Mirfendereski Jnr's ideal
New York, November 13, 2002
Reading the dialectic, or the mythological texts, and constructing a law with the idea of approaching justice, is a never-ending process. The greatest revolution, however, the most glorious one, is that which is not followed by a written constitution, but is rather weaved no matter how peculiarly, into the body of the subject to the law, the subject of the text, the subject of the country... or any other symbol.
At the end of it, the word has to become the body. Reason has to turn into instinct.
Ambassador Hoveyda's talk entitled "the coming revolution in Iran," - of which what follows seeks to provide a reading, and to which it dares a response, - revolved around the presentation of the current conditions of Iran, and foresaw a revolution, as an inevitability, and an inevitable remedy. Ambassador Fereydoun Hoveyda teases out, and addresses the core of the problems facing Iran, both advertently, and inadvertently.
It has been more than a week since I saw Fereydoun Hoveyda. But to already preface my confessional love for him, let me start by a letter for him and for us:
I. Getting there
I had to show my ID in the lobby because of security reasons and I was given a visitor's sticker, - which as I realized much too late, I had forgotten to wear; but it didn't seem to matter. Once out of the elevator, I was escorted through various offices past many cubicles and reception desks, offices leading to offices, and finally into a long conference room, decorated with a lunch buffet on one side.
As the young lady guiding me and I entered the room, there was no time to gather one's thought. There he was: Fereydoun Hoveyda - talking to the only other two or three people in the room. Suddenly it was not anymore possible to play it cool, so I walked straight up to him, and introduced myself "sans le taa'rof", and with a clumsy grasp of etiquette.
I am not going to list Mr. Hoveyda's resume. But let me just say that if Fereydoun is one of the greatest mythical heroes of ours, (Iranians and indeed all those who read Persian), Fereydoun Hoveyda is not a mere academic scholar, artist, writer, politician etc., he like very few others in this metaphysical community, is a national treasure.
It was my absolute pleasure to sit by some strange providence near him, as the matter of fact nearest to him, right next to him, on one end of the long conference table where everyone had lunch just before he began his talk.
His notes did not have a very German organization, and yet, the presentation wasn't an imitation of the French either, although, one could hear a base of French accent in the prehistory of his beautiful, cheerful and yet not overly light-hearted spoken English prose. I had to fight the urge to give the old man a hug, but of course I didn't dare.
Suddenly a school boy taking notes, I wasn't daring too many straight glances or rude questions. I wanted to tell him that I knew of his pain. Because it is, despite all cities and all the nations, a particularly Iranian pain... a pain that connects the exiled Diaspora with the repressed inner-emigrants within the reigning religious Caliphate that is terrorising our people.
Already it is hard to go on. I won't spill my guts about Ambassador Hoveyda's brother, Nokhost Vazir Hoveyda: freely associate and if you need pictures to clarify for you who he was, go take a look in the Grey Gallery on Washington Square, NY, where the photographer "Abbas" has captured him both living and dead. (Incidentally, while you're at it, you could also go downstairs and check out the exhibition on Iranian revolutionary posters: proclamations of "democracy" and "freedom" abound!)
No matter what his crime might have been, - and I am not a lawyer to argue here to begin with, - Amir Abbas Hoveyda's murder, is one of the most representive moments of the brutal establishing force, upon which the insignia and the flag of this terrorist Republic has been erected; with only the name 'Hoveyda' all the skeletons that hide underneath the cosmetics changes in the name of reform resurfaces.
It is when the bone is showing that all attempts at band-aiding the crimes of the Islamic Republicans with words such as "democracy" and "human rights," become ridiculous. Whether women can push or pull their scarves a few inches back and forth, as a measuring stick for freedom of expression and thought in this republic, almost becomes obscene when we take the time to begin with Hoveyda and go down and remember all who were systematically and through some "form" or "reform" of this republic murdered.
But all orders, laws and new readings of them only come to be by destroying that which came before them; and exempt from this are not the forces of rational and scientific modernity. I am saying this as a proponent of such a modernity. Any exchange of power in fact, is painful, but none as painful as when this change comes at the hand of savagely cutting down someone's brother: a brilliant statesman under whose supervision, Iran progressed in leaps and bounds.
This is what lies in the background of Ambassador Hoveyda's talk, and it certainly comes to affect it in many expected and unexpected ways.
(I just had to think of a witty, but not at all funny moment when Ambassador Hoveyda, mentioned he had been offered amnesty by the Islamic Republic sometime in the early nineties, because of his status as an "intellectual" to which he had replied: "I am a very stupid man, but I know that I am not as stupid as your offer make-believes I am.")
II. Coming to word
Germans came; they were there, the reporters. And I am inclined to believe that some of the Americans there amongst us were Jewish. I think there was a mention of Israel. Ambassador was very direct on that: Iranians are Iranians, not Moslems or Jews, or this or that. We are speaking about a very old culture, even if the current oppressors in Tehran do not represent this fact.
"Iranian" is a difficult term. The strange, but understandable inclination is to lump Iran together with Iraq, and then from there it is quite easy to mistake it for Jordan or Saudi Arabia for that matter. If one watches TV or gets one's information from conventional news sources the difficulty is automatically doubled. As a Westerner, one must be a Goethe or at the very least a Hegel scholar, to have even an inkling of what Iran can and does mean.
Apart from the Germans and the Jews, - and of course, Mrs. Eleana Benador whom I had to email to reserve a place - there were also a few nondescript Americans there. Nondescript I say, because their questions reflected nothing apart from a concern for their personal safety-issues related to the organized headache that the Islamic Republic has created in the west from its inception; after all it is out of the inspiration provided by the Islamic Republicans' master piece, that the radical Islam that has come to brew in so many different ways, to varying degrees of violence -- some too violent even for the reformed murderers such as Khalkhaali. Of course if the idea of "reform" is marketable, then everything is.
But what does this amazing man, in his exceptionally beautiful suit, and extraordinary tie-knot have to say? The first question, immediately after lunch: "what would you have changed," (posed by an Iranian woman who couldn't stay after lunch because of time-constraints, as we started a bit late,) had an overly romantic tone, to which Dr. Hoveyda barked short-temperedly "I wouldn't have cooperated with the Shah, he had no character." Then came the second question, by which the German guy immediately manifested his western view-point: "Are you a believer?" He followed this question with another, again advertising his fresh insight (of Jordan): "When were you in Iran last?"
Ambassador Hoveyda is not the only Iranian with a recognizable last name who has an antagonistic stance towards the very system of government which has made his name recognizable. Dr. Guieve Mirfendereski also is such a one. And while not exactly for the same reasons, and certainly not upon the same structure of reasoning, Dr. Mirfendereski's problem with the Pahlavi monarchy could also be traced to a similarly personal matter. In the September 13th writing of Dr. Mirfendereski, published in Iranian.com, we read: "By the late 1970s I had left my father's house and resolved that I shall be no longer a subject, but a citizen."
The mythical and highly personal matters of fathers and brothers could be argued dialectically and reasonably, but at the end, the matter is resolved only when the wound is healed, and the wound sometimes doesn't want to be healed, because it is not always a sign of a lack, but also sometimes, a source of beauty and character at the same time.
But to try to bring it back into a sort of a context, let me mention what was mentioned during the talk: about a certain "Khoraasaani", a one who held Fereydoun Hoveyda's position following the revolution, representing Iran at the UN. This should bring us a possibility of differentiating between the Pahlavi monarchy, and that which came after it, regardless of the "Arrr-reeze" of the antagonistic and ultimately self defeating forces which cannot rise above their tragic-comic ideas.
Mr. Khoraasaani was of course infamously picked up for shoplifting at a department store (in NY). And Dr. Hoveyda links this to the general inclination of this sort: attempting to hurt the western economy as being a virtue in the shop-lifter's philosophy.
I personally don't think that there ever was that high a level of reflection going on either then or now; and in that sense, I think the Ambassador is either being kind to his replacement, or deluded by perhaps a nationalist pride that prevents him from seeing the true miserable condition of imagination of a fellow Iranian: There was no philosophical reason, the man was a thug-shoplifter!
III. Leading up to the "revolution to come"
The point of reference to the talk, and its starting point was of course, (after all, we are in NY, NY) the September 11th as a definitive show of anti-western "diplomacy" in action.
Terrorism is nothing new for us Iranians. If Americans, - and (UN)fortunately not yet the Europeans -- have just now realized the weight behind the slap of the anti-western argument's hand, Iranians have been there and done that from over 23 years ago. The amount of political education in which this horrid government has immersed Iranians, continues to be misread, misunderstood, and naively discounted. This makes me think of another moment in Dr. G. Mirfendereski's process of seeing the light of the republican ideal: "Already in 4th grade, I had come to the conclusion that Takhti ["Jahanpahlavan", the Iranian Greco-Roman Wrestling World Champion] would beat the Shah in wrestling and that the king was not omnipotent." (see For the love of toot in Iranian.com, July 26th, 2002)
"Gift" is an interesting word in Anglo-Saxon. Related to "to give" of English and "Geben" of German, yet in the two languages it has come to acquire two very different meanings. While for English it means the equivalent of "present", to the German it means "poison". One of the "gifts,"provided by the Islamic Republic perhaps has been the fact that a forth grader following the revolution would have in all likelihood read the "Animal Farm" and "1984" (in the year of its title for all the more dramatics,) and as it were, observed the unfolding of the novels in action.
I feel it is blissfully unaware words such as the ones I quoted from Dr. M that best describe the gap between the generation who either participated in the revolution or moved out of their daddy's house before its unfolding, on the one hand, and the generations that came to follow them on the other. "No, you can't fool, the children of a revolution..." the old song goes.
But the candle-vigil holding of the few brave ones together with the office of Presidency's quasi-"be-goh-khori-oftaadan", is but the tip of the ice-berg of Iranian discontent with the implicit and explicit positions of their officials. This discontent, were it allowed to find freedom of expression, would overwhelm anyone who holds this regime to be "democratic" or representative of a popular "demo" either by the standards of today's attempts at democracy, the ideals of the age of ideals, or even the slogans of the very revolution that brought on this order.
If those who know better what is good for the people, those who present their ideas with a heavy handed force of straight-forward logic (which in itself has been questionable for some time now,) if these people would allow others to actually voice their thoughts, so goes the "reasoning," they might vote for Shahanshahi. So one begins politicising around the rules of the game, re-writing them, "re-forming" them, stacking up the deck anew, in a new bag of lies called the new and improved Islamic Republic, - and all this mainly because of some academic fetish for the term "Republic."
And in this, then all the atrocities that happen on the way to this ideal "Republic" are either dismissed out of hand, like that horrible cacophony of the Guillotine; "Danton's Death", the murder of "Marat" (not to mention the beheading of the king and Queen,) all the French boys frozen to death next to their half-eaten horse-carcasses somewhere in a borderland, (perhaps Ukraine;) the marching of the European armies on Paris, (twice); all the street massacres of the 1848 generation, the coronation of the Second German Reich's Wilhelm in the Versailles; all the "accusations," fake trials, and prejudices of the Dreyfuss era; the two world wars of the past century; the totalitarian character of De Gaule, not to mention Chirac's evacuation of, and nuclear bombing of a couple of islands and the support of the bloody dictators -- these all have merely been "revisions" to the basically good idea of "republic," and the proof for it is of course the undeniable death of historical progress, which declares this fifth republic to be not only "nobar" but also the end all and be all of the march of historical time... From history to mythology, and politics, let's get back to Fereydoun Hoveyda.
Ambassador Hoveyda did not only have rhetorical means at his disposal when talking about this matter; he was quoting data: 75 percent support the reestablishment of relations with the United States; and even more counter-intuitively: 50 percent agree with Bush's inclusion of Iran in the Axis of Evil!
According to the Ambassador, a real practical opposition from inside the country, must be taken to have started, and has first come to be detectable, after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, and the consolidation of that ridiculous war enterprise ("through Karbala, and onto Jerusalem" was the motto!).
Mehdi, of course did not answer the prayers of the faithful, (because he was too busy building "darts" for the anticipation of "charshanbe suri,") and the Mehdi did not lead a revolution relieving Khomeini of his responsibilities, and Montazeri, - or as my mom refers to him, "gorbe narre," - the religious leader who was supposed to mount the "mambar" after Khomeini's death but instead was, and remains under house arrest, and even has had his chief lieutenant and close relative (Mehdi Hashemi) tortured, presented on a televised confession and executed.
Ali Akbar Khamenei got his credentials of Ayatollahy over-night to put an end to what was about to be a bloody power-struggle, or at least suppress all internal opposition of Khodis for the time being. Ambassador Hoveyda quoted the Imam Jom'e of Esphahan as warning that the regime is "threatening the future of Islam in Iran." Of course the good Friday-Imam is right, but he only sees things from his own perspective; in fact this regime is a threat to anything outside of itself, and the circle of the insiders is also a shaky place should one find oneself incarcerated by it, as is evident from the belated Martin Luther wanna-bes; Ambassador Hoveyda: "It is not a church to be reformed."
The idea of the reforming of the theocracy is mainly supported by Europe, lead by Germany. Germany’s most respected public intellectual, Jürgen Habermas has in fact recently gone to Iran to give credence to the process of reform. Habermas’ basic point is that through dialogue, and a strong belief in the powers of reason and rationality, one can overcome differences and all can live happily ever after. Heavily based on the assumption that Iranians are in fact a religious lot, who have chosen the system of government that they currently have and still believe in it, Habermas and EU have tried to “critically” engage Iranians in a dialogue.
(But in fact as I show elsewhere, Habermas’ discourse is not conducted with the people (demo) of Iran and their demands, despite all the care for democracy that he professes, but rather is a confirmation of the structures of power as they are, and in that sense his engagement works as an apologia and a justification for the hypocrisy of the regime in Tehran. (For a more detailed illusion of the “transparency of reform,” see Sultanate of Reformist in Iranian.com by Amir December 18, 2002)
So despite secular priests such as Habermas, and their extraordinary understanding for the likes of Mohajerrani who want to emerge as a post Khatami Islamic Republic President with new and improved powers to regulate the revolution's very own original core and constituency, we are still a few centuries apart from the ideal republic that academic thinking wishes for with adorable 'blue' eyes.
It is despite the wishful thinking of the over-rated dialogue amongst civilizations that Hoveyda points to an inevitable "coming revolution of Iran".
Europeans would of course like it if they could maintain a healthy flow of cash out of Iran. And so they prefer a "reform" movement, consisting of reformed terrorist and mass murderers that is, that secures this flow instead of an unpredictable big change which would only complicate things. And this is why they were all too ready to embrace the optimism of 1997 when Khatami was elected and with him, a confused, half-enlightened dog and pony show began to be produced and staged, to cover up the underlying and lingering resistance to modernism that is still not being addressed and will not be as long as one believes one can "talk" about or rather around the issue. In fact, Hoveyda points out, the repression has in many ways increased while attempting to reform itself. Again, all this only acquires a degree of reality after huge events, such as the prolonged terror of September 11th, and what its various readings point towards.
Hoveyda of course was much more systematic and sober about the whole thing, and so, for the facilitation of understanding, he rationed the reform movement into two categories: the inside, and the outside. The insiders, according to him, do not want to change. They rather think that they can save the regime as it is, by fancy productions of shows they sell to eagerly buying Europeans as "reform." The outside on the other hand, says Hoveyda, is the general population across the board, which has a good understanding of the essential need for the separation of Mosque and the government, and understands the need for the correcting of the ideological and catastrophic nature of Iranian economy.
This outside has no structure or leader, and is separate from Khatami.
IV. From myth to dialectics and back
Dr. Hoveyda's theoretical reading of the situation based on the facts that he produced, - and that I have tried to retell here in my own language, hopefully not too far from his, - detects a repetition of patterns, which he recognizes out of the oldest example of modern Persian thought-pattern, that of Shahname, "the book of Kings". The pattern of change, says Fereydoun, is to be read out of Jamshid's story.
That which we sometimes call Persepolis (and in the absence of Taaj, we end up supporting, well, not we, I, ghermezete!) is of course the seat of Jamshid, Takhte Jamshid, and it has always as far as we can remember, been in ruins. That is, to think of it linearly, as does Hegel, it perhaps could be taken to be a certain origin, a beginning of time, and a first appearance of spirit that became a spirit in its disappearance, but nevertheless came to progress all the way to its Absoluteness, yes, in the person of -- whom else? -- Professor GWF Hegel in Berlin! The Persians, I think he says somewhere rather literally, are the first people to have come to pass! "In Persia first arises that light which shines itself and illuminates what is around"
Persians are the first people to have come to pass, and in that sense, history of spirit (Geist) starts with them. But we are not dead yet. We are just repeating ourselves. In that sense Dr. Hoveyda agrees both with Hegel, and with Niezsche, and the latter's concept of the eternal return of the same. However, Fereydoun wants to, and has to, has always had to, and has always succeeded in his task of breaking of the tradition, and the prolonging of it at the same time. That is what he is talking about today, and that is what he has always done, every time we read the Shahnameh, always new, always different, always the same. Laws of non-contradiction do not hold any more, and this may make us think we are in a new post- something or other condition, but the dialectic itself has been a myth and will be a myth again... But enough of this.
Jamshid got too proud, was over-taken with Zahak (the snakes on whose shoulders demand two Iranian youth's brains each day,) and Zahak in turn was defeated by Fereydoun. So much is, and may it be henceforth: Hoveyda. But Dr. Hoveyda is serious about wanting to break out of the cycle, and if I go on maintaining that he remains within it, I would be doing him, or at least his intention, a disservice and injustice. In fact the impossible must be possible. That is, and has always been our only hope and prayer. Iranians, Dr. Hoveyda maintains, (and I would extend this to all humanity, for whatever that means,) have always been prisoners of their own tradition.
There is another mythical instance that Dr. Hoveyda refers to, and that I should also address, because it is very important for the structure of his rescue operation upon the tradition, and that is the duality he builds upon the difference between the Oedipus and Rostam myths. Oedipus kills his father, while Rostam kills his son. In both cases, this happens "inadvertently."
The killing of the son represents, according to Dr. Hoveyda, the dominance of tradition; and not only that, but also the conservation and the preservation of the tradition in a very old beginning stage. This reading wins further authority, for the sake of that most accepted fallacy, the appeal to authority, as it concurs rather exactly with Hegel's understanding of the situation: Iran has come and passed. The old nips the new in the bud.
The question then, for Fereydoun, is: will this continue? His answer: the tradition will continue, but it has already lost some of its power. To point this out and flesh out his argument a bit more, Dr. Hoveyda sites the birth of modern Iran in the 1930's. The modern institutions that were created by Reza Shah Pahlavi brought with them a sense of national identity. This trend was continued leading up in the sixties to the gradual replacement of the old feudal structure by a fresh technocracy. These technocrats then came to build the modern infrastructure. Ambassador Hoveyda stopped here to identify himself with these technocrats. He said he won't tell us what his political persuasions were then. (I give you a hint: Hegel...) I find his silence however very witty and intelligent.
From the birth of modern institutions, to a technocratic middle-class society, and onto the 80's that brought with them a new social class to which Dr. Hoveyda briefly referred: "the veterans" as a political force. This force however is also on the move. The new Iran is very young, and the youngsters know what they are missing. The access to the internet is widespread; and despite what some all-too-comfortable critics with a taste for universalism tend to criticize in various Satellite Televisions, like Azadi TV and NITV, one cannot deny the impact that they have.
V. Re-form/Re-volution vs. De-formation/De-construction
I agree with most of what the former Ambassador, and "Ostade honarmandam" has to say. But at some point my agreement with him occurs despite of what he intends to say. Most of all I feel a certain pain in my heart together with the pleasure of knowing that he goes on, proud and unrelenting as a wounded, but persisting lion, as Iran, and this pain makes me defer to him all his temperamental and often times justified reproaches to His Imperial Majesty the last Shahanshah of Iran, and by extension and default to anyone carrying the burden of his name.
Fereydoun Hoveyda feels his brother was betrayed by the Shah, and whether we would choose to challenge that "verdict" or not, the fact remains that his brother was savagely destroyed by the thugs and revolutionaries that the Shah's administrations could not stop, appease, resist, deal-with, or pacify. He blames the Shah not for the usual half-assed duplication of European tradition's arguments against some model of monarchy that has functioned as a form of resistance to modernity in another time and another place, as usual transmissions from the French Ivory tower by Iranian Antellectuals; but rather because the Shah had escaped, and left his country and his brother behind. I do not question his verdict, as I did not question him or have any questions for him during his talk.
I understand the impasse in which he finds himself. But his sentence "tradition can be overcome," I would have to modify to "tradition can and cannot be overcome at the same time," in order for me to be able to subscribe to it, and sign it.
Both Fereydoun and the tradition have to be preserved, and let go at the same time. And tradition is within Fereydoun, as Fereydoun is within the tradition. I will try to explain this: Accepting Mr. Hoveyda's mythical reading as well as his dialectical reasoning, I agree that the notion of "savior" has to be let go of. At the same time, the old cannot continue to kill the new or even worse, - to kill their new and young ideas, such as a multi-staged -National Referendum under international observation as a political solution to our current predicament as proposed by the young Shahzadeh RP2. So, Fereydoun, the old man, cannot save us. And yet, Fereydoun the old man is absolutely necessary for us to go on, have a link with, and an appreciation of who we are, and ultimately to progress beyond Fereydoun. This is the core of the paradoxical aporia in which we have to thread gently.
Yes, the Iranian diasporas are irrelevant, divided, and many other things. But I disagree with Dr. Hoveyda that they are apart from the internal opposition. There is no more internal and external in that sense. And although the separation into dualities can at times illuminate a problem; it can by the same economy, turn into the worst instance of darkness for it. The Iranians "outside" of Iran, despite it all, have more in common with Iranians "outside" of the ruling regime than they do with anything or anyone else. The trouble is of course, just as Dr. Hoveyda pointed out, that there is no unity to this outside. This unity is another case of that impossibility that is at the same time absolutely necessary.
Iran does not need political scientists or international lawyers with age old opinions which they then spin into theories. The demands of Iranian youth are simple: the most urgent demand is to have a full-on love-parade down Pahlavi Avenue.