Decoding Iran – The opportunity of change and building bridges

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SHAFAQNA – Once upon a time, not too long ago Iran and the United States of America shared in a common dream: that a people could rise free from the shackles of tyranny should they stand a nation under God, free in their humanity, equal in their rights and resolute in their responsibilities.

If readers care to recall such times when Tehran and Washington had not yet learned to think of each other in enmity, prejudice and distrust, then one may still hear the friendship which united those two lands, since many times over they stood side by side, if anything in their common aspirations for Freedom.

Such names as Howard Baskerville and Morgan Shuster are still held in great esteem in Iran, since both worked to manifest the democratic dreams Iran had worked to make true since the turn of the 20th century.

But much water has since run under the proverbial bridge … One revolution as it happens came to shatter, whatever trust there was left following 1953 coup against then-Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. Whatever rationale the US government held at the time, Iranians only remember that their hopes were betrayed and their democracy morphed to a violent dictatorship.

It would take Iran over two decades to finally reclaim what had been stolen … but to what cost? Like America did all those centuries ago, Iran had to sacrifice its sons and daughters to see its Republic take hold – and against empires weather the tide.

Iran and the United States, much of the western world has learnt over the past decades, sit arch-enemies over their irreconcilable differences … or so we have been told. One may argue that one nation’s distaste of an other matters little in the great chess game that is politics, since it is often that enemies who have to “play nice”, if anything, to pursue mutual goals and secure advancement. And so one must ask: what gives between Iran and the United States?

What gives indeed?

In just a few short weeks Iranians will cast their vote and for the 12th time since the ouster of the Shah in 1979 and exercise their right to political self-determination by appointing their next president. For better or worse Iran sits a functional democracy. Against incredible odds Iran’s republican system has not only prevailed but become the expression of Iranians’ national identity.

Often decried as a violent theocracy vying for regional control by a political elite which has failed to understand the mechanism that legislates Iran’s very own system of governance: the Governance of the Jurist – also known as Wilayat a-Faqih, Iran I’m afraid to say, has been labelled under much misapprehension.

Iran remains a stranger for we shun its right to political self-determination.

One question remains: can we call ourselves democratic if we claim for ourselves those rights we deny others, on account of our political sensitivities? Such blindness to pluralism has fanned division. More troubling still western nations’ propensity to argue exceptionalism has allowed for dangerous dynamics to grab hold, when diplomacy could have prevailed.

A sovereign nation born in revolution out of a yearning for popular representation, Iran’s Islamic Revolution has echoed of those cries America’s forefathers let out when they consecrated their new democracy a “nation under God.” One must note that for all the antipathies both nations shared over the decades, both nevertheless share many great similarities.

For all its shortcomings, Iran is nonetheless a republic, and on that premise alone reason would dictate we offer this one nation the courtesy of its democracy, and a place at the world table. If we dictatorships such as that of Saudi Arabia can be called “friend” then why not overcome the burden of History in the name of political pragmatism?

Iran’s presidential elections offer here a golden opportunity.

In the midst of a revolutionary revival Iran has found a second breath in affirming itself independent from foreign diktat, foreign dependence and foreign encroachment onto its sovereignty. Americans I recall clamoured for those same principles during 2016 presidential race.

And so I must ask, are Iranians and Americans that different in their ambitions?

Change we must now realise is an opportunity we can ill-afford to pass us by …

By Catherine Shakdam – Director Shafaqna Institute of Middle Eastern Studies

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