The reform before the reform in Iran
The victory of the reform camp in Iran's parliamentary elections will obviously give President Mohammad Khatami the opportunity to carry out reforms, give more freedom to Iranians, and mend relations with the United States. Many have greeted this positive move for change. But all the talk of reform has overshadowed some of the most important aspects of reform that have already taken root in Iran.
Because of what is covered or covered-up by the Western media, most people outside Iran have missed the socioeconomic change that has taken place in Iran since the revolution in 1979. We have a lot of ignorance about the harsh realities and the magnitude of positive developments that have taken place in Iran.
The successive revolutionary governments have implemented a program of social equity that is unprecedented in the developing world. They have shared with the masses whatever economic benefits they could generate while fighting a decade long war with Iraq and hostile U.S. sanctions. As a milestone, for example, they provided electricity throughout the rural areas of Iran.
Iran's Islamic revolutionaries have kept government corruption to a rock-bottom level. In Pre-Revolutionary Iran, the Shah plundered national resources for his own benefit; but nobody has accused Imam Khomeini and his close associates of any such activity.
Compared to Iran, corruption and support for social inequity in American politics is out of control. Because of corruption in U.S. politics, the state of Israel receives more than $250.00 per capita aid from the United States; despite having a per capita national income of $20,000, while the black African states, which have less than $300 per capita income, receive $1.17 U.S. aid per person.
We all have heard about Imam Khomeini's "fatwa" about Salman Rushdie, but not about his declarations concerning Iranian Jews and other minorities. Upon returning from exile, Khomeini decreed that Jews and other minorities were to be protected in Iran. Politically, they have remained so ever since.
Consider that 30,000 Jews in Iran have a representative in the Iranian parliament, but 8,000,000 American Muslims do not have a single voice in the U.S. Congress. In a KNIGHT-RIDDER report (Sept. 30, 1997), Barbara Demick quoted an Iranian Jew as saying, "Sometimes I think they [Iranian Muslims/government] are kinder to the Jews than they are to themselves."
It is the United States, not Iran, that has laws that curb fundamental civil liberties. It is the U.S. that is still keeping people in jail based on secret evidence. Prof. Najjar of the University of Florida and dozens of other Arab/Muslim Americans have been held in prison for the past three years without knowing why. It is the United States, and not Iran, that has a legacy of racist discrimination and crimes in society. If you take into account the recent harassment of American Muslims by FBI agents, it is the U.S. that is a police state par excellence.
In regard to international affairs, Iran's Islamic government has a better character than the U.S. government. The U.S. government, for example, panders to the interests of Israel regardless of its violations of international laws and norms of civility. Iran has no such pandering, although it failed to criticize Russia enough for the carnage in Chechnya.
Democracy has taken firm root in Iran, showing that it can function as a vehicle or tool of Islamic governance. The most important indicator of democracy is the participation and interest of people in the governance of the country. About 80% people voted in the recent Iranian elections. Compared to Iran, the Gulf Kingdoms and Sheikhdoms are still old dinosaurs. Even U.S. democracy has a long way to go before achieving the kind of political participation that Iran received in this past elections.
Contrary to the hyped strain of the Western media that asserts "Women have no rights" in Iran, there has been substantial progress in eliminating the social ignorance and taboos that shroud women's participation in a traditional Muslim society. An Iranian-American wrote in a message posted in a bulletin board, "I was there few years ago and women are widely holding very important jobs and are some of the best educators in our society. If they don't have different set of values other than yours in America, it doesn't mean they are not free and you are. Their rights are very well protected within family and more within society."
Indeed, most Iranian women have benefited more from Iran's revolution than men have. The number of women's professional groups and even women filmmakers has multiplied manifold after the revolution. The revolutionary governments have, with all their problems, done far more than any predecessor to further women's education, athletics and rights. Most of all, Iranian women vote.
All of this does not mean Iran is perfect, but Iran is in no worse a situation than the United States when it comes to free speech, human rights and social justice.
And Iran is changing as a democracy, allowing dissent, and steadily swinging the pendulum of its Islamic revolution to where it belongs -- the middle path of Islam, between the extremes.
Mohammad A. Auwal is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at California State University, Los Angeles and is a regular columnist for iviews.com