An open letter to Mrs. Hicks following her International Herald Tribune article of September 18, 2002
You, Mrs. Elahe Sharifpour-Hicks, are known to progressive Iranians for your struggle for Human Rights issues in Iran. I have frequently been pleased while listening to some of the interviews you have given. However, in addition to respect for your work, it is my deep astonishment, and sorrow, that are the main reasons for writing these critical, though nonetheless friendly remarks about your article. ("Iran's elected leaders are ready to listen", IHT 12 sep 2002).
You write, "If there is one clear enemy of human rights and political reform in Iran today, it is the judiciary. So when I recently met Mohammed Javad Larijani, the deputy head of the judiciary with responsibility for international affairs and human rights, a newly created post, I expected that we would vehemently disagree about almost everything."
I think that you should be aware that this "respectable" man, known for his very special relationship with UK intelligence services (his 1997 "secret" discussions in England, a few months before the first election of Mr. Khatami, having since been revealed) has been installed in this newly created "custom-made" post primarily for just such occasions, giving a "respectable" face to the most hideous actions of the judiciary.
In the next paragraph, you add, "But Larijani, a sophisticated man who speaks fluent English, made no apologies. He believes that both conservatives in the past and now reformists have proved to be incompetent to run the country. I was surprised to find myself agreeing with him."
I find this particularly disturbing. Why have you gone to visit this man ? For a general discussion on politics, and the shortcomings of different governments in the Islamic Republic, or to question him on pressing Human Rights concerns, such as the unjust fate of scores of political prisoners mistreated by the judiciary ? To whom did Mr. Larijani speak- Iran researcher for Human Rights Watch in New York, or rather a commentary writer for the International Herald Tribune ?
I believe that Mr. Larijani has a much better understanding and knowledge of your ideas than you have knowledge of him and the deep struggle going on for the democracy in Iran. It's a good point that you do not hide your prejudices before your visit, but these prejudgments reveal your na‹ve attitude in front of the hard-liners.
Anyhow, as someone who cares about the days and years passed in prison by the brave journalists who investigated the so-called "serial killings" of the intelligence services of Iran, I'm more interested in what the judiciary representative had to say about this to a representative of an NGO like Human Rights Watch, than that representative's comments about this or that personality. Shallow analyses, based on personal feelings about current developments in Iranian society are flourishing everywhere (including among Iranian intellectuals). I do not have the willingness, nor the means, to answer all of them.
For various reasons, I believe that the current struggle between the two factions of the Iranian State, is an irreducible ideological battle between death (or what's "supposed to happen" after our life on Earth) and this present corporeal life. Therefore, putting these two social forces in the same sack reveals a profound misunderstanding of historical as well as current rapidly changing social processes. There are examples of the differences between the current government and the previous one available.
Among many cases, Mr. Ganji, the courageous journalist in prison for over a year because of his investigations into the crucial subject of the "serial killings", is a good living illustration of the changes that Iran has undergone in the last 5 years. (Did you try to meet him during your stay in Iran ?). What made a former "ideological leader" of the "Guardians of the Islamic Revolution" investigate these "State crimes", and more than that, in recent months write a "republican manifesto" from prison? The very fact that he is still alive should give you an idea of some of those changes!
After saying that the supreme religious leader is "behind the shutdown of more than 85 publications in the last two years, the imprisonment of many journalists, writers and political activists, the crushing of student demonstrations and banning of political parties, and the imposition of even more restrictions on everyday life", quite curiously you neglect to mention that President Khatami has been against all these "pseudo-legal" actions, and that he has done everything in his power according to the current Constitutional law to stop them (ex- giving many "constitutional alarms").
In the few next paragraphs, you try to answer the question "How can the United States craft a policy toward Iran that is at the same time realistic and principled?" Before looking at your answers, I'd like to breakdown the question a bit:
· After commenting about the outcome of the reformist movement, are you trying to take a new role, "US government advisor on Iranian affairs"?
· What do you mean by "principled policy" ? Can causing the death of a few hundred thousand Iraqis children, mainly because of an ongoing unfair embargo imposed since the end of the Golf War in 1991, be considered a "principled policy" ? What about the official declaration of President Bush asking Congress "to authorize a possible use of force against Iraq" and warning "that he was prepared to move ahead even without United Nations backing"? You surely know that this "principle" is not new at all, it has already been declared by Mrs. Albright before the Bush era. Am I wrong in calling this principle by its ancient name- "the law of the jungle" ?
So before asking "how", we should first ask "if " the US wants to "craft a policy toward Iran that is at the same time realistic and principled", perhaps based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for example?
In the next paragraph you write, "First, Washington must make clear that it rejects certain parts of the political spectrum. Reformists in Tehran were shocked that the foreign policy chief of the European Union, Javier Solaña, met with Rafsanjani during a recent visit to Tehran."
Firstly, I was quite shocked wondering what Javier Solaña, the foreign policy chief of the European Union has to do (rightly or wrongly) in a paragraph which tries to answer a question that starts with "How can the United States craft …". Would you be kind enough to make clear to me whether you consider the European Union to be a US State, or if whether believe that the entire European Union has to follow blindly the US administration, no matter what the administration decides, acting as a US vassal (like Mr. Blair, for example) ?
Secondly, even if we accept your role of "US policy advisor", in accordance with which international laws do you conclude that "Washington must make clear that it rejects certain parts of the political spectrum" ? One of the most valuable results of the popular revolution in Iran has been what you yourself admit a paragraph later : "Clearly, it is hard for Washington to have much direct influence over internal affairs in Iran." Indeed, in today's world, there are very few countries to which one may apply such an assertion.
The undeniable fact that conservative "death-seeking" rulers (call it "sacrifice" or whatever you want, this applies of course to others, not to themselves, their goal being the preservation of their own rule) are dominant in the Islamic State today is a huge obstacle on the road to Iran's development and welfare. But this is a deeper basic problem of Iranians themselves. If we consider only one lesson of the Iranian reform movement, the tendency to find and as much as possible tackle the internal sources of flaws instead of overestimating the external factors, then from a historical point of view, this whole experience has been worth living. A direct consequence of this lesson is the logical demand of Iranians to let them solve their own internal affairs internally! It is the most fundamental right of any nation to choose its own path of development in a free manner. It is my hope and the right of Iranians, that they move towards a better democracy. Everyone, as human beings, and based on humanist "principles" ( i.e. that human lives are equally valuable where they are lived), should denounce violations of Human Rights. The role that NGOs, such as yours, Amnesty International, Reporters Sans frontiers, etc., can play everywhere is very much appreciated and welcomed, including in the US (for example against the death penalty).
If you consider that the discussion between two countries should be seen and conducted on an equal-to-equal basis (I do not imagine that you might consider a "master-pupil" relationship as a model of inter-state discussions), then one might also advise the Islamic State that "Tehran must make clear that it rejects certain parts of the political spectrum" in the United States prior to any discussions! Until future changes take place, and no matter what you or I may desire, it is obvious that Mr. Rafsanjani occupies an important place in the Iranian state today. Removing him from his post is the concern of Iranians. Iranian reformists are of course "free" to be shocked as much as they want, but they surely can not dictate to foreign representative whom to visit and whom to avoid.
Several times you mentioned "the elected leaders of Iran". It's worth noting that using a strict definition, the supreme religious leader has also been (indirectly) elected by the Iranian people. In fact, according to the present Constitutional law, this is done by the "religious Council of Experts" (who have the power to remove him from his post). And this Council is elected by universal suffrage. In some ways this procedure is similar to the two-stage election of US presidents. Knowing that in the last US elections, the number of votes for Mr. Gore were a few hundred thousand more than for Mr. Bush, do you suggest that the rest of the world consider Mr. Bush as "non-elected", or that they boycott Mr. Bush until changes in American laws permit direct elections?
In another paragraph you've written that, "President Khatami believes that change can only take place peacefully and within the framework of the Iranian constitution. But it is a flawed document that accords absolute power to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei."
Here, as an Iranian-born humanist, I agree with your characterizing the present Iranian constitution as "flawed". I might add that I am among the 1.8% of the Iranians who voted against the Islamic republic referendum proposed by Ayatollah Khomeyni right after the Islamic Revolution's victory. But this "flawed document" reflects the "flawed state of mind" of the majority of Iranians at the time, which in turn should be considered as bitter fruit, the "last gift" of a corrupt and completely US-dependant regime, brought to power by the CIA-led coup of 1953. At the time of the revolution, about 65% of Iranians were illiterate, and the huge majority of the rest did not have any precise idea of what democracy was. Did you expect that such people, being under dictatorships for a few thousand years, would produce a perfect constitutional state all at once?
You write that according to law, the elected president does not have much power. I view as exaggerated Mr. Rafsanjani's claims that the conservative establishment would mobilize 2 million people in its support, and would not hesitate to use its 400,000-strong private army against the people to hold on to power. After all, the percentage of voters for Khatami among these forces was similar to the rest of the country, i.e. more than 70% . Let us suppose however, for argument's sake that the conservative establishment has such a power, and in a critical case would not hesitate, to use it, costing many people their lives. Should we then blame the huge majority of Iranians who, having learned a hard lesson from the last revolution, while ready to vote one hundred times to ameliorate their "flawed" Constitutional law, are not at all eager to give their lives, which they can do but once?
The progression of the Iranian society towards a better world depends on so many factors. No one can foresee the shape that their struggle may take in the future. But as a humanist, I will do my best to avoid the bloodshed there (as elsewhere in the world) and continue hoping that changes take place peacefully. In this struggle, I am happy to find Mr. Khatami on my side.
Recognizing his limitations, most of which I would term "historical", this is not an appropriate place for me to criticize him. I know only one acceptable source of the legitimacy of any state- the people, each and every one of them, and without exceptions. So, as a democrat, I have to respect the choice of my people in electing him. And as a citizen, I judge his deeds according to my principles, not his nor yours.
As you should well know, the two main measures that president Khatami announced in his major speech Aug. 28, are
· A bill reducing the power of the conservative "Council of Guardians" (of Islam and Constitutional
Law) to eliminate "unwanted" candidates from the public elections
· A bill allowing the president to act with "more prerogatives" so that he may "better respond to the aspirations of the people".
Even with the small amount of information presented in this article, one can clearly see the crucial importance of these two laws for advancing reforms (for more information, see Agence France Press). The outcome of this struggle is uncertain. As elsewhere in the world, and as long as Iranians themselves do not put an end to it, it's the right of the conservatives and hard-liners to create as many "legal obstacles" as they can on this long path. But they should not be permitted to violate basic modern Human Rights.
I admire your struggle in working for concrete adherence to these principles in Iran, however, I would draw your attention to the fact that mixing-up the roles, especially when the analysis of the political situation is incomplete, will necessarily harm this important task.
If you have more remarks, or questions, please feel free to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
 The 4 last killings by the agents of the Intelligence ministry : the stabbing of a political activist and his wife, and the choking of two secular writers, are known to all Iranians (even the officials) as "serial killings". These were among the "hundreds of Iranians killed by government agents inside and outside the country because of their political beliefs." After being convinced of the role of the Intelligence ministry, Mr. Khatami forced the ministry to recognize these crimes. He undertakes the institution of deep reforms in this ministry. But the real engineers of these killings were not bothered by the judiciary. Quite to the contrary, some of the journalists who played an active role in revealing these crimes are in prisons according to "Islamic laws" !
 Among the strange and unusual is the fact that a prisoner wrote a book in which, bringing concrete examples from the Qoran, he explains why a "real republic" is incompatible with Islam. His 40 pages book was published officially in Iran, before being banned. It has since been published on Internet. You may download the original, in Persian, PDF version from here.