When I wrote my 'call to meet' last week, I knew I was baring my neck for the guillotine. Iranian opposition groups to the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) are notoriously hard to organize. Even the five reformist intellectuals, who published a manifesto for the opposition, fell into discord upon its publication. The manifesto was a great idea, but what made it instantly obsolete was the lack of consensus and poor leadership among the opposition. The infighting among compatriots in exile is such that IRI state-owned T.V. has produced a successful comedy show about Iranian cable networks who broadcast from Los Angeles into Iran. These different groups, though mostly from the same monarchist or right wing ideology, have fallen into such vulgar infighting that a few minutes of watching them is the best propaganda for the IRI, convincing even the most avid critics of the regime that worse does exist.
So publishing a 'call to meet' for all the opposition groups is not only considered naïve but suicidal for a blogger-mom who has no money, no political influence, no party affiliation and angered all factions at some point with her blunt writing.
Since I published the call I have gotten some positive feedback but much angry criticism as well. Many have lectured me on how Iranians are impossible to unite, saying their egos are too big for compromise. There have been many meetings, they say, that have achieved nothing. A meeting that excludes none will repeat the mistake of the past, they say, where we sided with the Islamists to overthrow the Shah only to realize that the Islamists were worse. Many use this history out of context to avoid the smallest compromise with another faction.
Critics tell me -- and I agree -- that groups like the MEK are undemocratic traitors. Others tell me that the monarchists and communists are anachronistic. The secular reformists can't stand the non-secular reformists. The nationalist seculars are ridiculed because they lack the bravery of their spiritual leader, Mohammad Mossadegh. Critics say their membership consists of old, pedantic men who don't follow their leader's example in taking risks and standing up for justice. Many claim that some ethnic opposition groups are CIA-funded separatists who have no love for Iran. If there was no anger at my insistence that we cannot start a call to meet with exclusion of certain groups, then there was a patronizing, belittling of the idea. I was told that my idea is a little 'American,' which means naïve and silly. In the slang of Iranian youth, growing up under the choke-hold of a theocratic regime, being 'mosbat' or optimistic connotes being naïve.
If this call is naïve -- or 'mosbat' -- it's not because of my unfamiliarity with the Iranian character. I share many of the flaws that have led to our paralysis. I can be as cynical as the next Tehrani. My ego and paranoia, if left unchecked, match that of any Iranian. I see my Tehrani pessimism as an obstacle to progress. My naiveté is deliberate.
Identifying and analyzing a problem ad infinitum is insufficient. Implementation is key. To inject new life to a movement that is being held hostage, we need to adopt this naïve optimism.
I envision a meeting that is not afraid of being open. I include groups such as MEK and the Monarchists because meetings that excluded anyone have failed. Though dictatorial groups will probably not show up at a meeting they didn't organize, we have nothing to fear if they do take part because we will be following rules of democratic governance in running the meeting. It will be a display of Iranian democracy in action; excluding certain groups goes against the spirit of unity and democracy that the meeting aims to create.
I have also been accused of the sin of 'living abroad,' which apparently does not give me the right to 'decide' for Iranians living in Iran. I'm not trying to decide the future of an entire nation; I can't even influence the decisions of my teenage children. I only call for a meeting that organizes the opposition and gives it the unity and dignity it lacks.
My call is inspired by a conversation I had with my eighty-nine-year-old mom. I asked her what I would do if I was an opposition leader with stature like our Nobel Prize winning Shirin Ebadi. She told me, "Why don't you do it yourself? Just write it down, and publish it." I said everybody would ridicule me, including some of those intellectuals and activists whom I truly admire. She said, "So what? Getting ridiculed is better than being dead or in Evin prison. You owe it to them."
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