Changes in Iran


By Jamal Hasan

In spite of the steady stream of gloomy news over the years, I had never lost my faith in the Iranian people. I can still recall those days when the tyrannical Shah ruled supreme with the blessings of a superpower. Many a friend had predicted, and correctly so, that the regime was bound to collapse sooner or later. The denouement was sudden even by the standard of the volatile Middle East. Shah’s regime proved rotten to the core and came down like a house of cards in the face of challenge from Ayatollah Khomeni.

The Savak-controlled society suddenly seemed so free. The Iranians on the street were visibly jubilant. Newspapers were publishing articles that never would have seen the light of day during the days of the Shah. Democracy was in the air. I, like many, was convinced of the dawn of a new era.

But gradually, but surely, our jubilation turned into despair. It was soon apparent that the theocracy ushered in by the Ayatollahs could be just as tyrannical as the monarchy that it had supplanted.

Jews and other religious minorities began leaving the country in desperation. The Ayatollahs kept the people intoxicated with religious fervor so that it wouldn’t occur to them to challenge the oppressive edicts imposed under the new regime. The common man in Iran had hoped for a new era of freedom. But the ruling clique, like any other autocratic regime, would rather make hay while the sun shone. Monopoly of favored syndicates and business houses were blessed with official favors.

scan001001I recall seeing a huge political rally at the Lafayette Park in Washington DC way back in the February of 1986. Thousands of Iranians had braved the winter day to make their voices heard. The air was thick with slogans like Markbane Khomeni (Khomeni Murdabad) and Drukbane Rajavi (Rajavi Zindabad). They were Mujahedeen Khalq sympathizers. The educated and the politically astute were looking up to the Mujahedeen Khalq and its leader Massood Rajavi for succor. But his continued linkage with arch enemy Iraq proved disappointing to the nationalistic Iranians. The fervor and enthusiasm gradually waned. But I continued to hope against hope that the Iranians will soon wake up and smell the coffee.

Then came the recent election. It has heralded a much needed change in the political culture. Stagnant fundamentalism seems to have finally yielded to Iran’s thirst for freedom. Hojatoleslam Mohammed Khatami, who is being hailed as Ayatollah Gorbachev, is determined to usher in a democratic order.

The charismatic former culture minister, was a late entrant in the election race in March. His message of tolerance electrified the people as no other Iranian leader ever had in a long time. Khatami seems determined to end the era of obscurantism in which religious fervor had to make up for the lack of everything else. Khatami’s victory in the elections has brought in a dramatic turn in Iranian politics.

Khatami was recently speaking at a women’s conference in Tehran. He spoke out on the subjugation and exploitation of women in the name of religion. Even Taslima Nasrin might have had a heart attack if she had attended to Iranian leader’s feminist discourse.

The Iranian sensation at the Cannes International Film Festival is another portent of the new era. Film maker Abbas Kiarostami’s “Ta’m E Guilass” ( a taste of cherry) was a notable award winner at the Festival. Initially, the Iranian government had been reluctant to allow the director to join the Festival. But, later, in a dramatic change in thinking, the director was allowed to proceed. The movie maker had not been a favorite of the government during the Khomeini era. Moreover the subject of the movie did not quite conform to the line promoted by the establishment. But now Iran is basking in the glory reflected from Kiarostami. Thanks to Khatami’s bold thinking, Iran is now in the forefront of human creativity of movie making.

What is happening in Iran was unthinkable only a short while ago.

But truth is stranger than fiction. I had always believed that Iran, with a cultural heritage that is the envy of nations in every corner of the world, cannot be kept in chains forever by the obscurantist.

I am delighted that Iran is now reclaiming its rightful role as a leader in cultural endeavors.
Mr. Jamal Hasan writes from USA. His email is: This was a Feature Article in News from Bangladesh dated 29th December, 1997


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