By Amir Taheri
How can one be Iranian? This is a question that the 18th century French philosopher, Montesquieu asks in his famous book, Persian Letters. This question would have been relevant two centuries ago vis-à-vis the authoritarian regime in Iran. The “Iranian” of Montesquieu could not reach a definitive conclusion in any area because whoever the “tyrant” was at the time, could at any instant shape a new, different, and even contradictory position to his previous and impose it upon the citizens. The narrator’s conclusion in Persian Letters was that no one can ever know what his Iranian counterpart really says or wants.
Two centuries later, is it fair to say that the conclusion reached by the narrator of Persian Letters still rings true with respect to us Iranians?
The existence of some evidence may lead us to a decisive “yes.”
For example, why is it that some educated Iranians who reside in Western democracies spend part of their energy justifying – if not whitewashing – the “Islamic Republic,” and simultaneously consider this regime undemocratic and tyrannical? They say, “Yes! This is a regime that is at the top of the global tier in terms of the number of executions, as well as political prisoners and repressions. A regime that does not hesitate at any opportunity to export its violent mentality to other nations. We, who ourselves are advocates of this regime, have chosen exile to escape the tribulations imposed on us, and taken refuge in countries that the Islamic Republic considers its enemies. In spite of this, whenever there is a hint of resisting the Islamic Republic or even preventing its malfeasance, we are at the forefront of its defenders.”
Heaven help us! How to be Iranian?
We also witness the same bewilderment and duplicity inside Iran.
At the Friday prayers in Tehran, Ayatollah Kazem Siddiqui says: “In addition to being unfair and detrimental to Iran, the JCPOA was a failure from the start, but it must be preserved for now.”
In an editorial, Kayhan newspaper, which is ostensibly a platform for the supporters of the Islamic Republic’s “leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calls for Germany’s “adherence” to its commitments to Iran, while in the same breath claims a significant number of seats in the German Bundestag has been occupied by Non-German Zionists who are unforgiving towards the Islamic Republic because of its struggles against the “fraudulent and pedocidal [Zionist] regime.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyed Abbas Moussavi refers to the summoning of Britain’s ambassador to protest the seizure of the Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar and asks, “Is Europe sanctioning our oil?” He does not seem to comprehend that the tanker was seized under the sanctions the European Union has imposed against Syria, and had nothing to do with the US government’s oil embargo (on Iran).
Simply put, we want to use Europe to the benefit of the Islamic Republic in confronting the US, yet at the same time, we regard Europe as an enemy.
There is no doubt that the Islamic Republic’s leaders are fascinated, if not infatuated by the “Great Satan.” They conduct an annual “World Without America” conference, but send their children to study in the US. They reject any negotiation, let alone trade, with the “Great Satan”, but regard US president Donald Trump as an impediment to diplomacy. Admiral Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, complains of the Trump Administration’s “unilateralism”, claiming that the “Great Satan” is trying to change the governing equations of international order. According to him, the Islamic Republic is always ready to negotiate without preconditions, provided that the US abandons Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s 12 demands. In other words, my precondition is that you do not have any preconditions!
Hojjatoleslam Mahmoud Alavi, Minister of Intelligence and Islamic Security, assumes a more flexible position. He says that if the US accepts that a return to the JCPOA (the “nuclear deal” imposed on Iran by President Barack Obama) is negotiable, it is possible to consider future attempts at negotiations.
Yet, the [former] head of the Islamic Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli-Larijani does not see any necessity to negotiate. “The only path to salvation from the pressure, sanctions, and the threats of the ‘Great Satan’ is verily seeking refuge in the Ahlul-Bayt and understand those eminent rectors, “he says.
From the other end, Major General Hussein Salami, the new Revolutionary Guard commander, believes the US can not be trusted in negotiations because of a major systematic flaw. “The biggest weakness in America is the lack of a spiritual (clerical) leadership,” he says. “You see, the leadership of that country with such inflated complacency is an individual like Trump, who is not a clergyman and who lacks intellect and wisdom. In other words, as long as the US has not accepted the “Velayat-e Faqih” system in its own style, it can not be taken seriously.” Salami further says, “We are breaking the empire of … in the world. We want to dominate, not negotiate. “
Mr. Khamenei himself, as the regime’s Supreme Leader, claims that negotiations with the US have been rejected in verse 22 of the Surah Ibrahim in the Holy Qur’an. Therefore, one cannot be a true Muslim, and at the same time negotiate with the US. Mr. Khamenei says: “Negotiation with arrogant Americans in the hopes of receiving benefit or eliminating losses constitutes a departure from the promise of divine victory. Either we should rely on God and have confidence or seek negotiations with the US. These two paths cannot cross.”
Astoundingly, not a single day goes by without an Iranian exile – who does not dare to return to Iran – claiming in an article or announcement that the current diplomatic crisis between the US and the Islamic Republic is due to Donald Trump’s rejection of talks with Tehran. This is regardless of how much Trump says he is ready to negotiate whenever and wherever. The Islamic Republic’s apologists insist that Khamenei wants to negotiate, but Trump is the one who refuses!
It seems that Iran, after nearly two centuries, has returned to the precise point at which Montesquieu had placed his heroes in the Persian Letters. And so the very question of that day is also relevent today: how to be an Iranian?
Mr. Amir Taheri is a veteran Iranian journalist, historian, and political analyst. He was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979.
This article was originally published on July 13, 2019 by The Independent Persian. For the original Persian version of this article, please click on this link.