shi’i jurisprudents, sigheh is permissible based on religious teachings. This viewpoint is rare among Muslims. Not only the majority of Muslims [Sunnis] but also the many branches of Shi’ism, with the exception of the Twelvers, are opposed to it. Even among Twelver jurisprudents, there is no agreement on whether this custom is considered marriage or mut’a. Therefore, many of them do not consider it permissible...

First, if sigheh is considered marriage, then the conditions of marriage need to apply to it. In other words, based on the text of the Qur’an, polygamy has been limited to four wives, provided that all are treated equally. Therefore, if sigheh is a type of marriage, it cannot be unlimited. However, if sigheh is not considered a type of marriage, what will become of all the verses and interpretations [of the Qur’an] that speak of piety and self-restraint. It seems that both situations produce contradictions that traditional jurisprudents cannot explain.

Of course other criticisms are also in order here. For instance, concerning why traditional jurisprudence gives men more rights than women. Traditional jurisprudents have no clear and convincing answers about the patriarchal discourse of jurisprudence. Instead they turn to identity statements. Some argue that men have a God-given and innate right to be favored over and to have more rights than women. Others argue that women are bearers of men’s sperm and [sexual exclusivity] is necessary to determine paternity.

Both of these answers are problematic. Concerning the jurisprudents’ patriarchal defense of men, the following critique has been issued: If Islam is supposed to speak to all human beings in all times and all places, how can it be patriarchal and presume the innate or legal superiority of men over women? And if it is true that men have greater God-given rights than women, how can we explain the verses stating that women and men are made out of the same act of creation and are equal? The argument offered by traditional jurisprudence concerning bearing a man’s sperm also seems invalid. Today, technology can determine paternity.

Aside from these issues, it seems that the Achilles’ heel of traditional jurisprudence in its defense of polygamy consists of its lack of concern for ethics. If religion is to be reduced to a set of rites in which the believers (men) find a variety of ways to make permissible the satisfaction of their libido, then the question is the following: What place do ethical attitudes have in religious law and jurisprudence?

Religious Revisionism and Women’s Sexual Rights
As the second group of defenders of sigheh, Religious Revisionists attempted to respond to some of the misgivings that traditional jurisprudence has not been able to resolve. In the opinion of some Religious Revisionists, sigheh is permissible. They believe that a dynamic jurisprudence and exegesis can turn sigheh into a progressive policy. This group believes that sigheh is one of the most progressive principles of Islam and addresses needs that other religions have ignored. According to some of these thinkers, based on this practice, even women will benefit from sexual rights that tradition has taken away from them. Others go even further and interpret [Islam’s] commandments as a type of sexual freedom for women and men.

Some Religious Revisionists believe that tradition and common law have denied sexual rights to unmarried women. Therefore, sigheh is considered one of the solutions that would allow women to also benefit from these rights. On the other hand, according to the views held by some of these thinkers, limitations that derive from sigheh, including the ‘idda requirement [waiting period for a woman after divorce or husband’s death] can be overcome through the use of technology.

First, according to many Religious Revisionists who defend this practice, Islamic jurisprudence, if based on exegesis that takes into consideration contmeporary problems, can offer progressive solutions to society’s ills. However, experience and knowledge have still not proved that jurisprudence is essentially capable of solving social problems.

On the other hand, those Religious Revisionists who defend sigheh mostly ignore the legal, social, and cultural aspects of the policy. In our society, women are not equal to men from a legal or social standpoint. The legal system and common law do not consider them equal to men. In such a society, the additional sexual rights for which Religious Revisionists give sigheh credit are more formal than real.

For example, in our society many women agree to become sighehs mostly because of distress due to economic pressures and the inability to provide their own means of subsistence. When a woman becomes a man’s sigheh under such circumstances, she is in essence engaging in a fundamentally unequal exchange. It is her distress over providing her means of subsistence that forces her to agree to become a sigheh. On the other hand, given the disagreeable character of sigheh in our culture, many of these women are compelled to keep the relationship a secret from neighbors and family members. It is even worse when an unwanted child results from the relationship.

Therefore we can say that what is being interpreted as women’s sexual rights is, more than anything, an unequal and unreliable relationship in which women agree to be subjected to sexual exploitation because they lack economic rights and a sense of security.

So long as women are not considered legally equal to men and do not receive the economic benefits and legal rights that men enjoy, so long as they are not backed by the law and the government, sexual rights are reduced to a useless appendage from which only men benefit. On the other hand, even if we consider that not all the women who agree to become sighehs are economically impoverished, the problem of the decline in social status associated with sigheh remains. A practice that is mostly judged negatively by society cannot simply be repackaged and forcibly sold.

Furthermore, the approach of the Religious Revisionists, similar to the first approach, leaves the questions regarding foundational ethics unanswered.

The Principle of Pleasure in Politics
The third group of defenders of sigheh are statesmen who not only consider the practice as the solution to the “problems of the youth” but also encourage it among their co-thinkers and colleagues in a way that reveals the intervention of the principle of pleasure in politics. They write laws and ratify amendments to promote the practice. In contrast to the first two groups, it seems that the statesmen’s defense of the practice is based on a different set of principles and foundations. The conservatives’ approach in other areas reveals that their goal is not in any way a defense of women’s rights. Furthermore, considering the pressures to which young people have been subjected during recent years, and considering the violation of their rights by the statesmen, one can hardly attribute the statesmen’s defense of sigheh and polygamy to addressing the problems of the youth. It seems that their aim is on the one hand the granting of a privilege to their fellow men, and on the other hand the humiliation of women.

Based on the above, the customer-centered approach of the current ruling establishment cannot be simply explained as the granting of economic privileges to their supporters and the possible trickle-down effect among the economically disadvantaged masses. The customer-centered approach includes the granting of privileges in the economy of pleasure. Specifically, we need to consider the fact that a large portion of managers, ministers, statesmen, members of parliament, heads of security forces, etc. have turned sexual wealth into a way of life and expect their representatives in the polity to leave them unrestrained both in the realm of the economy and the realm of the economy of pleasure.

The strong efforts made by political institutions to ratify the family law bill and promote polygamy seem to be tied to similar efforts in the arena of economic privileges and redistribution for the purpose of preserving the interests of the ruling establishment. This assumption mostly arises from the fact that women from a variety of social classes, groups, and beliefs, surveyed in many studies of women performed over the past few years, have strongly opposed the principle of polygamy. They have continued to demand that the government limit the practice and defend women whose rights are violated through polygamy. The persistent efforts of the supporters of sigheh to ignore women’s demands cannot be attributed to a lack of awareness...

Final Observations

Most women in our society have long been opposed to sigheh and polygamy. They have only accepted the practice out of distress and necessity. Among families, traditional as well as modern, religious as well as secular, and among women as well as men, sigheh has always been associated with shame and regarded as a stigma. It seems that this will continue to be the case in the future. Opposition to the practice has been reflected clearly in various studies that have been conducted during the past few years by governmental institutions and independent researchers...

In other words, public opinion in our society considers sigheh to be an unethical behavior that falls under the category of the economy of pleasure. Although some practice it, sigheh is not considered sanctifiable. Therefore, defense of the practice of sigheh, under any justification or basis, represents an undemocratic and patriarchal attitude contemptuous of the demands of the majority of Iranian women and the ethical judgment of society...

If we subscribe to the arguments presented in defense of sigheh and ultimately base ourselves on the economy of pleasure, then we can revive any obsolete practice and make it palatable, using aesthetic and even beautiful feminist justifications and modern rationalizations, in order to make women believe that the only path to emancipation is through the Harem. If that is the case, then why not revive slavery in order to free all of humanity from the misery that it suffers on a daily basis for the sake of being free?

January 9, 2010



Read more!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Shadi Sadr Dedicates Her Award to Imprisoned Women's Rights Activist

Iranian Feminist attorney and human rights activist, Shadi Sadr has decided to dedicate her Women of Courage Award to Shiva Nazar Ahari, an imprisoned women's rights activist. Sadr chose not to travel to Washington D.C. on Wednesday March 10 to receive the award from U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Instead she sent a recorded message to be braodcast at the awards ceremony. The U.S. Department of State decided not to broadcast Sadr's message during the ceremony. Below is the full English text of her message, which was published on the website of Women Living Under Muslim Laws.


************************************************************************
Shadi Sadr's Speech for the International Women of Courage Award Ceremony
Source: http://www.wluml.org/node/6042

March 9, 2010

I am honored to be selected as one of the ten recipients of the International Women of Courage Award, which I consider as yet another opportunity for me, and other human rights activists, to bring to the international community’s attention the efforts of Iranian women on a global level. This award also enables me to publicize the systematic human rights abuses in Iran, particularly the crackdown on civil society activists in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential elections.

This Award, as is evident by its title, is given every year to women all across the globe that have illustrated exceptional courage in defense of women’s rights, social justice and human rights. For this exact reason I would like to dedicate my award to Shiva Nazar Ahari, a young activist that is currently imprisoned in Iran for her women’s rights and human rights activism. I dedicate this award to her since I believe her courage has been exceptional and deserving of worldwide recognition.

Shiva, who since her youth has been an influential activist, founded the Committee of Human Rights Reporters, a university student group that provides important and objective reports concerning human rights abuses in Iran. She has also been actively involved in the women’s rights movement, never for a moment ceasing her efforts on behalf of human rights and democracy.

Unfortunately, shortly after the elections, Shiva was arrested and kept for months in solitary confinement and subjected to extreme interrogations. After spending more than 100 days in prison, Shiva was released on a $200,000 bail for only three, brief months. Shiva, who had re-started her activism immediately upon her release from prison, was arrested once more in December 2009 along with other members of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters. Since her arrest, the authorities have placed her under extreme pressure in order to make her confess to the crime of ‘acting as an enemy of God’, which carries the death penalty under state law. They kept her for a long period in a cage-like cell so small that she could barely move her limbs. Despite such extreme torture, Shiva has not, even today, accepted that her peaceful activism in promotion of Women’s rights and democracy are acts of terrorism, and consequently has faced even more abusive treatments.

Shiva, one of the world’s most courageous women, who herself worked tirelessly in defense of the rights of political prisoners, is herself in a small prison cell, and deprived of having even a pen and paper or meeting with a lawyer, and is kept blind-folded.

To be honest, since the Iranian regime declares that all human rights activists and civil activists are spies and puppets for the West, particularly the United States, I initially worried that to dedicate this award to Shiva alone might increase the pressure and hostility of her interrogators and the judicial forces and make matters worse for her.

However, I eventually arrived at the conclusion that the Iranian government will still accuse all activists of being spies, similar to the way they accused me of selling myself to America for receiving this award (calling me a “servant of the United States”), so that it really makes little difference. As Shiva is not with us and cannot attend this award ceremony, I will also refrain from attending with the hope that my absence will turn the attention of the international community to her dire situation. I would like to request that you all take any measures available to you to help to free Shiva along with other human rights activists and journalists in Iranian prisons.

Thank you.





Read more!

A Response to Danny Postel’s Call for Critical Solidarity with Iran

Danny Postel’s “The Specter Haunting Iran” is a welcome call for “critical solidarity” with the Iranian democratic opposition movement. Unlike those on the Left who have been wary of characterizing the current democratic movement in Iran as a progressive phenomenon, Postel has supported this movement as a completely new and progressive phenomenon or what he calls “a deep-seated shift in the consciousness of millions of Iranians in their ways of seeing and perceiving their political reality.” . . . Given Danny Postel’s grasp of the “deep shift in consciousness” that has taken place in Iran, I am surprised to see him offer Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian economic experiment as an alternative . . .


*******************************************************************
By Frieda Afary
Source: Tehran Bureau
February 24, 2010
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2010/02/a-response-to-postels-call-for-critical-solidarity-with-iran.html

Danny Postel’s “The Specter Haunting Iran” is a welcome call for “critical solidarity” with the Iranian democratic opposition movement. Unlike those on the Left who have been wary of characterizing the current democratic movement in Iran as a progressive phenomenon, Postel has supported this movement as a completely new and progressive phenomenon or what he calls “a deep-seated shift in the consciousness of millions of Iranians in their ways of seeing and perceiving their political reality.” In his previous writings, he has also attempted to demonstrate that the non-violent and pluralistic features of this movement are related to the deep interest in philosophy, and specifically rationalist philosophy, that has emerged in Iran during the past 20 years.

I would add that the feminist movement in Iran which has offered thoughtful and courageous arguments on women’s rights and the issue of sexuality, is also a manifestation of the philosophical awakening that has characterized Iranian society. Readers who have had the opportunity to read Fatemeh Sadeghi’s “Why We Say No to the Compulsory Hijab” (http://iranianvoicesintranslation.blogspot.com/2009/07/fatemeh-sadghi-is-assistant-professor.html) or Shadi Sadr’s recent challenge to Ayatollah Karroubi (http://iranianvoicesintranslation.blogspot.com/2010/01/feminist-attorney-shadi-sadr-critiques.html) will know that Sadeghi and Sadr are not only activists but also deep thinkers and theorists.

There is no doubt that poverty and economic inequality is a major concern of the mostly young participants in the current opposition movement. Iran’s university students, of whom sixty percent are women, face unemployment or poverty wages that pay less than $250 per month and offer no benefits. According to the World Bank and the Iranian government, the absolute poverty line has been set at $2 per day per person, which means that a minimum of $240 per month is needed to support a family of four. In fact, according to the Centarl Bank of Iran, the general poverty line for a family of four in 2006 was no less than $400 per month. The newspaper Sarmayeh (Capital) has admitted that the poverty line in Tehran is $800 per month for a family of four.

The question of alternatives to economic inequality and specifically alternatives to capitalism however have not been theorized by the Green movement. Whereas the Islamist movement of Ayatollah Khomeini and Ali Shariati’s brand of Islamic socialism in the 1970s used the promise of economic justice to gain adherents, the leaders of the Green Movement, Karroubi and Mousavi advocate one or another form of market capitalism.


In face of this reality, I appreciate the following statement from Danny Postel:

I want to suggest to Iran's Greens that they take a close look at the cases of Eastern Europe and South Africa. The democratic movements that by and large formed the post-Communist governments of the former Warsaw Pact countries faced a similar situation -- different from Iran in many regards, to be sure, but similar in the crucial respect that their focus was political in nature and their platform consisted mainly of democratic principles and negative liberties. It was presumed that these were the most pressing matters and that economic issues would get worked out in due course. But what happened? To make a long story short, shock capitalism happened, and it brought the kinds of dislocations, dispossessions, and disfigurations that are its global trademarks. Because the democratic-movements-turned-governments hadn't given much thought to questions of economic structure or policy, they were unprepared to respond to the convulsions induced by neoliberalization.

In fact, Iranians have already experienced “the convulsions induced by neoliberalization.” Ahmadinejad’s government has recently approved a plan for “targeted monetary subsidies” which will gradually phase out existing government subsidies on basic food items and petroleum. In addition to having banned independent trade unions, the Iranian government has been promoting the two-tier wage system which has practically meant that a large percentage of Iran’s workers are contract workers without any benefits.

Mohommad Maljoo, an Iran-based professor of economics, has also addressed these questions in a recent interview in which he refutes “trickle down economics” and argues that the accumulation of capital will not necessarily improve the conditions of the lower classes. (http://iranianvoicesintranslation.blogspot.com/2010/02/is-there-labor-movement-in-iran.html).

Given Danny Postel’s grasp of the “deep shift in consciousness” that has taken place in Iran, I am surprised to see him offer Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian economic experiment as an alternative in order to take the terms of the economic discussion beyond capitalism.

First, Postel admits that Hugo Chavez has been a strong supporter of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. Although Postel limits Chavez’s support to the political realm, in fact Chavez’s involvement with the Iranian regime is deeply economic. The Iranian regime has made large investments in Venezuela. Chavez in turn has been providing the current government with petroleum to reduce the impact of the western governments’ sanctions on Iran. The separation made by Postel between Chavez’s political practice and his economic practice is indeed not true.

Furthermore, Iranian labor activists have attempted to make a distinction between Chavez and the Venezuelan labor movement by issuing statements in which they appealed to Venezuelan workers to support them in their struggle against the current regime. In January 2007, on the occasion of Ahmadinejad's trip to Venezuela to meet with his friend, Chavez, the Bus Workers’ Union sent an open letter to the Venezuelan Workers Syndicate and demanded that they confront Ahmadinejad and defend Iranian workers (www.peiknet.com, 1/17/07).

Not only would I argue that Chavez’s political and economic support for the current repressive government of Iran flow from his economic views. I would further argue that Chavez’s economic views, examined in isolation, do not offer much more than a state- controlled version of capitalism. Indeed, the very article which Postel cites as evidence of the achievements of Chavez’s economic programs, offers important critiques of the glaring contradictions in Chavez’s brand of socialism. Below are two passages from this article, “Venezuela’s Cooperative Revolution,” by Betsy Bowman and Bob Stone:

Zaida works seven hours a day, five days a week, and is paid $117 a month, the uniform income all employees voted for themselves. This is much less than the minimum salary, officially set at $188 a month. This was "so we can pay back our [government start-up] loan," she explained. Venezuela Avanza cooperativistas have a monthly general assembly to decide policy. As in most producer co-ops, they are not paid a salary, but an advance on profits. Workers paying themselves less than the minimum wage in order to make payments to the state was, Zaida acknowledged, a bad situation. "We hope our working conditions will improve with time," she said. . .

And even if all of the country's current cooperativization programs succeed, will that struggle—and it will be a struggle—result in socialism? . . . the history of co-ops from the Amana colonies of Iowa to the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation in the Basque country shows that even when they start out with a community-service mandate, individual co-ops, or even networks of co-ops, tend to defensively re-internalize capitalist self-seeking and become indistinguishable from their competitors when made to compete alone against an array of capitalist firms in a capitalist economy.

As this article indicates, workers’ self-management, in the context of a capitalist world can simply not transcend capitalism. I would add that that the combination of a massive oil income, state supervision and worker’s self-management for capitalist profit sharing can also not be posed as an alternative to capitalism.

While most members of the global Left continue to offer uncritical support for the political and or economic programs of Chavez, there are a growing number of youth associated with the new Left in Iran who do not see Chavez’s programs as an alternative but are also interested in developing alternatives that can transcend capitalism.

Unlike the period preceding and immediately after the 1979 Revolution when the vast majority of the Iranian Left consisted of the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party or the Maoist advocates of guerrilla warfare, there is now a growing new Left in Iran that challenges the old Left’s legacy of support for the former Soviet Union or Communist China under Mao. This new Left is completely aware of the collaboration of the pro-Soviet Tudeh with Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 in the name of anti-imperialism. It welcomes critiques of Stalinist and Stalinist-Maoist brands of thinking. It has welcomed new translations of Marx’s 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts as well as Marx’s Capital. (See the English translation of Hassan Mortazavi’s preface to the new Persian translation of Marx’s Capital volume I. (http://iranianvoicesintranslation.blogspot.com/2009/07/translators-preface-to-new-persian.html). It is fascinated by discussions on G.W.F. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind. This new generation of youth is also the product of the deep interest in philosophy that has characterized Iran during the past two decades. It is challenging the economic and ideological views of the old Left which continues to exist but cannot offer new ideas.


After the Ashura protests, the Iranian government accused the democractic opposition movement of having been instigated by “enemies of God and Marxists.” This statement was indeed surprising even to Iranian socialists who did not think that their influence had been widespread. Since then, many of those associated with the new Left have been arrested. These thinker-activists include Omid Montazeri, a 24-year-old law student, journalist and writer for the online youth journal, Sarpich, who was forced to “confess” during show trials after the December 27 Ashura demonstrations. Omid Mehregan, editor of the online journal Rokhdad and co-translator with Morad Farhadpour of Theodor Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment was released on February 19. Many others remain in prison.

I agree with Danny Postel’s call for a critical solidarity that is based on addressing economic alternatives to capitalism. Those who are interested in this call can begin with defending the members of the Iranian new Left who are languishing in prison. We need to hear their views and learn from their experiences and questions in order to engage in critical solidarity with the Iranian democratic opposition movement.







Read more!