Purgatory or Hell, That is the Question
By: Reza Bayegan

Monday, June 20, 2005


Many Iranian voters have boycotted the presidential election. Many others are going to the polls on Friday to vote for someone they know is dishonest in order to avoid someone they know is going to turn their lives into a living nightmare. The Herald Tribune of June 20 reports: "warning that Iran's citizens faced the prospect of military interference in selecting their next president, the reform movement in Iran issued a statement Sunday night indicating that it planned to oppose the candidacy of of the mayor of Tehran when he faces Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in runoff for the presidency."

To cast a ballot in favor of purgatory or hell, this is the dire choice offered to Iranian citizens. They are going to the ballot box not to exercise an electoral democratic right -that does not exist in Iran- but in order to evade a more draconian form of fascism. Their vote by no means is an endorsement of the regime, but a response to an apprehension that things could get even worse. Not only the ordinary masses are driven by this fear, but also the hard-nosed political activists and thinkers justify their choice of candidates and their participation in the election on the basis of their fear.

The decision of Abdolkarim Soroush is a good example of this general consternation. He is a man who at the beginning of the revolution played a role as Khomeini's intellectual henchman in the cultural revolution and helped in closing down the universities. The unfastidious Time Magazine has called him an Islamic philosopher. Soroush however has come to realize that government and religious establishment should be kept apart. In an interview with an Iranian internet publication Rooz, Mr. Soroush declared his support for Mr. Karoubi's candidacy on the basis of dreading the election of even more harmful candidates. In other words, he voiced support for Mr. Karoubi not because in his view he will make a good or competent president, but because the rest of the candidates are even worse, or present a more dangerous prospect for the nation.

Fatemeh Haghighatjo, ex-member of the Iranian parliament is another typical victim of voting under duress. She has resigned from her parliamentary seat protesting against the tyrannical tendencies of the regime and is quite active in defense of human rights and campaigning for women equality. In a recent speech to "Progressive Reformists" she argued that the country needs something more than reform. This of course is a way of declaring the whole system and its constitution otiose and bankrupt. In the same occasion she stressed her fear that the country might plunge deeper into dictatorship and become prey to military repression if a hard-line candidate gets elected. Based on this premise, and in spite of her total disillusionment with the reformability of the system, she declared her support for Mostafa Moin the ex-minister of Higher Education under president Khatami. The political position regarding the presidential election adopted by Abdolkarim Soroush and Fatemeh Haghighatjo underlines the cynical and diabolic nature of the choice offered to Iranians: the people of Iran are voting in an atmosphere where they think the very survival and security of their country can be taken hostage by even blinder forces of extremism within the regime.

In the meanwhile, the international community is not made any wiser by the shallow press coverage of foreign correspondents in Iran. The B.B.C reports a "respectable" turn out for the election, but little mention is made in its coverage of the unrespectable and moreover shameful conditions under which Iranians are forced to choose. Little mention is made of the total absence of freedom of press and freedom of speech which are sacred to democracy and without which any electoral exercise will be totally illegitimate. Freedom of speech is sacred because without it, no one can win over and persuade others to one's point of view. Without a peaceful atmosphere free of tension and apprehension, no one can appeal to reason to influence the outcome of citizens vote and decision. In Iran of the mullahs there is only a free flow of terror and the electoral right offered to people is a right to choose between various regions of purgatory or inferno.

Many Iranians today, especially those who boycotted the election are feeling disheartened, thinking that the election should have been more forcefully boycotted by the majority of Iranians who can have nothing to hope from the present system. They do not realize that the ordinary Iranian citizens today are not driven to the polls by what they hope for in the discredited regime of the Islamic Republic, but as a result of their unmitigated fear of even a more dreadful future.

What is important is that the campaign of civil disobedience in Iran is becoming further consolidated and moving in the right direction. Under constant terror promoted by the Islamic regime, Iranian political activists are becoming seasoned soldiers in their non-violent struggle against dictatorship . As Iran's Reza Pahlavi said in a recent interview: we are here for a long haul and we know that success in our campaign to free our country depends on our untiring efforts and the unshakable confidence we have on the justness of our cause.