In August, Iranians passed two horrid anniversaries: one well known internationally, and the other not so well known. The internationally (in)famous one was the 55th anniversary of the overthrow of our democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 by a British-US coup.
The less known one was the 20th anniversary of the wholesale execution/massacre of up to 5,000 political prisoners. These political prisoners were tortured horrendously after being tried in summary sham trials (without any legal representations) and their bodies buried, at times in mass graves, in a cemetery for “unbelievers”, Khavaran Cemetery, or better known as the La’nat-abad (translated as “place of the damned”), in the southern outskirts of Tehran.
Back in 1989, in a piece for The Nation, Alexander Cockburn reported, “The mullahs appear to be cleaning house before February’s celebration of the tenth year of the revolution, hanging prisoners, placing them before firing squads and dynamiting whole prisons. On one account, all political prisoners in the city of Hamadan were shot. In Teheran, Jadeh Khavaran Cemetery, known as the Place of the Damned, is crammed with shallow, unmarked graves.” (“Heart of Darkness Department,” February 6, 1989).
For any references to the 20th anniversary of this wholesale massacre of political prisoners, however, you would have been looking in vain among the Western leftist websites and publications. This is because mentions of human rights violations in Iran, thanks to the efforts of the Islamic Republic’s lobbyists in the West, have come to be viewed as “aiding and abetting the Western imperialists”! It is a strange world. Indeed, to voice any criticism of this theocratic dictatorship is characterized by the detractors as “sowing antagonism against Iran,” as if the Iranian government were identical to the Iranian people!
As reported, just recently the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives chose to shelve a long-pending Congressional Resolution (HR) 362, “whose passage the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) had made its top legislative priority this year, [and] had been poised to pass virtually by acclamation last summer.” As activists for social justice, we rejoice over this tactical victory.
At the same time, we must assume that “the grassroots Iranian-American, Jewish-American, peace, and church groups,” who lobbied against this House Resolution, support the civil and individual rights of the Iranian people. The same citizens’ groups should therefore be raising the alarms about the attacks the Iranian people suffer daily at the hands of their own government. After all, regular Iranian people, women and student organizations as well as unionists in the country, and even members of clergy regularly protest the conditions of human rights in Iran.
It must be emphasized that we are talking about a theocracy, something no western leftist or liberal would put up with in their countries, yet seem to see fit for us lesser peoples (Edward Said, you are sorely missed!). This is a theocracy in which women are legally half as worthy as men; in which many (up to twenty-something) university subjects remain closed to women (including mining-engineering, management, and other professions considered inappropriate for women); in which women cannot become judges; in which women cannot choose their dress; in which men and women can be stoned to death for the act of making love to another; and in which a good 90% of the population is legally (as dictated in the constitution) barred from running for public office or running for leadership positions.
In today’s Iran, women, socialists, atheists, Sunnis, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Bahais, and Sufis are legally barred from any of the leadership positions. According to Amnesty International, the Islamist republic in Iran is among a minority of states in which discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sexual orientation, and even philosophical outlook is LEGAL (Saudi Arabia and Israel are other examples).
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The Iranian government has been manufacturing a completely false case regarding its likenesses to the government of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh who, as Prime Minister, brought about the nationalization of Iranian oil in 1951, and who was overthrown in a coup organized by the British and the Americans in 1953. The fundamental similarities alluded to by the current government are to reinforce the legitimacy of its right to mastering the full nuclear fuel enrichment cycle and to silence all dissent.
The core likenesses claimed by regime leaders and their supporters are based on nothing except mere assertions, and the historical record glaringly indicates otherwise. So, let us look at the differences.
First, though, one historical note of profound irony. Ayatollah Kashani, mentor to Ayatollah Khomeini, and the leading Shiite clerical leader at the time of Mossadegh’s government, as the Speaker of Majlis (parliament) had great influence and power in the Iranian society back then, especially among the rural population (a majority at the time) and the traditional lower middle classes and the bazaar merchants. He used his enormous power and influence to support the CIA-orchestrated coup against Mossadegh. This is a historical fact.
Much of the “street wisdom” in Iran has traditionally blamed the Tudeh Party (the communists) for abandoning Mossadegh, thus facilitating the coup against him, and considers that act as a big treachery (and their charge is correct). But, the same “wisdom” is very forgetful when it comes to the treachery of the clerics. We must not forget that at least the Tudeh, especially the rank and file and their social base, remained loyal to Mossadegh much longer than did the clergy. This was mainly due to Mossadegh’s attempts at some rural reforms, highly unpopular among the rural landowners, naturally allied with the clerics.
So, for today’s Iranian ruling theocrats to liken themselves to Mossadegh, whom the clerics’ forefathers helped overthrow, is . . . well, what else should we call it other than blasphemous?
This is to remind the readers that the cleric and the Rationalist have never been good friends. The structural differences between the current theocracy in Iran and Mossadegh’s government could not be more glaring than if Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, with their vast network of churches, established a Christian Republic of America, and then some permutation of their regime down the line likened itself to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
During Mossadegh’s government, we had an absolute, guaranteed right of forming political parties, and such parties existed openly and freely, ranging from right wing nationalists to communists. Likewise, hundreds of publications were freely printed and distributed, with no ideological preconditions forced on them by the state. That’s real democracy. During the reign of the theocrats, by contrast, it is illegal to form independent non-religious political parties; additionally, freedom of expression has not only been eradicated for a majority of political persuasions, it has far too often turned into freedom of death for numerous intellectuals.
During Mossadegh’s government, women and men were not stoned to death for the mere act of making love to another human being.
During Mossadegh’s government, we did not have to swear oath to a theocratic (Inquisition style) state formation before being allowed to run as a representative of our community, rendering over 90% of the population ineligible to run for any office, particularly in the executive branch.
During Mossadegh’s government, women’s testimony in a court of law did not count as half as much as that of a man’s, and women’s inheritance would not be automatically half their male siblings’, and they could choose their own clothing and could even wear lip stick (Oh, the horror!) if they so wished, without fear of ‘clothing police’ and lashes.
During Mossadegh’s government, women were not automatically barred from studying certain subjects in the university, based on the “unsuitability” of said subjects for the “female mind.”
Most importantly, under Mossadegh imperialism was barred from the country, while with no oil income there was a balanced budget with no inflation; currently standing at $21 bn of foreign debt and 25% inflation rate (a conservative estimate), we now even import refined oil!
Finally, on the Mossadegh’s likeness to the theocrats, a highly astute observer, whose weblogs from Tehran I was fond of keeping up with, way back in the early twenty-first century, noted that the theocrats had decided the nuclear issue was the most convenient front to engage the western demands on them for change of behavior. Back then, it was argued openly that the nuclear issue, as a singular topic, would galvanize a nationalistic fervor among the Iranian people, much like the nationalization of oil by Mossadegh, which created righteous, nationalistically positive sentiments among the people back in the late 1940s and until the nationalization of oil in 1951.
To paraphrase, it was argued by the clergy that the most effective propaganda arena to engage the west would be the nuclear technology, instead of human rights, women’s rights, political prisoner’s rights or, god forbid, labor rights.
And guess what? They got their wish!
Which brings us back to the less known 20th anniversary of the massacre of nearly 5,000 political prisoners and their dispatch to the Place of the Damned. Gone are the news items about the thousands of political prisoners currently held under bogus charges in Iran, though plenty of them perish in Guantanamo-like conditions. These political prisoners range from student activists to women’s rights activists to unionists. There are women political prisoners held in Iranian prisons, whose only “crime” is gathering signatures petitioning the government to recognize women as legally equal to men.
In the US, some “leftist” publications such as MRZine have become de facto platforms for apologists of this theocratic dictatorship based on the fact that American imperialists are picking on this regime. On the website of MRZine, we regularly see writings by CASMII personnel, who are nothing but lobbyists for the Iranian regime (not the Iranian people, mind you), and readers of the website are treated to regular articles detracting from the human rights atrocities the Iranian people have to suffer. But, on this “socialist” website, the violations of the human rights of the Iranian people find not a single mention; — ever.
So, we must ask: What is the meaning of socialism if it does not even include basic, civil rights of individuals?
Some of the political positions of the rightist “left” (e.g., CASMII) are absurd indeed. In their political thinking, mere talk of human rights is equal to aiding and abetting neo-conservatives. Never mind that Iranian socialists have been talking about these egregious violations for nearly three decades, while standing steadfastly against imperialism. To these gentlemen, to even make a reference to Amnesty International reports would bring charges of being a “neocon”. The reader is, nevertheless, encouraged to read AI’s reports on Iran, especially the report on the 20th anniversary of the mass slaughter of political prisoners in Iran (see here) and inform themselves accordingly.
No mass executions ever took place at any time during Mossadegh’s reign; ironically, such massacres did not even occur during the Shah’s hated dictatorship. Activists for social justice worldwide and socialists in particular should not be derailed by the fact that “Human Rights” is used opportunistically by the neoconservatives and the neoliberals for so-called “humanitarian” (i.e., plain rapist) interventions. Human rights are still human rights, and as such must be held as sacrosanct by anybody fighting for social justice.
The utilitarian view of politics held by opportunists has always mandated downplaying the atrocities committed by “our own SOBs.” This outlook has now seeped well into the American left. It is a variation on the theme of “lesser evil.” And, unfortunately, this is one reason the American rightist “left” — who, for example, cannot stand unambiguously against imperialism AND a theocracy at the same time — is so bereft of any moral vision to show the way out of the turbulence and crises of our times vis-à-vis the American state and Capital in general.
Here is the situation with large segments of the American left: Bush announced that “you are either with us or against us,” and the they bought this line in it’s entirety, switched off their independent principles and lined up behind whomever the Bush administration opposed. As if the solutions to the problems of our time can only come from two sources: one imperialist, one “enemy du jour.” As if socialists don’t have brains of their own. If these “leftists” really believe this line of thinking, why don’t they just fold up their tents? What is the point of keeping up pretenses of “socialism” when not a shred of socialist principles is reflected in our political actions?
This inability to maneuver politically is all the more glaring since, as the old-timers used to say, the objective conditions are over-ripe for socialist forces to organize the subjective agency, and push an effective counter-move to mobilize social forces in the strategic direction of challenging capital in a practical and realistic fashion.
Most of the demands of the Iranian revolution of 1978-79 are still unmet. In that revolution, we were demanding unconditional political freedoms we did not have, such as freedom of assembly and freedom to form political parties; we still don’t have those freedoms. We were demanding unconditional freedom of expression, which we still don’t have. We were demanding freedom from arbitrary state harassment, which we still don’t have. We were demanding freedom from arbitrary arrest and torture for merely holding certain philosophical outlooks; we still don’t have that freedom. We were demanding a government representing a majority of the people, a government that is truly free, not a theocratic dictatorship representing only a small minority (15% according to the regime’s own understanding).
Likewise, we were demanding freedom from imperialists dictating how we should conduct our economic life; this demand is likewise still unmet, since ‘world markets’ for resources and a speculative capitalist system in Iran continue to dictate to a great degree what economic benefits we the Iranian people (not just a few at the top) enjoy from our vast natural and social resources.
The current regime, following one of the key demands of the revolution, has kept up pretences of anti-imperialism, just to keep up a facade. Meanwhile, political and civil freedoms that people demanded through that revolution are still not materialized, and instead the Iranian people are faced with a dictatorship far more thorough than anything the Shah could fathom. The solution for Iranian socialists is clear: No to imperialist interventions in any form, No to theocracy, Viva socialism!