MAKATI CITY (13 March) – In addition to (1) simplicity or simple living, there are three other enduring challenges, among others, facing Islamic Republic of Iran’s revolutionary-to-ruler transition: (2) openness to criticism, (3) loyalty vs. competence, and (4) blaming the enemy.
2. Openness to criticism. Undeniably, for a person to feel bad with criticism is a natural tendency as he tends to see himself, his attitude, and his intellect as perfect and flawless. In Sa‘di’s poetry, “Everyone thinks his own wisdom perfect and his child beautiful… If wisdom were to cease throughout the world, no one would suspect himself of ignorance.” (Golestan-e Sa‘di, chap. 7 (Rules for Conduct in Life), tale 30, p. 357)
Whenever we cannot avoid a flood of criticism, we immediately put a shield and reject them one by one in various ways. We tend to only accept a particular type of criticism – and label it as ‘constructive,’ ‘instructive,’ ‘enlightening,’ ‘reformative,’ and the like; otherwise, we question the impartiality of the critic, his underlying motive to undermine, or the veracity of criticism itself.
This innate predisposition calls to mind the story of a ‘champion’ who went to a tattooist and asked him to tattoo his shoulder with the image of a lion. As the tattooist started his work, the man became restless due to the intensity of the pain of the needles that penetrated his body. He asked the tattooist which part of the lion he was tattooing. He replied that he had started from the tail. The ‘champion’ said that there was no need for the tail and that he should start with another part. The tattooist started again from the other part, but the pain persisted. Again the question was asked and the answer was that he had started from the mane. Again the request of the ‘champion’ was to abandon the mane and to start with another part. These complaints about the pain thus continued until finally the tattooist angrily flung the needles to the ground and said that there is no lion without a head, tail and body! (Mathnawi-ye Ma‘nawi, Book 1, vol. 1, p. 144)
A worse case of rebuffing criticism is when criticism to persons of authority is being equated with attack on the religion itself, and it is therefore considered an act of apostasy. Here, criticism turns into an attack against the ‘sacred’; it thus becomes an act of profanity; it is ‘blasphemy’ of the highest order.
This is while in the Islamic tradition, criticism is deemed a valuable ‘gift’. As Ja‘far al-Sadiq, a fifth direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad and from whom Shariff Muhammad Kabunsuan descended, said, “The most beloved of my brothers is he who presents me with an offering of my faults.” (Mizan al-Hikmah, vol. 3, p. 2207)
For this reason, in the political arena, criticism of an enemy, most of the time, is better than the praise of a friend. The reason for this, according to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, is that “He cannot learn from his own friends; he should learn from his enemies. When he says something, he should know what the enemies say and should think that the enemies understand his faults… Man’s friends are his real enemies while his enemies are his real friends. Man should learn from those who find his faults. He should know that those who extol him, this tongue, the tongue that admires an affair which is supposed to be criticized, is the very tongue of Satan.” (Sahifeh-ye Imam, vol. 14, pp. 145-146)
On a higher level of entertaining criticism and addressing it, Murtada Mutahhari, a towering figure and architect of the Islamic Revolution, once said, “After a revolution, freedom will come, and along with it will come differences of opinion and philosophical debates. At this time, the sword will no longer have any effect; it will be the time of the pen.” (The same Mutahhari was known for advocating the university to be a free market of ideas where socialist or communist professors are the most ideal to teach socialism and communism courses and so are Islamic scholars to teach Islamic political thought courses.)
3. Loyalty vs. competence. After the victory of the Islamic Revolution, the ideal situation is that loyalty to the revolutionary ideals is combined with competence in governance. In other words, the revolutionaries will ideally become the government officials and public administrators. In short, it is supposed to be a fusion of ‘nobility’ and ‘capability’.
But this is not always the case. The ideal is not always the real. Experiences show that a good revolutionary is not necessarily a good ruler. So is the opposite. To be a revolutionary requires a particular set of skills and attitude to work that is not necessarily identical with that of a ruler.
The enormity of the national political machinery is such that the number of ‘loyal’ personalities is sometimes not enough for the number of government positions that require distinct competencies within the short, yet critical, period of transition. In such a situation, the challenge is to whether or not accommodate ‘not-so-loyal’ – but competent – people to assume some of those responsibilities. After this short period of transition, the next challenge is to whether or not the revolutionaries and their ‘loyal’ supporters will overcome or will be willing to overcome the steep learning curve of public administration – both the executive sphere and the legislative arena.
While many veterans of the Iraqi-imposed War (1980-88) can be seen occupying key administrative posts in Iran’s Ministry of Higher Education and universities – as in other ministries and quasi-government agencies – a veteran classmate of mine, who joined the Basij (people’s voluntary mobilization force) at a young age of 15 in repelling Saddam’s eight-year war of aggression and lost his right eye in the process, has taken a different path. Instead of just applying for one of those posts, he preferred to take and pass the highly competitive national university entrance examination and then to pursue master’s degree in International Relations.
While my classmate and I were sitting together in the bus along with other students of Shahid Beheshti University (formerly called the National University of Iran) in our way to the southern city of Khorramshahr during a summer educational tour, I asked him, “Chera tarji‘ dadid keh dars khonid darhali keh hamin hala berahati mitavanid kar konid dar vezarat-e ‘umuri kharijeh ya sazmanha-ye dikar?” (“Why did you prefer to study while right now you can easily land a job in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or any other [government] organizations (on account of your being a war veteran)?”)
My friend just smiled and retorted in Persian while bowing his head, “You see, during that time my duty was to defend the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the then newly founded Islamic Republic against Saddam who was armed-to-the-teeth thanks to the superpowers and immensely financed by neighboring countries. That’s why I fought then. Now, my duty is to contribute in the rebuilding of my country, and in doing so, I need to hone the necessary skills and achieve certain qualifications for such national reconstruction and rehabilitation. That’s why I’m studying now.”
As I was listening attentively, he continued, “I don’t want to take my earlier performance of duty as my ticket to perform my current duty; or worse still, to regard it as an instrument to get a reward of position today or in the future. Both the past and the present are a matter of fulfilling one’s obligation. And real recompense will be in the hereafter, insha’ Allah.”
4. Blaming the enemy. Another challenge facing the political transition of the Islamic Republic is the tendency to blame the enemy for every failure. This is human propensity – to put the blame on somebody else for one’s own unfavorable condition or deplorable plight. It is human tendency to keep all goodness in oneself and to attribute all evil traits to the enemy.
The enemy is an expediently good scapegoat.
You may elegantly call it ‘conspiracy theory’.
In one of his visits to families of the martyrs of the Revolution in 1991, Sayyid Ahmad Khomeini, the second son and personal assistant of the Founder of the Islamic Republic, thus acknowledged, “…calling America as the main cause and culprit, and blaming all weaknesses on foreign factors and ignoring our own shortcomings under the guise of such slogans is simple-mindedness.” (Standpoints, p. 88)
I personally witnessed an amusing manifestation of such an attitude. One chilly Friday morning in December 2000, I was walking toward a nearby bakery within our university’s dormitory complex on top of the snow-filled Velenjak mountains in northern Tehran in order to buy a loaf of my favorite barbari bread. Another student coming from the adjacent dormitory building was also carefully walking behind me as the snow on the pathways turned slippery. When I reached the bakery, he suddenly slipped and fell on the ground. While still lying down, he yelled, “Marg bar Amrika! (Death to America!)”
Perhaps, it was in consideration of these and other challenges that the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution succinctly said, “Preservation of victory is more difficult than achieving it.” (Pithy Aphorisms: Wise Sayings and Counsels, p. 80)
Tags: Iran, Islamic republic, Islamic Revolution, Khomeini, peace process, political transition