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Covenant with the Iranian People

Tuesday, January 21th, 2003 by Reza Pahlavi

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Almost twenty-five years ago, our homeland experienced a profound crisis. This happened exactly at a time when according to many, Iran was in need of, and ripe for political development. Those who were seeking political liberty and participation and demanded to exercise rights accorded to them in the Iranian constitution were within reach of victory. Suddenly however, this movement, for obtaining political liberty, was perverted into a ruse in the hands of a group of demagogical clergy lead by Khomeini. For many years these fanatics had been biding their time, waiting for an opportunity to take advantage of some dissatisfaction amongst certain segments of society. They had sought to use the strong religious faith of the masses as a vehicle for their emotional exploitation. As the protest movement for securing political and civil liberties and preparing the grounds for further democratization was taking form in parts of society, these mullahs inflamed the religious fervor of the masses and distorted the movement of the people into a general upheaval against the whole system of constitutional monarchy in Iran.

Due to the incitement of this group of autocratic clergy, mosques and religious organizations turned into centers for inciting bigotry and exacerbating turmoil. Demonstrations and acts of violence grew to such an extent that the stirred up mob had no scruples in setting fire to cinemas and burning innocent people alive. Security and general order were imperiled to such an extent that they could not be brought under control by regular police forces. Inevitably units of the army and defense forces were called upon to reestablish security and assist in the normal functioning of the administrative apparatus of the country. The civilized world watched Iran with apprehensiveness. An endless flow of international observers including reporters, political analysts and politicians poured into our country. Some of the most distinguished members of these groups came to visit my father who in those difficult and critical days was intensely preoccupied with the future of Iran and was sparing no efforts to safeguard the Constitution and the achievements of the movement that had struggled hard for its adoption. During these meetings these visitors were either explicitly or implicitly expressing their opinion that putting an end to the turmoil required using force and resorting to violent measures. The same opinion was also being expressed by some of the authorities inside the country. As has been later corroborated by those who went on to write and publish their memoirs of those events, in response to these kind of temptations my father reiterated his views that he would not confront public protests by ordering the mass slaughter of the people, and would not respond to the general desires of the nation by resorting to violence. Instead of using such repressive measures, addressing the nation in a radio broadcast he said: "I have heard the voice of your revolution." He invited the country's intelligentsia to offer him their advice. He sought advice to find a way out of the crisis, so further turmoil and strikes would not plunge the country deeper into chaos leading to the manipulation of the situation by agitators endeavoring to bring about the ascension to power of the religious reactionary. Alas however, that the voice of conciliation and the invitation to concord went unheeded amidst the demolishing waves of bigotry conjured through the manipulation of the naive beliefs and credulities of the population. Accordingly, my father decided to leave the final decision in that crisis to the Iranian people and let history pass the final judgment on the rightness of his final actions. He departed from the country for whose development he had endeavored so hard with a heavy and tormented heart. In this manner the road was paved for Khomeini's entrance into Iran. During those painful and critical days I was a young man, and like many of my young compatriots, I was living abroad to further my education. Witnessing that situation and the fateful reaction of my father I made a pact with myself then, that turning to the nation and seeking a constant exchange of ideas with you, my compatriots would be my highest priority. I decided to create understanding with my compatriots and foster a new beginning in my country through enhancing the level of perception and establishing concord. The great Iranian nation is endowed with a rich history and a pioneering civilization. The Constitutionalist Revolution [of 1906] was itself a first movement of its kind, especially within the Islamic world, to establish modern representative government and a modern civic system. Our nation has today learned lessons from clerical rule. It is now in a position to wholeheartedly commit itself to democracy and renew its efforts to embrace modernity. It could rise again like a phoenix from the ashes of those who gave their lives as an offering to once and for all free their homeland from religious dark ages and all manner of tyranny and once again find its deserving rank amongst the family of civilized nations.

During all those hard and painful years for the people of my country, I have kept faithful to the promise that I made to myself in those dark days: Efforts to get in touch with the best thinkers, political and intellectual activists of Iran, inside and outside the country, especially attempts to keep open channels of communication with young Iranians who are the hopes of our future, has not been separate from my life for a moment throughout all these perilous years. All through these endeavors I have increasingly recognized that the great Iranian nation, especially its young women and men that comprise the largest part of it, are greatly committed to freedom, democracy and the development of their homeland. They have a deep-rooted repugnance of the present religious reactionaries and tyrants. They are profoundly interested in joining the splendid cavalcade of modern civilization and being counted amongst the community of first rate and advanced countries.

My dear compatriots,

The past that we speak of today, is not ancient history buried amongst the pages of books, it is a past that still has not disappeared from our memories. We have all seen and personally experienced it. What is this tangible and discernable experience telling us? It tells us that throughout Iranian history, a group of people has always been waiting to grab political power. In 1979 they attained this opportunity by capitalizing on the general population's demand for gaining further political freedom. They upstaged all other political forces and manipulated the religious beliefs of the masses for their own ends. They wanted to reach a position to put to action their dark purpose, which was in clear antagonism with freedom of conduct and human liberty in a modern democratic system. Riding on the initial wave of popular demand for freedom, they unmitigatingly prepared the ground from the very beginning of their victory for a reactionary religious dictatorship. By the barbaric execution of officers and commanders who had declared themselves neutral in the dispute between the government and revolutionary forces and could not be blamed for anything except performing their duty and attempting to preserve order and by the arrest, imprisonment and execution without trial of those who had faithfully served their country in the past, they began a wholesale attack on all aspects of freedom.

From one hand the Iranian women and from another the secular democratic forces became the main target of threats and oppression. The mobilized forces of oppression, from one hand drove out women from the dynamic public arena of the nation and on the other the university campuses and other strongholds of civil society which until then were considered as the frontline of the struggle for defending democratic rights and freedom were taken away from secular forces. Holding on to and monopolizing the radio and television and taking measures to gradually seize the newspapers, plus the intensification of the atmosphere of fear and terror in the streets, were all part and parcel of the oppressive measures that were preparing the political atmosphere of the country for a sham plebiscite which in reality was nothing more than passing a fatwa and a diktat telling people what they ought to do. In such a way the autocratic clergies succeeded on 1 April 1979 in getting the people's rubberstamp on a system called the Islamic Republic which no one had to that day any clear idea of what it meant. The plan was that the constitution of this system later on, without the people's knowledge and regardless of the objections and boycotts of political parties and civil institutions, be ratified in a rubberstamp parliament. This was a constitution in whose principles, the right to govern themselves was taken away from the people. The enacting of these laws instead of reflecting the democratic aspirations of the nation, were put into the hands of a group of clergy who during the modern history of our country had not given rise to anything except shallow thinking and an antagonism with the various manifestation of modern civilization.

You are more familiar with the remainder of this sad story better than I: At the time that internal repressions and the intensification of political oppression inside the country was going on, our neighbor Iraq used the pugnacious mood and the bellicose and expansionist rhetoric of the mullahs towards the countries of the region as a pretext for a military attack against our country. A war started that lasted for eight years. Hundreds of dead, injured and handicapped and the destruction of many important parts of our prosperous country were the results of this internecine conflict. The clerical government eventually ended the war, but not when Iraq and its allies were ready to pay huge war reparations to Iran, but under such circumstances that by the admission of their own leader, accepting the ceasefire would have been tantamount to drinking a cup of poison. Up to now this regime has not been able to bring back home all the prisoners of war from Iraq or receive one cent as war reparations from the aggressors.

As a result of the dismissal of many of the country's well-educated and competent personnel employed by the previous government, and their replacement with incompetent people with no qualifications, the country's economy started to decline. The economic deterioration and the plunging of the national currency has reached a point that today one US dollar is equivalent to 8,000 rials. The difference between today's exorbitant rate and what it used to be prior to the revolution, on the one hand created a great amount of wealth for lots of people who under the clerical disguise and mantra of caring only for afterlife, gathered for themselves a great deal of material wealth and power. On the other hand however, the devaluation of the currency lead to abject poverty among laborers and wageworkers that increasingly lost their purchasing power. As a result of the material greed of the mullahs and their cronies, and the heightening of the nation's poverty a wide gap has been created between the haves and have nots which is almost unprecedented in our country's history. Economic uncertainty therefore, coupled with the lack of social safety and absence of judicial security, has blocked all vistas of hope to the youth of our country. Having despaired of the future of their homeland, group after group of Iranian youths and other segments of society have fled and sought refuge in other countries.

The religious dictatorship having institutionalized itself under the disguise of 'legislation', has suppressed freedom of thought and expression and impeded intellectual creativity and the dissemination of information. The social life of Iranians has been subdued by a tyrannical system that represents backwardness and reiterates ancient and obsolete conventions. Not only have various radio and television media which under the strict control of the mullahs turned into an extension of the pulpit propaganda and have become the promoters of self-flagellation, passion plays and a culture of tearfulness and doom and gloom, there is little sign of any independent and free mass media in the country. The exercise of freedom of expression, not only for writers and journalist but also even for members of parliament and lawyers can mean paying the heavy penalties of torture, imprisonment and execution. In the meanwhile the lackeys and instruments of the regime in their publications and mass media, which are financed by the people, are absolutely free to hurl insults and calumnies at their opponents and trample upon the honor and dignity of individual citizens. They take all sort of license for assassinating the character and mentally assaulting those who question their arbitrary rule and the abuse of power by their cronies.

The whole educational and cultural establishment of the country has been exploited by a group of clergy diffusing ignorance and obscurantism. By their absolute monopoly of the country's means of modern mass communication they have imposed relentless control over the social atmosphere and the minds of credulous masses. Spreading dogmatism and superstition, they have gone even as far as inciting religious zealots to act as vigilantes, carrying out sentences in the name of enforcing the law of the Sharia.

For these people it is easier to kill a human being than an animal. They appear in front of television cameras gloating over how they have shed the blood of their compatriots whose only guilt has been poverty and destitution. This runaway fanaticism and barbarity that the regime is busy with all its power and available means to promote, has become the conceptual wellspring of a new form of terrorism. It preaches securing political objectives inside the country and abroad by means of violence. In such a manner a very dangerous situation vis-à-vis the all-inclusive Western civilization has been created which might eventually lead to unpredictable events moving our dear homeland close to a perilous confrontation with those powers that perceive religious extremism as a threat to their national security.

The justice system for whose progressive legislation and the guarantee of its independence a great deal of effort had been spent in the past, now has turned into an arbitrary system for bullying and intimidation by the agents of the domineering clergy. Lives and property of not only ordinary people, but even all those within the government and the governing body who dare to show the slightest courage by defending the rights of the country's citizens are at the mercy of this group. This apparatus with the assistance of a special repressive administration which operates independently of the executive and legislative powers within the country has the power to throw anyone in jail and confronted with the slightest criticism can sentence anyone it wishes to long imprisonment and even death. The head of the judiciary declares that the so-called religious democracy is at odds with Western democracy and hence officially denies all the civil liberties and rights of Iranian citizens. It is in this manner that security has perished from the general atmosphere of the country and there is no individual's life or property that can be guaranteed. The terrible consequence of this unreliability displays itself more and more everyday in the disappearance of job security and investment. Even those within the system who have become rich by plundering the country's wealth and resources are now very wary of using their money for any real investments. Internal capital is leaving the country: the registration of up to 3,000 Iranian companies in the countries of the Persian Gulf region and the Emirates is a blatant indication of economic insecurity inside the country. It demonstrates that the work of the financial sector has become limited to activities performed by brokers and the middleman. These activities have not in the slightest way led to any job creation. Calamitous inflation together with the high rate of unemployment, which according to official figures has reached twenty percent, is a consequence of this unstable situation. Furthermore, foreign investment which as a result of absence of security and judicial and legislative chaos - except in the areas of mining, particularly oil and gas - and that even in regions and instances that in relation to the whole of the national economy are isolated and marginal, and provide a relative security for the protection of the interest of foreigners from the avarice of the unruly elements has not made any progress to this day.

The economic decline and intensification of plundering and material greed by the mullahs and their followers in the bazaar on the one hand and rampant unemployment, poverty and destitution of the masses of disadvantaged and hardworking wage-workers on the other has resulted in such a degree of corruption and moral depravity that stuns any impartial observer. Drug addiction and alcohol abuse as well as women, adolescent girls and even men selling their bodies in the streets has become commonplace. The number of street children has reached hundreds of thousands. Graft and bureaucratic corruption have reached such shocking levels that it is hardly imaginable to get anything done in governmental departments without resorting to bribery.

In this maelstrom of poverty, unemployment and economic paralysis when the disadvantaged people of our country brave any hardship and undergo any moral depravity for their mere subsistence, the government fritters the valuable resources of our nation away. In the sphere of so-called 'foreign policy' the regime's interpretation of the preamble to the constitution of the Islamic Republic entitled 'expanding the government of Allah throughout the world' has come to mean the implementation of an aggressive and adventurous agenda. Portraying Israel and the United States of America as bogeymen, the clerical dictatorship uses the resources of the government to finance terrorist groups, meddle in the affairs of the region or pay off foreign governments that help to keep the Islamic Republic in power. This policy so far has played havoc with our national interests in the North, South, East and West. More importantly such a policy grounded on exporting aggression and terrorism has put us in such a dangerous situation that it could as it was mentioned before, have grave consequences for our country.

And eventually this violation, abuse, corruption, machination and fostering of terrorism of the system known as the Islamic Republic, not only has destroyed our national reputation and ruined the historical standing of our country in the eyes of international community, but more than anything else has inflicted irreparable damage to the religion of the majority of the Iranian people which is Islam. Since all the transgression and violence is performed under the name of implementing the Islamic law and by a group of individuals deprived of conscience, our disadvantaged masses as well as people of other countries take Islam as responsible for these misdeeds. It makes them infer that religion in general and Islam in particular are essentially inhumane. Although this is far from the truth. The domain of religion and metaphysical beliefs like Islam, has always been the sphere of looking up to the eternal truth and adhering to spirituality. Islam and its genuine spiritual convictions have nothing in common with the conduct of these profit-seeking bunch of mullahs. Accordingly it is clear that defending 'secularism' in the sense of separation of religion and the state does not in anyway imply being against religious belief. These are a few instances of the carrying out of the appalling project of 'mullahcracy', which in our country during the Constitutional Revolution under the designation of 'divine righteousness' confronted Constitutionalism and was defeated. In 1979 however it found an opportunity of making use of people's demands for justice and getting to the position of power. The terrifying reality of the government by this 'divine righteousness' which claimed that it would spread justice and prosperity throughout the world, is before our eyes today after twenty-four years. The pain and suffering that the Iranian people have gone through during this period is clear evidence of the tragic failure of religious government.

My dear compatriots,

If in 1979, our nation was spellbound by the promises of the mullahs and with the hope of acquiring prosperity, happiness and justice helped them to reach the position of power. Thanks to being tested in the laboratory of history the religious government in less than a quarter of a century has proven to everyone that establishing a government based on Sharia and the religious belief of the people is nothing more than a boastful claim and false illusion. Those people who in 1979 were shouting slogans for an 'Islamic Republic' now can clearly perceive that 'the Islamic Republic' is neither a 'republic' nor 'Islamic' in the true sense of these words. In fact it is a system repugnant to both Islam and a republic. It can accommodate neither of these concepts because of its anti-human and anti-Islamic nature. Many of the notions that throughout our history, especially the history of the past century, have created a great deal of confusion and misconceptions in the country and have lured political forces into the trap of religious swindlers and doctrinarians of different ideologies have now lost their real basis and public appeal. In their place, the Iranian nation has gained such a degree of awareness to be able to clearly discern the distinction between the role of faith and religious belief on the one hand, and the task of government on the other. They have realized that religion and spiritual beliefs belong to the personal and ethical domain and that governance belongs to the social sphere and the public expedience. Our people have realized that religion should be separate from the government and the political system should be based on the democratic will and free choice of the people. The personal and emotional concept of religion cannot be dictated to anyone but it is a matter of faith and inner belief. Accordingly it is the prerogative of the people to believe in whatever faith they choose. No religion should be put above others by the dint of governmental power and with the backing of state legislation. As a citizen I believe that all religions enjoy the same validity. I am also aware that implementing such views requires the concurrence of the authors of the future constitution of the country who ought to think of ensuring that all creeds are treated with equal veneration and see to it that the manipulation of religion for political ends should cease forever. It is my personal belief that in the future democratic Iran, people should never be put in a position to suffer the fate of individuals such as Mr. Aghajari who is condemned to death by the followers of Ruhollah Khomeini.

Nevertheless a fundamental alteration in our understanding of politics does not end with the recognition of the necessity for the separation of religion and government. It is our whole outlook towards government and its responsibilities in relation to the nation that as a result of the painful but learning experience of the past twenty-four years in particular and the political maturity gained since the Constitutional Revolution in general fortunately has been transformed altogether. The struggle of the Iranian people today against the religious dictatorship is not to remove this system and then replace it with another model which is somehow the reshaping of other tyrannical practices in the far away past. It is my belief that the future political system of the country whether in the form of a republic or monarchy should be shaped in such a way that for its political legitimacy should only look to people and their free vote.

In such a system, governance will belong to people absolutely and the function of the state will be in the hands of a group of ministers who have been approved by the people and are responsible to them; Division of government bodies and the total independence of the judiciary are essential in such a political system. If this system has the form of constitutional monarchy, the monarch in it will in no way be accountable, or be allowed to interfere in the affairs of the government. He will only be a symbol of national unity. He will represent the continuity, historical identity and solidarity of the people in defense of the national integrity of their country. This monarchy since like its counterpart, the republican system will be put to the vote of the people in a national referendum under the supervision of Iranian and international observers, if chosen will receive its legitimacy in the most democratic manner from the will of the people. The democratic legitimacy of this system can be protected from the hereditary system by putting in place a mechanism that would require the democratic approval of the future monarchs by the people. This should be done in a way to guarantee that the institution of constitutional monarchy will never see itself exempt from seeking a renewal of support from the people.

According to this criterion, our understanding of government, its components and its essential responsibilities even in the form of republic needs to be completely transformed in a way that behooves a free nation that enjoys power over its destiny and is ready for fully accepting modernity and industrial and scientific civilization. A nation that is prepared to accept responsibility at all different levels of governance. The government should not be preoccupied in concentrating its power at the top of the political pyramid. The genuine participation of the people in politics, economy and production can only approximate the heights of its success when our political system, in the true meaning of the word, is the incarnation of unity in diversity, and puts the respect for the various ethnic and regional differences of our vast homeland at the top of the governmental agenda of a democratic and unified Iran. That was why an important regard for the 'States and Regions Organizations' was an important but dormant part of constitutional monarchy in the history of Iran in the past and its proper restoration must become an essential task of the government in he future. Particularly because a national economy in the true sense of the word can prosper only when these organizations are truly institutionalized and empowered through the constitution to act with independence in handling the local governance. These organizations need to be able to benefit from the national revenue through the budget allocated for development and be able to have access to resources for coordinating their social and economic development in ways they consider fit in their own region. The cultural development of different parts of the country where every region is home to various ethnic groups and a cradle of local languages and reservoir of a rich and variegated heritage should also in my opinion be a high priority for the government. Although it is undeniable that the Persian language is one of the main pillars of our integrity and identity as a unified nation, nothing should hinder all other ethnic groups in our country to be able to read and write in their own languages and develop their cultural and artistic talents in their own local tongues. For this will help to augment the richness and increase the growth and development of our national culture as a whole.

When all is said and done, Iran is a member of a forward-looking community of nations. We must turn the page on the terrible era when the bigoted mullahs tarnished the reputation of our country throughout the world by promotion of a hateful and violent ideology and assisting the international terrorism. We must forever put behind us their violent and anti-modern governmental system. We are eager to have friendly relations with all the countries of the world and are ready to assist international efforts for confronting terrorist activities, which jeopardize world peace and security. And these are part of the lessons that us Iranians in a proper glance at the future should learn from the past crisis of our country. At the present juncture, I do not recognize any other role for myself except being a promoter of this kind of perspective for my compatriots. I see no point in yearning for power at any cost through deceiving my compatriots and myself. These lessons however will fail to be put to use unless they are fashioned by the spirit of national unity and are geared towards fighting the regime of the Islamic Republic. These lessons need to help us to prepare the ground for a free national referendum with the supervision of Iranian and international observers and participation of all political groups, for choosing the future political system of the country and drafting a truly democratic constitution. For materializing such an undertaking there is an essential need for a fundamental alteration in the political attitude of our people. Only with a forward-looking viewpoint will our nation be able to and should enter the fray of modernity. Joining the modernity in no way means compromising our genuine values and national identity. With a genuine understanding of our history and cultural identity, we need to embrace modern civilization with full conviction. We should find our real allies within those communities which have spearheaded this civilization and not amongst the primitive-minded desert dwellers who have no regard for the sanctity of human life and whose only claim to fame is to encourage people to oppose today's civilization by acts of suicide. Only in this way can we lay the foundation for rebuilding a country, which is completely Iranian, and at the same time in pace with the advancements of today's world.

My dear compatriots,

The era of waiting for a sword-bearing savior or a magnificent leader to appear out of the clouds and liberate the country is over. Today the true liberators are indeed the Iranian people themselves and the shining sword of the savior is indeed our national will and commitment. It is with a wholehearted belief in this principle that I say the unity of all progressive and freedom loving forces is the only key to securing the emancipation for our country. At present besides the internal conditions, the international situation has also increasingly turned against the religious autocrats and clerical dictatorship is on its way too lose all its advocates amongst the world's major powers. If you do not join your voice in the cry for freedom and abandon the young men, women and the students in their struggle, if you only remain as an onlooker to their heroic efforts, certainly our country will lose a very important opportunity. In the absence of a freedom movement with a national scope, in order to secure its interests, the international community will have no option but to again turn to the mullah's corrupt and iniquitous regime and search for a way of dealing with its unpatriotic leaders.

If such an eventuality comes to pass, it will be the fault of those who have idly sat aside and obstructed the movement of the people by promoting divisiveness and discord. Such a grave offence will not be forgiven by the future generation of Iranians. Unity and national consensus are historical necessities for the emancipation of our country. What I have said so far in this regard truly expresses my heartfelt and personal views. I am not trying here to prescribe anything for the Iranian people or act as their custodian. Let us put aside our doubts and stand firmly together so we all can be the leaders and shapers of our national struggle.

May God preserve Iran.