Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Who should be the Next President in Iran


Who should be the Next President in Iran?

Ali Asghar Kazemi

May 20, 2009


Almost three weeks away from the presidential elections in Iran, I have been asked by my students to give them some hints and advices regarding the most suitable candidate in the race. While I have my own personal views and preferences about the potential contenders, I feel very much reluctant to take side in public forum in favor of any of them at this particular point of time. Since, I believe, my duty as an academic is to shed light on the common traits of the would-be president in the present political and international environment of our country, rather than to speak in favor of any particular candidate.

In my previous comments regarding the presidential elections, I have listed a number of reasons for which people of various layers of the society may fell indifferent to participate in the process. Those considerations could still be valid as long as candidates do not explicitly clarify their positions with respect of a number of critical issues entailing the country and their concrete measures and policies to cure them. These issues encompass all sectors of the society including, social, economic, political, strategic, legal, environmental etc.

Of course, as I mentioned before, the president is not powerful enough to bring all the changes we might envisage. But, the least that he can achieve is to demonstrate his determination for change and to assure people of his resolve to cope with many socio-political malaises which inhibit the overall trend of the country towards democracy, human rights, justice and equity.

Here are some main points in my humble view to be considered in our choice of the next president for Iran:

1) Before anything, the president should be a person who is mentally sound and without prejudice of any kind. Since, once elected, he will be the president of all people disregard of their beliefs, religious preference, political tendency, economic status or social standing. As the symbol of national identity, he should represent the whole and not a fraction of nation in international scene. He should realize that from the minute he becomes president his words, behavior, attitude, manners and the overall world views become under scrutiny inside and outside the country.

2) Our country has a long history of tyranny, authoritarian rules and repression. The president should exercise to keep away from those historical syndromes by being restraint, tolerant, broadminded and forward thinking. He should avoid the temptation of using malicious instruments at hand for revenging his political opponents. These require that he should be accountable and be open to critique even if it comes from the opposition groups.

3) The president is not supposed to have full knowledge about all the sophistication and subtleties of economics, politics, military and legal matters, but, he must be intelligent and receptive enough to get the advices from the elites, intellectuals, academics, scholars and specialists in various fields. The president should be experienced and humble enough not to be mired by the power of the office or become overwhelmed and exalted by the authority bestowed to him by the nation.

4) Thus, he should avoid favoritism, discrimination and intolerance and in all instances he should think of our national interests, our prestige, history and stature of the country. He may be a fine, compassionate and generous person, but as a president, he is not allowed to give out the wealth of the country to dubious and questionable groups and movements outside the country; neither is he supposed to provide money to people for the sake of his own popularity.

5) The president should govern the country on the basis of wisdom, rationality and according to collective wills and interests. He is responsible for the security of our country, thus, he should avoid turning our potential friends into foes by taking unnecessary positions on critical issues. He should capture opportunities through appropriate policies and actions to neutralize threats; to turn our rivals into associates and to transform our enemies into friends.

The above characteristics are only few important traits of a typical president that we should look for in the next elections. Of course, it is extremely difficult to find all those features in one particular candidate, but, we have to elect the one who is relatively in a better position than the others to the best of our knowledge.

We should use our constituent power not to allow demagogues and obsessive personalities to unduly ascend to the office of the president in Iran. Because, our nation merits a much higher status in the present world order and our people deserves a much better condition of life than what we experienced during the past years. Despite all the encumbrances and shortcomings we have in our political institutions and legal system, there is little doubt that we can achieve our demands and objectives in the years to come, provided we use our collective power to change the situation before it is too late. /


Ali Asghar Kazemi is Professor of Law and International Relations in Tehran- Iran. For detail see:  www.aakazemi.blogspot.com

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Logic of War against Taliban and Talibanism


The Logic of War Against Taliban and Talibanism

Ali Asghar Kazemi

May 15, 2009


Ever since September 11, 2009 events, Taliban and Talibanism have been chased and killed by masses, yet, they are still full of zeal and causing widespread troubles in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Recent Pakistani raids on their agglomerations on the initiative of the United States bring about a number of crucial problems about the rationality of Obama’s recent policy in this respect.

While I have no fond of these fanatical groups who fight with rudimentary means the most equipped and powerful forces representing the NATO, I have serious doubts about the logic of this protracted war and the humanitarian aspects involved therein.

In this short comment I venture to examine the flagrant flaws of American policy under Obama to open new fronts against Taliban in Pakistan with the objective of eradicating this movement, which supposedly is endangering the legitimate government of a nuclear power state.


Indeed September 11 attack was an awful experience and humiliation for the United States and changed many precepts in international relations including prevailing conceptions on war, terror, religion, radicalism etc. We shall not attempt here to trace the dubious account of the creation and support of Afghan Mujahedeen including Taliban- since, it is now well known that they were recruited and equipped while studying in Pakistani religious schools (Madrassa) during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980s. It is believed that Pakistan’s army intelligence is the godfather of Taliban. Surprisingly, the same forces are now tasked to carry on the new American strategy against Taliban in that country.

American invasion of Afghanistan to topple the self-invented Taliban, who had ousted Russians from their land, momentarily, satisfied Washington’s desire for revenging Al-Qaeda. But, the United States and its allies in the NATO failed to understand the nature of the threat and characteristics of their enemies. Taliban only represented a radical idea of traditional Islam and a culture that cannot be defeated by naked force.

The collapse of the Soviet empire and the decline of communism in the last decade of the 20th century led to the resurgence of dormant ideologies imbedded with religions inspired rigid traditionalism, especially in the Middle East. The fact of the matter is that religious motivated movements have been so far able to free occupied territories and to fight against powerful countries for people liberation by using tactics which is labeled “terrorism” for simplicity. In such case the freedom fighters or liberation movements sought justification for their operations via the attainment of a legitimate cause. For example, the Algerian struggle for independence turned into terrorism, once the rebel armies were virtually beaten in the field by the French forces. It was only after recourse to such activities that French military might in Algeria came to its knees.

The Moslem Shiite Militia in South Lebanon pushed the Israelis out of their occupied land through harshest “terrorist” activities. Afghan Moslem Mujahedeen (Taliban), too fought a Superpower (USSR) through guerrilla warfare and “terrorist operations” in occupied Afghanistan. They caused the most trouble to Moscow, as did North Vietnamese to the United States.

Surprisingly, after so many years of fighting and subjugation, Taliban are now on the move anew against NATO forces in Afghanistan, considered as enemy and occupiers. Taliban have already demonstrated that they can achieve disproportionately large effects with a relatively small number and limited capacity for violence. More recently in Pakistan, they have caused widespread alarm, compelling governments with a clear preponderance of conventional military power to negotiate with them, to grant them concessions or simply to back down with humiliation.

Urban guerrilla warfare, low-level violence or mob actions directed by religious groups are dimensions of ideological conflicts and revolutionary theories which now manifest in form of domestic and international terrorism. Dissidents of tyrant leaders and dictatorial regimes find their voice heard and their cause achieved through what we call "terrorism" for sake of simplicity, but they consider it legitimate “jihad” or just struggle against the infidels and their enemies.

Religiously inspired terrors are understandably more ferocious and crueler than mere political violence’s or mob actions. When for example, martyrdom is considered as a grace and blessing of God, a Moslem extremist and dedicated believer can easily risk his life in a suicidal attack in order to do damage to his ideological opponents. The resurgence of the Islamic fundamentalist movement in the Middle-East whose participants preach total devotion and submission to the will of God, and negation of earthly materialism, is indeed a crucial development of our time which is capable of destabilizing the international system and world order.

There is no doubt that Pakistan army is powerful enough to cause extensive damage to the so-called Taliban. But, one should understand that they are only fighting a concept; a tradition and culture which happen to be more visible in that country. The collateral damages of recent offensive are unfortunately very high and in breach of the accepted norms and 1949 Geneva Conventions and related 1977 additional protocols. The consequences of this policy will be very costly for the region and for the American as well. Since, those who are familiar with tribal character and strict Moslem traditions, realize that this fratricide will only deepen the hatred and enmity among people of this country and the West for generations.

Fighting Taliban with hard power, i.e. force of guns, artillery and fighter planes will surely not solve the problem; neither in Pakistan, Afghanistan or anywhere else. Americans and their allies should realize this bitter fact that they are fighting an idea and not a group of devoted people who could regenerate itself through time and more ferociously. They must search for avenues to cope with intolerance and fanaticism in this hostile region. They should find appropriate ways and means to neutralize that idea through education, cultural change and economic development. Otherwise, the world will experience much worse condition in the future. /


Ali Asghar Kazemi is Professor of Law and International Relations in Tehran-Iran.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Iran: Elections and Political Apathy


Iran: Elections and Political Apathy

Ali Asghar Kazemi

May 7, 2009


Aristotle described man as “political animal” on the ground that human being is compelled to live in collectivities within the boundaries of a political system. But, people are by no means equally concerned with political life. In other words, some people are indifferent and others are more concerned with political matters. Among this latter group, only a few get deeply and passionately involved in pursuit of power.

In open societies with developed democratic institutions and popular governments, opportunities for political participation of citizens are available and people are encouraged to get actively involved in formulating their demands through parties and interest groups. On the contrary, in oligarchic societies, citizens tend to choose apathetic approach to political realm and become relatively inactive in deciding their socio-political fate.

Political apathy is usually regarded as a social malaise in developed societies. In countries where civil society is still lagging behind traditional and fatalistic customs, apathy is a way of life to avoid hazards of political stratum. In this case, it is merely a cure manifested as conscious decision to cope with authoritarianism, demagoguery and repression in societies where expressing political opinions and criticisms are considered beyond the realm of citizen rights.

Some writers trace this malaise within the attributes of political culture that are strengthened by the force of ideology and beliefs, and others prefer to put the blame on institutions and structures. Whatever the cause, political apathy in public or private spheres relates to some kind of indifference towards events entailing collective interests.

Iranians by nature are suspicious to politicians and political matters. This is mainly due to vicissitudes experienced in the Persians history. Iranians have learned that they should avoid standing on the way of the rulers as long as they hold power, since; they may become victim of a mischance and lose their heads. There is a dictum in Persian which says “Always avoid walking behind an ass and in front of the Sultan!” Of course the Sultan here represents the tyrant par excellence whose behavior is unpredictable.

True that Iranians were the first to launch a constitutional revolution in the Middle East almost a century ago. But, even then, they were guided by mere immature and sightless temptation than a conscious political calculation. As a result, few years later they were driven again into a new oligarchy not better than the old one. The 1979 revolution, which led to the emergence of a religious rule, failed to generate the necessary environment for the creation of a strong “civil society” needed for political development and related institutions. Foreign war, domestic crises, economic depression and other socio-political malaises are taken responsible for the deficiencies.

While political apathy is more or less common to all societies, its causes are different in developed and non-developed countries. In Iran, thirty years after the second revolution, people are still perplexed as how to behave and which way to go in the political life and whether they should get actively involved in the political stratum or just leave things to the fate and divine providence.

There are several fundamental reasons why various layers of society including intellectuals, academics and ordinary people might not get actively involved in the coming presidential elections in Iran. The following propositions may fit into one or more categories and layers of citizenry leading to political apathy:

· Some people believe that the president is not the key person to solve fundamental issues of the country;

· People don’t see much differences between candidates;

· People have not enough information about various candidates’ program;

· Some people think that they can’t elect their true candidate;

· Some people don’t think their participation is decisive in the elections;

· People don’t get the expected benefit from their involvement;

· People don’t have confidence on the integrity and reliability of the elections;

· Some people think that the outcome of the election will not change their condition;

· Some people believe whatever the outcome of the election their interests will be served;

· And finally some people are inherently indifferent to political matters.

Apart from numerous odd figures who usually register for fun, thus far, a number of serious candidates of the conservative and reformist groups have declared their intention to run for the office. They all claim to feel duty-bound to devote them-selves to the cause of the nation and Islam. They all pretend to fight corruption, to promote justice and well-being, to improve economic structure and to cope with galloping inflation. They all declare to be obedient and true follower of the supreme religious leader. Yet, once in office, they merely think of their interests and survival.

As stated in my previous comments, while reformists seems to have better chances to win the upcoming presidential elections, due to the horrendous failures of the incumbent conservative government in domestic and international affairs , it is faire to suggest that neither the conservative nor the reformist candidates or any other person in that capacity is powerful enough to make substantive changes in the structure or religious-revolutionary nature of the Islamic regime. They both pursue the same goals with different styles. They can merely act within a limited boundary determined to them either by law or by the authority of the leader. The difference is purely that of approach reflecting individual character, social background and philosophical outlook.

We shall wait and see who will come out of the ballot boxes simply for satisfying our curiosity. But, we should not expect a drastic change in the course and substance of the Islamic regime’s policies entailing most critical issues of our time. /


Ali Asghar Kazemi holds PhD. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford, Mass, USA. He is former Dean of the Faculty of Law and Political Science and professor of Law and International Relations at the IAU, Science and Research Center in Tehran, Iran. For detail see: www.aakazemi.blogspot.com