Iran Prospect for a secular Democracy –(Potentials and obstacles)
I would like to begin my speech by thanking the organizers
of today’s event. Iran’s Prospect for a Secular Democracy
– (Potentials and Obstacles) is the title chosen by the organizers. This is a
very popular discussion among intellectuals, researchers and various political
parties, not only in Iran but also internationally. There has
been abundant studies regarding this issue and various books have been written
about it. But in today’s speech my focus is not on the academic, the theory or
the studies on this view. I would like to focus on the practical prospects of
secularism and democracy and to discuss the
obstacles for a free and secular society in Iran.
approach is to explain how secularism and freedom have become one of the main
issues for the people in Iran, especially after the revolution
was defeated by the Islamic regime under the leadership of Khomeini.
for total separation of religion from state and education was not limited to
the intellectuals and academics. The eagerness was not only from individuals.
In fact a movement had started to form under the banner of secularism.
demand not only became the focal point of discussion among various parties and
organizations, but also became part of their manifests and platforms. The
debate on the prospects for secular democracy grew with everyday discussions by
intellectuals, academics, artists and scholars. Most importantly it became part
of women’s, youth’s, workers, and even the middle classes daily struggle
against systematic suppression.
Secularism in Iran
is not a new phenomenon. Its movement first started to form with the movement
for constitutional reform in 1904. During that era many prominent individuals
in the field of politics, cultural and literature tried hard to portray the
movement and established its
platform. But unfortunately a reactionary resistant movement with the help of
religious groups, feudal and the Reza Shah
himself defeated this move. Instead Reza Shah introduced partial secular
reforms along with dictatorship. The state and its administration were
influenced deeply by Islam. Islam had a upper hand in all the laws, identity
cards and official papers. His son Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi followed the same
practice. The only differentiation was that due
to the enforcement of Land Reform, feudalism declined greatly and that boosted
secularism among the vast majority of people.
In 1978 the revolution against the monarchy
came about with a short period of democracy. During this short period, freedom
and secularism found room to grow. Study of this era can easily illustrate the
thirst of people in Iran for
political freedom, social progress and secularism. But Islamic
counter-revolution with the help of Western governments, managed to suppress
the people’s desire. Khomeini in fact finished
the job of Mohammad Reza Shah and that was to end the revolution.
The movement for
secularism has strong connection with people’s routine and daily
activities. Can you imagine an industrialized
society with a great young educated population, being against or not being in
favor of secularism? In the past one could see people in one society were kept
silent under the role of dictators, but
now to be able to push back the modern, progressive and secular lives of people
without their resistance is not possible. This
is why people in Iran are in constant challenge with the Islamic regime for
their political freedom, and civil rights. With the circumstances that they are
in and with the daily face to face confrontation, people have no choice but to
take a political approach against the Islamic state.
What I intended to proclaim is that the prospect for secularism in Iran is very obvious. Iran, as a society, has been dedicated
to civilization and has the thirst for modernism and Western culture. The
struggle of women against the compulsory veil,
attraction of young girls to achieve university degrees and higher education,
attraction of youth towards Western culture, music, film and fashion, the struggle of women to obtain the right to divorce and
the right to have custody of their children, right to travel and work, all
present the strength of this movement.
There is an
approach that believes only with endorsement of a cultural and intellectual Reno sans secular democracy can be promoted
in Iran. The followers of this approach
first assume 90% of people in Iran are Moslem just because by birth
they are. They further assume that the members of society in Iran have no desire for political freedom
and civil rights and then based on this assumption, they conclude that citizens of the society in
Iran are followers of a backward
tradition and religion. Their proposal is to put more effort on education,
mostly cultural education, and criticize religion in a philosophical way. The
followers of this approach, purposely ignore, the grass root movement for
secularism, and try to prevent religion from falling. They have indeed tried
hard to save the Islamic Regime of Iran by planting the notion that Islam can
reality and the need of society, as well as the move of people, have proven
differently. In order to survive, people need to achieve a modern civil life.
It is impossible to ask highly educated women to deny their basic rights and
become submissive towards the men in their households. It is impossible to
treat women as second-class citizens while they are holding jobs in industrial
firms or service offices. It is impossible to expect youths not to enjoy the
happy colorful life and live like the student of theology, in era of Internet
and high technology.
is that the movement of secular democracy has been pushed back by the religious
role and people of Iran are well aware of it. This is why
we are facing with a mass movement with the banner of ‘freedom and secularism’
to overthrow this regime.
According to the pervious speaker Dr. Hassan Yari, Iran is run by the role of the God and all its the
neighbors are deeply influenced by Islam. What
make you so sure secularism can ever find room to grow in Iran? Will Iran be a secular country like Canada?
Arjomand: The Islamic regime of Iran under the banner of Islam committed
the most horrendous crimes against humanity; women were arrested and lash in
public for not being properly veiled, youth were sent to jail for wearing short
or colorful cloths. Under the banner of
the Koran, tens of thousands of people were executed only in Iran. The messengers of the God did
whatever they could to control people, from
their bedroom to public places but the outcome is the up rise of the secular
movement. This is why I strongly believe secularism will start from Iran with a huge confrontation, most
probably the same type of revolution that happened in France and that for sure will have a great
impact in all its neighbors.
You are considered to be a communist; don’t you think your victory against Sharia court in Canada was because you believed in
communism? But people will not go that far.
Arjomand: First of all, I must say the victory against the Sharia
court is a result of involvement of all defenders of secularism, not only me. I
was just a coordinator of the International Campaign against Sharia Court in Canada but I must say the communists are
the ones who are leading the secular movement and I am pleased to be one.
In my interview with Maryam Namazi
from England, I understood that she joined the
ex-Muslim campaign. Are you planning to establish a brunch in Canada?
Homa Arjomand: No, of
course not, in fact I am against such a name for a political campaign, as I
believe this name “ex-Muslim” recognizes Islam as an identity of people. I am
against such identity simply because it is a very false identity,
Religion can not and should not be one of the identities of people. This name
is reactionary while I know the goal of the campaign “ex Muslim” is towards
secularism. I believe one can not challenge Islam with Islam.