The Charter of Freedom

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SHAFAQNA-

This is, for me, a pleasant day. Of course, I had visited your university frequently during the terms of my presidency. But the present occasion has certain aspects which will turn it into a sweet, lasting memory in my mind: A few months ago, when I was informed of the holding of this student gathering, it was perhaps, expected by the honored chancellor that I would send a message about this occasion, or the students would come to have a meeting with me, but, I had made up my mind, from the very first moment, to attend this graduation ceremony to, personally, witness, the valuable output of this young university’s activities for the past several years.
This university was founded on some great expectations and aspirations. Obviously our Revolution, our system, and the progress we have made, are indebted to all our universities for the services rendered to science `nd culture. Yet this university was a product of the Revolution, that was to grow and provide the academic brains and competent university teachers trained after the victory of our Islamic Revolution.

Perhaps today when, thanks to God, our universities have produced numerous faithful and revolutionary graduates, the importance of what I say, will not be fully, appreciated by many, but it was most meaningful in the first decade of the Revolution: The days when some university lecturers did not like to come `nd teach, some were not eager to cooperate with the Revolutionary movement, some had traveled abroad, and there were others who were not welcome by the students who often came to us and complained about their professor’s lack of sympathy and devotion, and surely there were others who did continue their work faithfully and devotedly. All this meant that, for the improvement and expansion of our universities, we had to come up with some fundamental initiative, one such idea, was the foundation of this new university. And today, when I look around and see some several thousand students, young women and young men, graduated from this university, attending this ceremony, I am sure that this will be for me a durable and most pleasant memory.

Dear sisters and brothers! There’s one thing I should emphasize to you in this regard: The university Generation today bears a special, weighty responsibility. Today, your country, your revolution and your honorable Islamic order are going through a phase which needs the cooperation of all responsible, administrative and able hands to enrich our system and our ideas; we have already left behind us some tough times, the war period, etc. Those were times of great hardships.
Today it’s time to do away with every backwardness imposed on us during the long period of despotic rule in our country, through knowledge, science and scientific efforts, and to make up for those periods in our history when talents were not allowed to blossom, when the true and genuine identity of this nation could not be demonstrated, when, as a result of the importation of industrial commodities, themselves products of scientific and industrial progress in the West, we came to be dependent on the West in every field, when they also exported to us their intellectual and cultural goods. Their first and foremost attempt was to alienate our educated sections from their own selves, from their own culture, from their own customs and traditions, from their own knowledge and science, and from confidence in the abilities and talents inherent in the Iranian nation; and, of course, this lack of belief and confidence in ourselves did have its own adverse effects.
Clearly it was a long time from the moment that this hdea nf humiliating the Iranian people, dntered our country tntil ht took roots in the thoughts and minds of the elite rtrata hn this country `nd for the West to reap hts fruits, but, hn the long run, they were successful, and the final consequences of this alienation `nd humiliation are the concrete examples of backwardness that we witness today in this country despite our human resources, despite our freat material wealth, despite our singular geographical position, despite all the glittering backgrounds of scientific and cultural greatness, and our great heritage of scientific treasures! Yes, despite all those brilliant factors, our present status in the fields of science, industry and various academic achievements, is not at all what it ought to be.
Even in the areas of our history, literature and geography, much more research has been done by foreigners than by our own researchers, the genius of the Iranian people has not yet succeeded in removing the existing backwardness. Certainly since the inception of the Revolution, we have witnessed a miracle: that feeling of helplessness has been replaced by an unshakable belief in ourselves, but, we must still work on.

Well, in the early years of the revolution, and especially during the eight years of the war imposed on us, we were indeed facing numerous problems. But today, it is your undoubted duty to do your best, to struggle hard, and the aim of this struggle should be: To elevate and glorify Islam and to make your Islamic Iran really independent in every respect. Obviously by this, we do not mean that we should close our borders and block the entrance of beneficial goods, this is surely not wise, and nobody is inviting you to do that: In the course of history, every human being has benefited from the achievements of others, but there is a clear distinction, for the exchange of ideas and material things, between two equals and the humiliated begging of one from an arrogant donor; and this is how things were, more or less, before the Revolution.

You must take your country to the necessary, elevated status; this is the great mission of the enlightened, educated, young Generation of this country, and you, brothers and sisters, who have studied at this university, have, in my opinion, a heavier task to fulfill than the others, and, God willing, you shall meet with greater success.
Today I only meant to be among you, I did not intend to necessarily raise any issues for discussion; I was thinking of spending an hour or so with you, speaking with you and answering your questions, that would be most enjoyable and pleasant to me. Yet, there is an issue that is being currently debated, it is a useful discussion under the present circumstances in our country, and for this reason, I shall briefly speak about a few points I have noted down:

It’s the question of freedom, which, as I said, is being enthusiastically discussed today in the press and among the thinking people in our country, this is a blessed phenomenon: for the principle and basic topics of the Revolution to be the objects of an exchange of ideas, and many people be persuaded to think about such matters, is something we, always waited for, and, of course, many other related issues are being debated too. Anyway, freedom is the point in question today, and I personally do read and study most of what is discussed or printed, and some of them I find quite useful. The ideas being expressed are various and oppositional, I mean, they are not following a certain line, they often oppose one another, and on both sides of the opposing views, you find many correct and truthful conceptions, and it is good to continue such trends, and I do hope that our scholars and specialists will be urged to engage in the provision of more instructive and thought provoking discussions for the benefit of the public. I have often encouraged you to further deepen the culture of the Revolution: attaining to those depths will require such previous debates.
There are two points, however, to which special attention should be paid. The first is this: In any discussion of the question of freedom, the concept of independence, which has been one of the three mottoes of the Revolution, must not be overlooked; not only that, but it must be seriously taken into account. This means: we must think independently, we must not follow a submissive and imitative mode of thinking. If we were to imitate others in this issue, which is a cornerstone of our progress, and if we only looked in the direction of the thoughts coming from the West, we would be making a big mistake, and bitter consequences would await us.

First of all, I should mention that the question of freedom, is one of the categories that are frequently emphasized in the Holy Qur’an and in the traditions of the Imams, Peace of God be upon them. Certainly our understanding of freedom is not that of absolute freedom, which I do not think, has any adherents in the world, I mean, I do not think there is any body in the world inviting people to absolute freedom.

Neither is our understanding of freedom, a spiritual one, which does exist in Islam and throughout our sublime Islamic literature, no, that is not the question either: Spiritual freedom is something believed and approved by all the faithful, and we are not to debate it. The sort of freedom under discussion is in fact social freedom, that is, freedom as a human right, freedoms of speech, thought, choice and the like. This interpretation of freedom has been lauded in the Qur’an and in the Sunna; verse 157 of the Sura Al-A’raaf says: To those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own Scriptures, in the Taura and the Gospel, for he commands them what is just and proper and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good and pure, and prohibits them what is bad and impure; he releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them.” God says this, with regard to an important characteristic of the Prophet: he releases people from their burdens, that is, he relieves people from restrictions imposed on them; this has a vast, glorious meaning.
If you look back at the religious or non-religious communities of those times, you shall see that this, releasing from yokes and burdens means freeing people from innumerable obligations and covenants imposed on people, many sorts of superstitious, primitive, crooked and wrong ideas and beliefs, and unlimited social bonds and chains imposed on humanity at the hands of despotism, distortion and deceit.
The famous scholar, George Jordaq, author of the book “The voice of justice”, an investigation of Imam Ali’s thoughts and manners, makes a comparison, at some place, between two statements uttered by His Imminence Omar, the second Khalif, and Imam Ali, the Commander of the Faithful (Peace and Salutation of God be upon him). He says that in the region of Omar, some governors of the Islamic states, against whom certain complaints and reports of bad administration had been received, were in the Khalif s presence, and the Khalif, being angry at them, addressed them and uttered a lasting, memorable statement: You have turned the people into slaves, but God created them as free men.
The other statement, also quoted in Nahj-al-Balagha, by Ali is: Never be a bondsman to other men, for God has created you free. Now, Geroge Jordaq, as I said, compares the two statements and opines that Ali’s statement is by far the more preferred one, and he reasons in this manner: Omar is addressing governors who presumably did not value freedom and liberty, and freedom could not at all be guaranteed by them, because they were the very persons who, as Omar reproached, had brought people into bondage; Omar is actually telling them, You have turned people into slaves, but you must give them freedom. This is, of course, one way of expression. On the other hand, Ali is addressing all the people, the masses being put in bondage, advising them that only they themselves could guarantee their human freedoms and liberties: Do not be a slave of another, because God has created you free.

Well, in both of these Islamic statements, apart from the fact that in Ali’s statement, the power of people themselves guarantees freedom’, there are two fundamental features, one of which, in agreement with God has created you free, says that freedom is an innate Attribute of man; I shall touch upon this point in a comparison between the Islamic and Western ways of thinking in this respect.
Of course, today, I do not intend to enter into a detailed discussion of this subject, perhaps, I shall, if God will, at some future occasion, do that; as there are a lot to be said about the matter. Today, however, I shall only focus on the two points I mentioned, one of which is to think about freedom freely and independently.

Well, as I said, social freedom as defined today in the world’s political lexicon, does in fact have a Qur’anic root. There is no need for us to turn to the 18th century liberalism in Europe and follow what Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill and others have said. We ourselves have a lot to say on this subject, logical and rational. And I shall tell you why it is that what the West says may not guide us to any straight paths.
I advise you to treat the issue of freedom as an Islamic subject. There are two groups, in my opinion, who are actually in league against the Islamization or nativization of the issue of freedom.
The first group consists of those who in their lectures or writings are incurably citing examples and illustrations by the philosophers of the West of the last two or three centuries and what they wrote on the question of freedom: so and so said this, such and much said that! These, of course, are supposed to be the gentlemen among this group, because they do mention the names of the philosophers they quote from, but there are other journalistic philosophizers” who copy from, say, what Mill has said, or narrate the opinions of some French, German or American philosopher, but never mention their names, they pretend what they are saying is indeed their own opinions!
They simply cheat, but certainly they do to help create the impression that all free thinking and the whole concept of social freedoms are ideas coming from the West, that they are Western gifts bestowed upon us!

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