IN DEFENSE OF IRANIAN LIBERALS
By Sam Ghandchi
The following is a copy of ghandchi’s article entitled “IN DEFENSE OF
LIBERALS”, which was posted on SCI newsgroup on
“AAA”, an SCI reader, in his message says that he has lost a brother
and many close friends and comrades. I can only sympathize with
his loss and say that yes, Iranians have buried so many of their
brightest intellectuals in mass graves in the last century, without
achieving half of what some nations such as
Why? I think because of sensational assessments of the world and
of our society; and replacing brevity and fearlessness contests for
reason. I am sorry to be so harsh and cold-blooded in my response
to AAA's tragic report, but I do not want to see the sacrifice of
another soul for sensationalism. I am afraid that Iranian
intellectuals have already lost too much by resorting to
sensationalism, especially in the last four decades and I prefer to
have my reason, rather than my emotions, to direct my actions.
AAA's final call for action goes as follows:
summary, my message is the following. First,
>revolutionary change to take it back from the IRI's rule. Second, it is
>not clear that any leading opposition group will be a practical force
>for implementing this revolutionary change and therefore, a new
>independent force must be created to fill this void or otherwise we
>can look forward to living in conditions similar to our neighbors in
>now and we must take the leadership role that will complement
>the change within the Iranian society.
The above analysis reminds me of the period after the 1953 coup,
i.e. after the overthrow of Dr. Mossadegh's government. Many
Iranian intellectuals who were tired of the politics and defeats of
the Tudeh Party and Jebh-e Melli chose two new sensational
alternatives. The first one was the Cheriki leftist guerrilla movement
and the second one was the Shariati mystical-Islamic movement.
The former felt dead in the quiet times of 1953-1962. Amir Parviz
Pooyan called the intellectuals of the time BAGHA (meaning status
quo) supporters. Massoud Ahmad-Zadeh looked to Regi Dubre's
theories for action and being alive. Thus the former tendency, that is
the leftist guerilla practitioners, with prominent figures such as Bijan
Jazani, finally were consolidated in the Fadaeean Khalgh organization.
The latter group, that is Shariati and his Hosseiniiieh-Ershad, created
a mixture of Existentialism and Islam in a mystical fashion. They
attacked liberalism by undermining rationalism; and they idealized
emotionalism by choosing the path of heart. They partly joined the
forces that finally are part of the current regime; and partly became
the body of Mojahedin organization (MKO), which was previously
formed by the radical elements of Nehzat Azadi.
Actually the above two tendencies among the Iranian intellectuals
for over 30 years, were the reasons why the liberalism did not grow
in Iran in this period. Yes we did have a liberal tradition which was
continued from the time of Mashrootiat. People like Alameh
Dehkhoda continued that tradition even after Mossadegh's fall.
Dehkhoda himself was always a supporter of Mossadegh.
Unfortunately, the new intellectuals of the 60s had no patience for
this liberalism, which was already tarred by Tudeh Party within the
opposition and was damaged by the Shah's repression from the other
It is ironic that the fathers of the two individuals who were founders
of the above two tendencies, were both members of the National
Front, namely Ahmad-Zadeh and Shariati. The new sensational
leftist and Islamic tendencies attacked liberalism so much that the
word "liberal" became a dirty word in Iranian political literature. If
you see in our times that Mohandes Bazargan was attacked as the
menacing "liberal", as if the word is pointing at something dirty, this
is a heritage of that period.
Let me return to one of the AAA’s own statements below. He writes:
>Can anyone of you imagine a dictatorship running France or England
>for extended period of time? The answer is no as these countries
>have gone through the evolution of democracy. It is not too difficult
>to imagine the rise of a dictator for life in Nicaragua or Iran despite
>the revolutions that they have gone through. Therefore, we must
>understand that the change we need and should seek is an
>evolutionary change and not a revolutionary one IF we had the
>time, but we are not given that luxury.
The above reminds me so much of Ahmad-Zadeh and Shariati's
writings. We never have time for liberalism. But the real reason for
France and England's strong footholds of democracy is the long
liberal tradition. They also had to deal with dictatorships. AMIR
KABIR ALSO DEALT WITH DICTATORSHIP, BUT CHOSE LIBERALISM,
WHEREAS MIRZA REZA KERMANI CHOSE SENSATIONALISM IN
RESPONSE TO THE SAME SET OF CIRCUMSTANCES.
It is not because of the conditions, Conditions are used as an excuse
to justify oneÕs chosen path, although the conditions do reciprocally
help to strengthen that chosen path. In other words, for our post
1953 coup intellectuals, liberalism was not noble enough and the
post-coup repression reinforced them in their belief to abandon
liberalism as a feasible path. In the above, the arguments that were
repeated over and over again since Ahmad-Zadeh, by Cheriki
activists of Iran, are being repeated above by AAA.
Who do you think attacked the liberal government of Mohandes
Bazagan right after the revolution? The leftists and radical Islamic
groups did. Do you remember how "liberal" was such a dirty word in
those days. In those days, these groups always sided with the more
conservative groups of Ruhaniiat, such as Khoeineeiha, and they
pointed their attacks against the more moderate factions such as
Rafsanjani [at the time of hostage-taking, Rafsanjani took more
moderate positions as compared to Khoeiniha and his politics at that time
was more similar to Khatami’s politics of 90’s-Note SG 2001]
I never forget the attacks on Mohandes Bazargan's government.
Ibrahim Yazdi was attacked daily by our leftist and Shariati type
intellectuals. The Jebh-e Melli representatives in that government,
such as Sanjabi, never received any support from our intellectuals.
It is so unfortunate that in the first years after the 1979 revolution,
the Iranian intellectuals themselves, more than anybody else,
damaged the growth of consciousness for liberalism among the
people and they damaged the growth of the democratic movement to
address the individual rights among Iranian people, by their attacks
on the liberals, as the lackeys of the Western states. During the
hostage crisis, most of the Iranian left was one voice with the
extremist right in attacking the liberal government of Bazargan.
Please read the following conversation between AAA and BBB. BBB
who is an ardent supporter of MKO on SCI:
>Islam, whose very soul is to free and liberate, has turned into a
>sword, whose only goal is to chain and murder.
BBB of Mojahedin responds:
>Again although I do not consider myself a religious person, I agree
>with you completely. I do believe Islam and other religions brought
>the message of equality and compassion for the human race and
>certainly do not believe what the Akhunds are doing in Iran has
>anything to do with Islam.
In other words, BBB representing an organized party, is more
realistic. He sees that what AAA says is what MKO has been in its
youth. AAA admires the early MKO and wants to return to those
days. In other words to return to the days when MKO was filled with
Shariati type Islamic sensationlism. Here is AAA's own words:
>I, like many others in my age group, was a sympathizer of the MKO
>for many years as to me they were a manifestation of the ideas and
>goals that captivated my young mind and came from Dr. Shariatie
>and others like him. The admiration that I felt towards MKO was
>dimmed and finally put to rest after the current crop of their
>leaders took over the organization. Mr. Rajavi in my opinion is as
>much responsible for the murder of many of our brothers as is
>Larijanee who ordered the actual executions. ..... His lack of trust in
>others and his egoism has turned a potentially viable option into an
>organization that is hated by the masses of Iranian people and has
>turned MKO into a useful tool for the regime. By having an
>illegitimate and highly unpopular opposition group the regime has
>succeeded in labeling all other opposition forces with even a slight
>bias towards left as MKO supporters or MKO imitators and thus, has
>deprived them of any popular support.
I am writing in defense of Iranian liberalism. I hope that Iranian
intellectuals today not to make the same mistake that their
predecessors made after the 1953 coup. IT WAS SO UNFORTUNATE
THAT THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF PEOPLE LIKE AMIR KABIR, ALAMEH
DEHKHODA, AND DR. MOSSADEGH WERE REPLACED WITH THE
SENSATIONALIST APPEALS OF TERRORISTS LIKE MIRZA REZA
KERMANI IN THE MINDS OF OUR YOUTH. THE RESPONSIBILITY WAS
MAINLY WITH THE SHAH'S SAVAK WHICH STOPPED EVEN
THE MOST INNOCENT GATHERINGS OF IRANIAN INTELLECTUALS.
In fact, unfortunately, the brightest Iranian intellectuals never
became attracted to the liberal groups such as Jebh-e Melli and
Nehzat Azadi. Thus these liberal organizations seldom have anybody
of high caliber (such as Dr. Sanjabi or Dr. Mossadegh) in their ranks
from the 60s generation. If you read the history of very top-level
Iranian intellectuals such as Ahmad-Zadeh, Hanif-Nejad or Jazani;
they all started in these liberal organizations, but ended up in one of
the leftist or Islamic extremist organizations.
What a pity that we have the greatest number of brightest minds in
our graves and even more pity that their sacrifices did not contribute
to the growth of a liberal society in Iran. Socialist movement without
a strong liberal background in Iran, not only did not help the growth
of a liberal society, it even damaged its growth.
I hope one day someone would write a book entitled "In Defense of
Iranian Liberals". The people who worked hard for almost a half
century, without much support from the majority of Iranian
It seems to me that inside Iran, the publication of so many modern
futuristic works points to a new focus of Iranian intellectuals, a focus
that is radically different from the sensationalist alternatives.
- Sam Ghandchi
Feb 24, 1994