Interview with Ali Asghar Gharavi, a member of the Iran Freedom Movement

Jehangir Pocha January 17, 2003

Ali Asghar Gharavi, a member of the Iran Freedom Movement, is one of Iran’s most prominent pro-democracy activists and political thinkers. The following interview was conducted by Jehangir Pocha during a visit to Iran in November.

How would you suggest the world deal with Saddam Hussein?

One first has to understand the antecedents of the Iraqi problem. It was the United States and its allies who armed Saddam with weapons of mass destruction to target revolutionary Iran, which they worried was emerging as an example of emancipation, freedom and the evolutionary hub of democracy in the Third World after it overthrew the Shah.

It was this inhumane course of action that led to the empowering presence of two despotic anti-national regimes in the region that disregarded and overruled all the accepted principles of human rights: Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the right-wing minority in Iran.

Any U.S. military action in Iraq will definitely hamper Iran’s reforms and bring widespread turmoil to the region. In Iraq, we don’t have a Karzai who can take over post-Saddam as a unanimous choice and represent all Iraqi tribes and opposition groups in a transitional government. Therefore, the inevitable result of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein will be pandemonium and civil strife. This will benefit no one, not even Israel. …

This is why I have always found the policies of the American Republicans in disharmony with the democratic interests and achievements of the American nation. The Republicans have almost always tended to accomplish their objectives in different parts of the world by utilizing military action and force. They have never really wanted to recognize the democratic rights of other nations.

The solution as I see it is to have Saddam brought to trial by an international judicial body as a war criminal, very much like Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia. He could then be substituted by the Iraqi opposition groups participating in democratic elections under the supervision of the United Nations. This is the most basic, the most practical and the most economical way to realize the intended American goal.

What would be the most effective way the United States could reconcile with Iran?

Iranians have become quite distrustful and suspicious of the American government. As Iran’s democratic and reform movements have developed, Iranians expected the United States to step forward and break the political ice. Ironically, what we witnessed was not only the frustration of this expectation, but also the contrary: The United States tried to subvert the reform movement at every possible juncture. The adoption of this strategy by the U.S. government in general, and the Republicans in particular, highlights the clandestine American support of the inhuman right-wing conservatives in Iran.

If the United States really wants to play a positive role in the process of democratization in Iran, it must apologize for its past deeds, let go of the detained Iranian capital and assets in U.S. banks, stop supporting the Iranian royalists [who want to bring the Shah’s son, Reza Pahlavi, to power in Iran], stop humiliating Iranians when they want to enter or leave the United States, end the economic ban against Iran, establish diplomatic relations with Iran, and remove the impediments to our entry into the World Trade Organization.

This would not only amount to sincere support for a democratic system in Iran, but it would be seen as American support for democracy and parliamentarianism in all Islamic countries.

The slow pace of President Khatami’s reforms seems to indicate that he is failing in his mission to bring change to Iran. Could this lead to another popular revolution against Iran’s right-wing leaders?

Revolutions irrationally increase the pace of change to fulfill the suppressed needs of the revolutionary masses. This in turn drives the real leaders of the community to the margins, while the people are happy with the release of their pent-up emotion in the form of slogans. It is only later, when the revolutionists have established themselves in power, that people see their obsessions were a mirage. What remains for them are only soap suds with no water beneath. That is when they start to protest and challenge the ruling system.

This is the point to which we have arrived in Iran. Now we must unavoidably work out our conflict with the slogan-favoring revolutionists once and for all. Khatami has prepared the grounds for the formulation of these problems, and any other political movement which thinks it can proceed with quicker steps than Khatami is on the verge of committing another radical mistake.

Jehangir Pocha is the Asia cor­re­spon­dent for In These Times.
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