Thirty-five years, the lifetime of a generation, has passed since the 1979 Revolution in Iran; a revolution against the despotism of the Pahlavi monarchy that led to the formation of a so-called “Islamic Republic” in Iran. Since its very inception in February 1979, contrary to the initial popular aspirations to liberty that had resulted in the overthrow of the monarchy, the Islamic Republic descended upon the civil society like the hammer of gods and embarked upon an overwhelming, systematic violation of human rights and at the same time a calculated movement away from the expected democracy.
Executing the officials and affiliates of the former regime without any trial (or after drumhead trials); continuous cracking down on the various political/cultural/social trends and movements; establishing strict and at times humiliating institutions for control of social behavior in general and making the “Islamic hijab” mandatory for women in particular; persecuting the ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities; systematic purging of critical intellectuals and political opponents both inside and outside of Iran; keeping in custody countless prisoners of conscience in dreadful detention centers where organized torture and mass execution is the order of the day; suppressing student and popular movements for liberty and democracy; politically/militarily intervening in the neighboring countries and attempting to make them satellite states through the use of terrorism, oppression and massacre; and the most nefarious and the source of all evil, drawing up a constitution based upon religion and revolving around the Shiite concept of “Guardianship of the Jurist” – which grants immense executive powers to the Supreme Leader as the sole representative of God on Earth; these are only a handful of the substantial anti-humanistic and anti-democratic procedures and practices of the Islamic Republic which, in Hanna Arendt’s words, have made “evil” not only in Iran but also in most of the Middle East “banal”.
Of course, during the past thirty-five years many different voices have been raised in protest against the said regime, demanding its overthrow and replacement with a democratic system amenable to the principles of human rights. All the same, these protests have done little so far in the way of fundamental change in the political system in Iran. I believe that among the reasons why the protests and movements against the Islamic Republic have generally failed, alongside many other problematics, one has been a dearth of deep and extensive theoretic understanding of the nature of the regime and how it functions; another has been the absence of a prevalent “subversive/transformative” discourse with a strong theoretical foundation; and last but not least, the nonexistence of a comprehensive democratic program to replace the Islamic Republic.
Not that there haven’t been steps taken in that direction; for a rather good number of informed and committed individuals from different walks have been treading that path for a long time now. However, the thinness of their subversive/transformative discourse against the thickness of the discourses opposing it on the one hand and the limits on the range of their discourse – most importantly, strictures on the public access – against the wide range of their opposing discourses on the other hand have rendered them for the most part inadequate and thus ineffectual.
In that light, the aim that I follow by publishing this collection of essays is to make the subversive/transformative discourse more far-reaching by dint of introducing and investigating a number of rather uncharted concepts and problematics in that regard; for it is only through the “consensus” of similar particular discourses that a general and popular discourse can take shape and have practical effect. This I hope will help the concerned audiences to get a better grasp of the situation in Iran which will in turn assist them in taking proper measures to set it right. As such, the essays in this book have been penned first and foremost in order to show that to put an end to the banality of evil and establish the principles of human rights and achieve a democratic system not only in Iran but also in the wider Middle East it is essential to overthrow the Islamic Republic.
Although in different essays I have occasionally reflected upon the “method” of that subversion, and my personal inclination is towards a popular revolution, that method is not necessarily the core of concentration of this book. That is because I believe the method of subversion is in practice the result of a host of different factors contingent upon a significant number of conditions that emerge in a given time in a given place, and are therefore mostly unpredictable. Nevertheless, what is a given for me is that for the reasons enumerated in this introduction and expounded on in the body of the book, it is mandatory that the Islamic Republic as a system be eventually overthrown. This is the “teleological” claim of this book.
However, I do not take for granted this teleological claim and commit myself throughout this book to explaining and expounding upon it by means of “accumulation of evidence” against the existence of the Islamic Republic. The whyness of this teleological claim will be investigated through an attempt to answer the question “what is the Islamic Republic”. In other words, this collection of essays will be in essence a study in the “ontology” of the Islamic Republic. I consider the whatness of the Islamic Republic an assemblage of particular “phenomena” whose coming together constructs the general phenomenon of the Islamic Republic. This is the “methodological” claim of this book.
According to The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy (2004), phenomenon is the “[p]erceptual appearance in general, that is, what may be observed and how things look” (517). According to Heidegger, “Phenomenon means that which shows itself in itself” (517). My critical interpretation of these definitions is that phenomena are what are generally recognizable – if not necessarily acceptable – “objectively”, that is, through the five senses in the medium of time and space, for many individuals with similar experiences and a rather common historical background.
As it happens, Blackwell also emphasizes this objectivity when it mentions that “Husserl’s phenomenology was deeply influenced by Descartes’s demand that knowledge be clear and distinct and opposed relying on any a priori assumption that has to be justified elsewhere” (517). The study of phenomena is duly called “phenomenology”. To some extent predicated upon the given definitions of phenomenon, again according to Blackwell and in keeping with the approach adopted by a school that included such heterogeneous thinkers as Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty, the “slogan” of phenomenology is “to the things (phenomena) themselves” (517). That is exactly what I am going to do in and with this collection of essays: to study the things (phenomena) as they are.
However, I and the classic phenomenologists part company at this very juncture; for when phenomenology as an “approach”, and that mostly in its common definition, is our shared instrument, the “material” we study proves to be different. Simply put, whereas for them the material is a universal set of “subjective” phenomena including the mind and the “structure of consciousness”; for me in this collection of essays the material is a very particular set of “objective” historical, political, social and cultural phenomena that either construct or reinforce the Islamic Republic. These phenomena encompass a broad range of subjects such as Islamism, isolationism,extrinsicism, Israelophobia, false alternatives, non-reformability, crisis creation, extralegality, cultural hegemony, atomization of society, regional imperialism, and foreign intervention, with each of which I have dealt in detail in these essays in an attempt to define, explain, and analyze them.
Here I must clarify that not all these phenomena belong in the realm of the state or immediate state politics, and neither has their inception necessarily occurred in the era of the Islamic Republic. However, their discursive extension in the course of history which has heavily influenced not only the Islamic Republic but also the Iranian society as a whole has made them the subject of study of this book. It goes without saying that there is a logical possibility that any given phenomenon and its features will not remain the same in the passage of time under the influence of different factors and conditions; therefore, it is quite possible that the characteristics and even the very existence of the phenomena studied in this book may not hold true in the long run. What is crucial here is that the existence and characteristics of the phenomena under study hold true “according to existing evidence” in “their time and place of study”.
The fact of these phenomena holding true at present can also prove useful for the understanding of the past by the future generations. As such, a written testimony as to the howness of the present will remain for the coming generations so that they can keep track of their past and thus won’t commit the same mistakes that their forerunners did; as Iranians of today have done many times due to the compulsory separation from their near past and especially the era of the Constitutional Revolution (1905-1907), the first revolution with strong tendencies towards democracy in all of Asia. It is true that every generation should take care of its own immediate problems, but it is only fit and functional that it does so in the context of history. Of course, in doing that, it should avoid entangling itself in the mesh of the ideas of the past; for the past is to be the torch of the future, and not the fetter around its feet.
It must be emphasized right here that we must also be wary of reducing a system (a general phenomenon) to a number of visible constituents (particular phenomena), for the end result of a system is not necessarily the sum total of its “visible” constituents, and there are always invisible factors within or even without the system that influence its whatness and at times how it functions. For instance, the Islamic Republic is not just Islamism, the mullahs, the Revolutionary Guards, brainwashing, torture, and execution; it is all of them plus many other things that are not necessarily immediately visible. Occasionally, the Islamic Republic is we ourselves when we unconsciously get to play in the confines of its discourse; and when we forfeit our initiative by leaving it to the individuals and organizations close to the regime, futilely believing that what they do constitutes a movement towards democracy. In that situation, the Islamic Republic is not separate from us and has no life apart from the life of those thoughts and behaviors of ours that help extend it.
Nevertheless, an intense study of the visible constituents of a system and accumulation of evidence about them is certain to help us understand more profoundly the general “behavioral patterns” of that system, and such understanding is likely to result in an improvement in our ability to predict those behaviors, which in turn is important for choosing the proper method for dealing with that system. That said, I do not claim to have studied all the phenomena that construct the Islamic Republic, for that is an impossible feat. For me, it is enough that the fundamental phenomena studied here be set before the eyes of the reader so that the whatness and howness of those phenomena could clearly drive home the necessity of subverting the Islamic Republic.
The objectivist methods employed in this book follow, implement and articulate, with different degrees, the five very basic principles that any objectivist theory needs to consider, i.e. occurrence, frequency, and distribution of phenomena, and having an explanatory and a predictive nature. Should these methods become popular, everybody else could utilize them in order to study any other phenomena on their own; hopefully, this would also allow me to enjoy their discoveries and by that improve my knowledge and understanding of other phenomena.
I must now turn to the opponents of the discourse of subversion/transformation. For years, through a host of deceptive moves, they have taken to promoting an ambiguous discourse both inside and outside of Iran so that they can actively prevent the popularization of the discourse of subversion/transformation in the Iranian public sphere. They have engaged in activities such as hobnobbing with illustrious international thinkers, philosophers, and political, social and human rights activists; procuring noteworthy international human rights and journalism awards with the assistance of professional behind-the-scene lobbies (which has enhanced the range of their discourse on both the domestic and the international scenes); and appealing to the foreign governments that are in appearance against the Islamic Republic and exploiting their state media such as the BBC and the VOA; and by all these have drawn a black veil of ignorance on the anti-humanistic and anti-democratic essence of the Islamic Republic and its banality of evil.
Through the so-called discourse of “Religious Intellectualism”, these opponents of democracy have put forward the paradoxical concept of “Religious Democracy” that intends to maintain the status of religion in the area of politics by merely making modifications to the structure of the present regime and granting some limited social freedoms to the people and therefore keep the Islamic Republic in place by hook or by crook. However, this whole charade only constitutes a misrepresentation of the truth by this coterie who call themselves “Reformists” and “Religious-Nationalists”.
Many of these people are in fact the former officials and close affiliates of the Islamic Republic themselves, and they have been benefiting from the illegitimate and unmerited political, social, and economic rewards of being part of that regime. They are, therefore, naturally for the maintaining of the regime through the use of the many means they have at their disposal. However, by frequently putting themselves up as the “opposition” to the Islamic Republic, they in effect intentionally push to the margins the genuine but not so well-to-do opposition to the Islamic Republic.
A portion of the “leftist” Iranians in exile as well as a limited but influential number of the European and American leftists and liberals, whose only concern seems to be waging a ferocious war on the crimes of capitalism while having nothing whatsoever to do with the crimes of religious fundamentalism and Middle Eastern despotism, also keep lobbying for these Religious Intellectuals in the West. Since this coterie and its discourse constitutes a particular phenomenon within the larger context of the general phenomenon of the Islamic Republic, it will be challenged in this book.
The Religious Intellectuals’ classical Islamic reading of the Platonic and the Aristotelian worldviews makes them oriented towards accepting and applying the binary divisions of “form” and “substance” (Plato) and “accident” and “essence” (Aristotle), i.e. the very divisional deficiency that Derrida diagnoses as the root of “Western Metaphysics”. Based on that binarism, the Religious Intellectuals consider the existent Islamic Republic as the “crust” – that according to them can take a different shape – and, as opposed to that, they consider the nonexistent, ideal “Islamic State” as the “core” – which according to them must definitely be constant and permanent.
However, contrary to their stance, I believe that the core and the crust are the same; for after all any phenomenon is the sum total of its components, i.e. its ideas, discourses, and practices. In other words, the “essence” of a phenomenon is very much its “appearance”. As Berkeley says, “esse est percipi (to be is to be perceived)”. Predicated on that principle, it can be claimed that the ontology of a sociopolitical phenomenon to a great extent also constitutes its “epistemology”; which means that the “whatness” of that phenomenon is to a great degree equal to the “howness” of its ideational methods and behavioral patterns. Thus, the “truth” of a phenomenon is what it “is”, and not what it can or should “be”. Indeed, no rational/empirical mode of thinking will justify “what-is” on the basis of “what-is-not.” That which references “what-is-not” in order to justify “what-is” is neither science nor scholarship; it is religion, whatever appellation it is given.
It is with regard to these very binaristic, subjectivistic, and pseudo-religious fallacies of the Religious Intellectuals that the phenomenological study of the Islamic Republic becomes critically imperative; for the study of the Islamic Republic as an assortment of phenomena assessable in keeping with factual evidence will shut the door on the extremely abstract and anti-evidential ideations and interpretations of the Religious Intellectuals who are intent upon salvaging their beloved Islamic Republic based upon those abstractions.
Since phenomena are constituted/located in a given spatio-temporal medium and are therefore tangible via the five human senses, it is only natural that the study of “metaphysics” and “divine matters” lie outside their territory. It is exactly because of this that the Religious Intellectuals who are constantly concerned with religion and its interpolation into politics should not take kindly to phenomenology or any other objectivist method, and instead stick to abstract musings and hermeneutical ravings that leave the way open for their subjectivist and anti-historicist interpretations. Accordingly, the main task they have set themselves for the past couple of decades has been to eliminate historical differences “on the paper” via the panacea of hermeneutics so that they won’t have to acknowledge the validity of those differences in reality and get to deal with them “in practice”.
By taking advantage of the long and influential presence of mysticism in the Iranian mindset; by exploiting rhetoric and excessively playing with words and thereby reducing the truth to the text; by frequent term- and name-droppings; by adopting an “argument-from-authority” attitude instead of aspiring to achieve elucidation and helping the reader really “understand” whatever the argument and its point is, and in so doing compelling the reader to bow to the “erudition” of the author and stoop to the sublime and incorporeal “grandeur” of the text; by all these means the Religious Intellectuals conveniently confuse the undeniable historical facts of religion and obfuscate the nature of the “religious state” in Iran and occasionally the rest of the world in order to justify the necessity of religion in and for state politics. And this has become possible for them only because their particular kind of approach – which they have made popular via the means at their disposal – grants them such license.
By brewing together the various and at times contradictory ingredients adopted from the works of the Islamic sages, polemicists, and poets, and the ancient, medieval, modern and postmodern Western thinkers and philosophers, these present-day sophists and modern-time alchemists have made a soporific potion only a sip of which instantly kills off the desire for the truth. They who are to a great extent indebted to postmodern approaches, without giving much credit and weight to the anti-authoritative, liberatory, and justice-demanding aspects of postmodernism and with unduly dwelling on its relativistic nature, take advantage of the discursive diffusion predicated upon that relativism in order to advance their own anti-democratic and at heart anti-humanistic agenda. As a consequence, such has become the situation today that amidst this bedlam of absolute relativism these “intellectuals” have created day cannot be told from night.
It is first and foremost in defiance of this gloomy way of intellection that I have chosen in my works to write vividly and to study hard evidence instead of speculating about mere abstractions. This text and many others by my pen are explicable and assessable by reference to facts beyond them. Very simply, one can go and look for what has been studied in the text “outside” of it, and if it couldn’t be found out there, reject the text. In other words, verifiability or falsifiability of this text is predicated upon the existence or nonexistence of the evidence outside of it upon which it draws, and not on abstract notions and metaphysical matters to which the human senses have no experiential access whatsoever.
All the articles in this book concentrate on an objective study of phenomena that have constructed the Islamic Republic. My aim in taking that approach has been to popularize a set of objectivist methods in the intellectual sphere of Iran that for different reasons have either not been established or if established have been pushed to the margins today. Such marginalization of those ways has left the door open for the invasion of absolutely subjectivist methods, which in turn has led to the contemporary sociopolitical, intellectual, and cultural catastrophe. As such, it can be said that the entirety of this book constitutes a “discourse on the method”.
Here I must clarify that my emphasis on phenomenology does not necessarily entail an exclusion/avoidance/negligence of other approaches and methods of study, for in this collection of essays I have employed many different, mostly objectivist, methods for the study of different issues. What I mean by underscoring phenomenology, however, is that my concern has been an objectivist study of the phenomena – with the specifics explained above – that construct the Islamic Republic; phenomena that I believe for their anti-humanistic and anti-democratic existence the Islamic Republic must be overthrown.
From what has been said so far it must be deducible that I do not believe in any a priori “grand narrative” and ready-made prescription that has already assigned the points to be accepted and rejected; and the objectivist approach that I put forward and use in this book also demonstrates that I do not accept or reject any phenomenon unless I have studied it in light of concrete evidence in the medium of time and space and against the backdrop of humanistic and democratic principles. This is in essence a pluralistic approach that is in line with the final goal of this collection of essays which is the promotion and establishment of democracy.
In the end, I must express my gratitude to the people who undertook to make this book available to the public. My special thanks goes to my dear friends, Dr. David B. Downing and Mr. Abbas Khosravi Farsani, who suggested valuable amendments and improvements to the text. Past that, this book is the fruit of the toil of a group of people who have undertaken to publish it without benefiting from any state or corporate funding and without having access to massive propaganda machines to promote it. Whereas in the past thirty-five years the publishing industry in Iran has come under heavy supervision, regulation, and censorship by the Islamic Republic and thereby has lost much of its enlightening and edifying function, the Iranian publishing houses in exile – whether Internet-based or paper-based – despite all the hurdles in their way, have managed to pull the weight of improving the knowledge and understanding of Iranians both inside and outside of Iran. This calls for great appreciation.
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Open letter of Ali Khamenei’s nephew to the U.S. president Barak Obama
What if the Supreme Leader Dies
Autism and the Difficulties of the Autistic Society in Iran
EDITORS NOTE: This is the preface to the book of the same name, soon to be published by the Literature Club. Reza Parchizadeh, the author, is a Persian political theorist, analyst and activist. He has a BA and an MA in English Language and Literature from University of Tehran, Iran; has studied Media and Communication Studies at Örebro University, Sweden; and is a Ph.D. student in English Literature and Criticism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). At IUP, he is also editor-in-chief of the English Department’s Newsletter and editorial assistant of the department’s journal, Works and Days. His research interests include theory, philosophy, history, cultural studies, and political studies. He has published five books and many articles so far both in Persian and English.