Sunday, October 28, 2007


"Dollar Democracy" By Akbar Ganji

Iran and the West need to have friendly and peaceful relations. Presently, however, we face the threat of war. In order to prevent war, there are things that need to be done. Peace is a product of democracy. Despotic states are furtive and untrustworthy. The Iranian people want a secular, democratic state that is committed to freedom and human rights. If Iran had a democratic state, the West would no longer need to fear the Iranian government. Iran's current fundamentalist state is a dangerous state; but it is dangerous for its own people, not for the US. We need freedom, democracy and peace; not war conditions and the constant dreading of a barrage of destructive US missiles.

The seeds of democracy need fertile soil in order to grow. In Iraq, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the soil is fertile for fundamentalism. If free and fair elections were held in these countries fundamentalists would emerge victorious. Iran is the only country in the Middle East in which modern, democratic forces would win any free and fair elections. A transition to democracy through peaceful struggle is our current concern. But our problem is not that the Iranian regime suppresses civil society on the pretext of war, it is also that the regime describes all its opponents as US stooges and mercenaries.

There is a lot misunderstanding as to why Iranian pro-democracy forces oppose the $75 million US fund.
Allow me to clarify what we oppose and what we favour.

1. Any government's foreign policy is directed at fulfilling and safeguarding it national interests. Governments provide financial aid based on these interests and those who receive this kind of aid naturally have to align themselves with the donor's policies. We generally understand this point when it comes to Iranian government support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and various Afghan groups. The US government also provides assistance of this kind to various countries and groups. The Iranian people do not want their democratic movement to be dependent on or affiliated with any foreign government.

The US foreign policy in Asia and Africa is dictated by US political and economic interests, not by concern for spreading democracy. Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and many other countries that have friendly ties with the US Administration are major violators of human rights and have despotic regimes. In these cases US Administration does not attach much importance to the violation of human rights and does not allocate budgets to make them democratic. Moreover, the people of the Middle East see US policy as biased in support of Israel and not as vehicle to spread democracy.

2. In the last two centuries many Iranian politicians were on the payroll of or influenced by foreign powers. As result Iranian intellectuals and pro-democracy activists are deeply critical of external support. When an Iranian receives money from a foreign government, he/she is shunned by the people and becomes discredited. In Iran, anyone who accepts external money is dubbed "a mercenary". If the US Administration is striving to give official recognition to Iranian democrats, it should be aware that any Iranian who asks the US dollars will not be “recognized" as a democrat by the Iranian people.

3. The Iranian regime uses the 75m-dollar US fund as an excuse to accuse all its opponents of drawing on this fund. Although this is a big lie, this ploy has proved to be a relatively effective way of poisoning the public's mind against the regime's opponents. One of the reasons for the staying power of the current regime is the general Iranian fear of foreign meddling.

4. What if the US were to allocate a 1bn-dollar fund to spread democracy in Iran? Would it be possible to create a democratic state in another country (Iran) with this sum? The people who think that they can make democracies with dollars should submit a bill for the allocation of funds for transforming all despotic regimes into democracies. If dollars could create democracies, why did the US Administration send so many troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, and squander more than 500bn dollars?

5. Iran's democratic movement and civil institutions do need financial resources. But these resources must come from independent Iranian sources. If Iranians themselves do not support the transition to democracy, democracy cannot be presented to them like a gift. Expatriate Iranians have worked hard and have amassed a big fortunate (amounting to some 600bn to 800bn dollars). They can help their country's democratic movement and assist the transition to democracy by establishing a truly national and independent TV station.

6. Democracy has epistemic and social prerequisites. If these prerequisites exist, then it is up to brave, freedom-loving individuals to make the transition to democracy possible. Many of the social prerequisites of democracy exist in Iran today. But dollars cannot produce the brave, combative individuals who are prepared to pay the price of achieving democracy.

7. What has the 75m-dollar fund been spent on? Answer: on Radio Farda, VOA TV and US State Department activities. It makes no difference to us how much is allocated to these recipients. Even if a single dollar of this fund has been given to an Iranian group, why is this not publicized openly? In view of these facts, why is this fund described as a fund for supporting democracy in Iran? Why not call it a fund for Radio Farda, VOA TV and the State Department? This would also help dispel the idea that these media are trying to overthrow the Iranian regime. At the same time, does Congress feel no need to make a clear assessment of whether or not this fund has assisted the progress of democracy in Iran?

Here is our request. In order to do away with misunderstanding, approve a bill that totally bans the payment of any funds to Iranian opposition groups/individuals. The Iranian people's democratic movement does not need handouts from foreign governments; it needs the moral support of the international community and condemnation, by the world, of the Iranian regime for its extensive and systematic violation of human rights. The United Nations' ineffective Human Rights Council must also be made effective.

What does the pro-democracy movement favour? The Iranian regime has closed down all independent media and is preventing the people from hearing any democratic voices. The Iranian government is using modern technology, which it has purchased from Western companies, to block websites and to make it almost impossible for Iranians to use the Internet. The West has profited at the Iranian people's expense by selling this technology to the Iranian government. The Iranian regime's extensive censorship and media hegemony must be ruptured. If the Iranian people can learn about events via a 24-hour TV and have effective access to the Internet; and if they can hear and read open criticism of the regime's policies and learn about alternative models of government, the regime will be forced to abandon its security-censorship apparatus. Giving funds to the opposition is one thing; allowing Iranians to have access to foreign media and accurate information is another thing altogether.

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