- Documents on Democracy
Meeting in Moscow on June 5, the World Association of Newspapers presented the Golden Pen Award, its annual press-freedom prize, to prominent Iranian dissident and journalist Akbar Ganji. An essay by Ganji, who was released after a five-year prison term in March, was featured in the October 2005 Journal of Democracy. Excerpts from his acceptance speech appear below:
Our ideal is the creation of a humane world, but in fact we live in a world steeped in reckless and widespread violence, a world of genocides and civil wars, of ethnic cleansing and gross violations of citizens' rights in many corners of the globe. These instances of moral depravity have deprived all of us of the chance to live in a secure world of enduring peace. But in our world today, there are also bright lights of hope. Today, more than ever in human history, thanks to improved means of communication, people, free from their ethnic, racial, and religious identities—or more specifically, free from any secondary identity—simply as human beings, are concerned about the fate of other human beings.
Today we are witnessing the birth of a new moral concept in the world: Global citizenship. Today vast numbers of people no longer consider themselves merely the citizen of a state, no longer feel compassion only for their compatriots, but rather consider themselves also citizens of the world. They feel compassion with other global citizens. Our gathering here today is the best example of solidarity among citizens of the world. But we must accept that we are only at the beginning of the road. There are still too many calamities around us, calamities like terrorism, coercion, dictatorship, discrimination, and war.
These are indications that we need to still find ways to expand this solidarity, and give reality to the concept of world citizenship. In my mind, Kant is the philosopher who can be most helpful to us on this path. According to Kant, humans have rights by the mere fact of their humanity, and in that sense, humans are all equal, and laws are just only [End Page 180] if they treat everyone, without exception, equally, and they can safeguard the liberty of all. . . .
Today we need to help create and strengthen a truly viable, clever, and vital public domain, and we ourselves must move into that arena, and use it to control and curtail power and criticize those politicians who have turned human beings into tools and means. Only through such a public sphere can we stand up to ideological and intellectual totalitarianism that wishes to impose its vision of a perfect world forcefully on everyone. As Kant has written, the principle of human freedom is the foundation of a democratic state, and for him freedom is when no one can coerce me to pursue my happiness according to their vision. Everyone must be free in their pursuit of their own happiness. Central to this idea of freedom and democracy is that women must have equal rights with men, and must be allowed free and equal access to the public sphere. . . .
The other principle we must cultivate is the notion of publicity and transparency in politics. These characteristics were among Kant's ideals as well. Every decision in the public domain, particularly every political decision, must be made publicly and transparently. It must be open to the scrutiny of everyone. We must shed the light of enquiry into the dark house of politics. . . .
Human rights know no boundaries, and accept no exceptions. The idea that this religious tenet or those local cultural norms render certain human rights obsolete or impractical must not be allowed to be used by despots to legitimize their despotism.
Today we must struggle against violence in every one of its facets. Today the kind of revolutionary violence referred to by people like Sartre, Fanon, and Marcuse is no longer legitimate. We have seen how violence only begets violence; how revolutionary violence destroys both the bad and the good. We must no longer use violence as a weapon to fight violence. Peaceful resistance, peaceful civic resistance, must replace revolutionary violence.
My slogan for fighting against oppression and violence is simple...