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  • Iran’s Peculiar ElectionThe Struggle Against Sultanism
  • Akbar Ganji (bio)

Political activism and the critique of the ruling system are important: Intellectuals have a moral obligation to reduce the pain and suffering of human beings ([Karl] Popper, [Richard] Rorty). Dictatorships and tyrannical systems impose pain and suffering on their people in various ways. The endeavor to rid people of the evil of authoritarian systems and to replace them with free and democratic ones is valuable in its own right. In today's world, dictatorship has become so infamous and the appeal of democracy so universal that even tyrants try to present their systems as a kind of democracy (indigenous democracy, religious democracy, Asian democracy, African democracy, people's democracy).

Intellectuals and the elite should not excuse themselves from their moral duty. The intellectual elite have been injecting disappointment and hopelessness, passivity and indifference into Iranian society during recent years, whereas one must create hope and inject life and passion and exuberance into the society. Doing this demands self-sacrifice, boldness, and intrepidity. History has shown that giant steps have been taken only by men who were brave, idealistic, and self-sacrificing. . . .

Yes, it is true that all problems and dilemmas are not going to be resolved by politics alone or solely through democracy. Neither is the ruling political system the only, or even the biggest, problem of society, so that by changing it all problems would be resolved. Cultural problems have cultural solutions. Economic problems have economic solutions. Social problems need social solutions. It is also clear that [End Page 38] neither our people nor our intellectuals are democrats [in the true sense of the word]. But from none of these correct premises can one deduce the false conclusion that political activity is useless, that fighting tyranny is a waste of time, or that the endeavor to establish a democratic system is futile. The same goes for the conclusion that, even if a democratic system were to be established, it could not achieve much since not all our problems are of a political nature, cultural tradition is the root cause of all our problems, and as a result one must instead change and correct the corrupt and incorrect aspects of our culture.

When we become disappointed and hopeless, we try to find excuses for our passivity. This goes so far that even previous struggles for freedom are regarded as those of mere dreamers. Anyone who accepts the ruling system in its totality and participates in the Iranian presidential elections has supposedly stepped out of this world of dreams, while those who pursue radical goals through nonviolent methods are just walking on clouds. So anyone who boycotts the presidential elections is supposedly a dreamer.

Some are of the opinion that people are through with politics and no longer pay any attention to the political battles between those in power and the opposition inside and outside Iran. People want to live, have fun, be comfortable. They want to be left alone. They do not want to be bothered. It is not important for them which system or which individuals are in power.

Let us suppose that this description of the social situation in Iran is accurate. What conclusion are we to deduce from it? Is the duty of the intellectual, the dissident, and the political activist to be a follower of the people on the street? Would such an approach not turn them into mere populists (those who follow the observations, beliefs, assumptions, suspicions, illusions, and imaginings of the masses)? What argument has been put forward that says all the thoughts and actions of the populace are correct? Are not all men full of faults? Then why are we to suppose that the masses are completely innocent and infallible? Their modes of behavior must be challenged and criticized in the same way that political systems are criticized. Not all problems come from the political system. One must criticize and judge the people (an intellectual is also one of the people). We must not look for what people like or dislike, but must defend freedom, democracy, and justice for the sake of the people. In this sense, one must be an idealist...