Homa Arjomand  





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. 


The first 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.


The desire 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.   This 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 become moderate.


But the 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.


The reality 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.



Question and answer


Question: 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?


Homa 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.


Question: 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.


Homa 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.


Question: 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.