It is ironic that at a time when Iranians are in dire
need of a new and creative approach to politics, one of themost cogent and
effective voices for change should be articulated by the 75-year-old Dariush
Homayounwho served nearly twenty-five years ago as the Minister of
Information and Tourism under the Shah.
This fugitive of the pre and post revolutionary regimes in Iran is a
prominent thinker who has articulated adispassionate understanding of his
country's modern history and set forth a clear-eyed vision for itsdemocratic
future in numerous books, debates, lectures, articles and interviews. He has
also been able to puttogether the largest political party in exile opposing
the clerical dictatorship in Tehran.
I met him twice, once last winter in Germany when he was introducing a
speaker on the topic of democracyto a gathering of his fellow
Constitutionalist Party members, and again last spring during a stopover in
Parisfrom one of his frequent visits to the United States.
Beholding this veteran politician and experienced journalist, I could not
but be aware that I was standing inthe presence of a man of sterling
quality. I could not but sense that as the regime in Tehran moves towardsits
inevitable disintegration, Homayoun is the person to watch. His unique
vision and style has made animpact that is bound to influence the choices
Iranians will make in their advance towards freedom anddemocracy.
In a political milieu plagued by soliloquy and inbred totalitarianism,
Homayoun is one of the very fewpeople capable of and interested in a
democratic dialogue. He offers a new way of tackling Iranian
nationalproblems, which is not obsessed with bygone eras and has no hidden
agenda for settling old scores.
Seeing him talk to ordinary Iranians one recognizes that he has a genuine
interest in politicizing andempowering the grassroots. He listens to the
most incoherent comments of some of his compatriots withexemplary patience
and reverence. He answers them like a skillful educator and without the
On the other hand Homayoun can be quite daunting and indomitable as a
debater. While some of hisopponents lazily collapse on their dogmatic and
ideological cushions, he thrives on heuristic ratiocinationand is used to
thinking on his feet. In his book Dirooz va Fardaa (Yesterday and Tomorrow),
he devotes awhole chapter to elucidating the folly of conceiving a political
system on absolute creeds and ready-madeideologies.
Fostering a habit of political judgment and rational evaluation is
inseparable from the promotion ofdemocracy. In Iran a genuine tradition of
criticism is well nigh non-existent. Such a vacuum has lead thepopulation
into a constant fluctuation between glorification and vilification of
national political figures.
To free political judgment from arbitrary considerations and base it on
rational and ethical standards hasbeen the distinguishing trait of
Homayoun's career. Commenting in an introduction to one his books that"the
Achilles heel of the Iranian society has been its moral impotence" he calls
for an end to tyranny in hishomeland and the establishment of a government
responsible and accountable to the electorate.
Arguing for the restoration of monarchy as the best form of government for
Iran, he certainly is notadvocating a return to the undemocratic nature of
the regime that ruled that country before the revolution.
To put on the blinkers and say that nothing amiss happened during the reign
of Pahlavis as some UltraShahists suggest these days will definitely not
serve the Iranian nation in building an enlightened democracyin their
country. It will only perpetuate a vicious circle that has stinted the
country's intellectual progress andhas taken it from one moral quagmire to
Since there can be no better guarantee against national pitfalls than
enlisting the help of the country's bestminds, then the importance of what
Homayoun can tell us at this trying time in the life of our nation cannotbe
overstated. As I was eager to learn more about his analysis of the political
situation in Iran, I presentedhim with a few questions. In the midst of his
very busy schedule he generously granted me the followinginterview.
Very soon after the revolution you talked of the post-Islamic Republic.
What made you so sure thatsuch a system was doomed to failure before it had
exhausted all its possibilities?
It was the revolution itself that determined both the character and the fate
of the regime that came out of it. Imade an assessment of the message, the
leadership and the driving force of the revolution and came to thelogical
conclusion. The message was a mixture of Islamic revivalism, in its more
backward Shiite form;Third World revolutionary ideology; and a crude
Marxism-Leninism -- the worst of all possible worlds.
The leadership was a hodgepodge of leftist zealots, hapless Mossadeqists,
backward religio-nationalists andhordes of other opportunists, madly engaged
in a moral and intellectual striptease before a reactionarycleric.
The driving force was blind hatred towards the Shah. All revolutions have
their fair share of brutality andmake-believe; but the inhumanity inherent
in a religious revolution and the extraordinary self-delusion
ourrevolutionaries from all walks of life was in a class of its own. No
regime coming out of such a mixture ofnihilism and ignorance could lead to a
viable system. However, even in my depths of pessimism I could notimagine
such a monstrous evil that has befallen our nation.
The cleric who was the heart and mind of the revolution I knew from the
first Islamic Revolution in 1963,when his followers burnt down a public
library, in the true tradition of Arab invaders, and threw acid on thefaces
of women without the Islamic veil.
In their total surrender, at the very beginning of the revolutionary stage
(summer of 1987) to Khomeini, thenon-clerical opposition groups had given
away any chance of influencing the outcome of their struggle. Icould not see
any coherent and clear plan for the future of Iran. The only "plan" worth
the name was anIslamic government on the pattern of the prophet and the
It was not hard to foresee failure everywhere. Khomeini's accomplices could
not pursue their platform,whatever it was, due to his preponderance. The
clerics themselves could not turn the clock back to theseventh century and
undo eight decades of struggle to modernize Iranian society. Iran at the
time of revolution was developing at a break neck pace and could be
considered a candidate for the membership ofwhat later became Asian Tigers.
The Islamic Republic, in its anachronism, was fighting against
modernity,against history, and had no chance.
Last but not least, the mullahs again were challenging Iranian nationalism;
and like in the past fourteenhundred years, when it comes to defend Iranian
identity against Arab domination, even in the form of Islam,it is Iranian
nationalism that prevails.
Two years after the establishment of the regime, I described it as the
second Arab invasion of Iran and amortal blow to Islam's influence in
In your opinion what has been the major shortcoming of the opposition to
the Islamic Republic? Whyin the past quarter of a century has it not been
able to capitalize on the incessant blunders of themullahs and pose a
serious challenge to the ruling dictatorship?
The past quarter of a century, for most of the opposition has been a
continuation of the pre-revolutionaryera. Even today the greater part of the
leftist and Mossadeqist forces are waging the same war against thePahlavi
regime. Many of them seem to be more concerned with the secondary issue of
the form of a futuregovernment than preparing the ground that could make
democracy workable in our country; or even thehavoc that every day is
wrought on the Iranian people.
In the other camp, the whole discourse is concentrated on the greatness of
monarchy and the fifty-sevenyears of Pahlavi rule. Both sides suffer from
dearth of constructive ideas.
The great divide between various groups, all equally defeated and exiled by
the Islamic government, was theirreconcilable differences, sometimes
bordering enmity, among supporters and opponents of the ancienregime. This
was in a way inevitable, since for the first time in the annals of
revolutions, both victors andvanquished were represented, in very large
numbers, in the exile community.
No exile group has been a model of consensus; the Iranians, coming from
opposing camps were much moreprone to the shortcomings of exile mentality.
This mentality, almost by definition, means preoccupationwith themselves and
a narrowing perspective. Alienation and petty concerns have been hallmarks
of most ofthe Iranian political class abroad. It has wasted two decades in
waging the wars of the past.
Living in the countries of liberal democracy has been a golden opportunity
for reeducating a wholegeneration of political activists; for reinventing
Iran's political culture. However a relatively small numberof them have
taken advantage. One tends to write off the greater part of a generation
that not only broughtthis disaster to the country, but also continues to
think and act as nothing has changed; no self-examinationand revision is
However the incorrigible optimist in me takes heart from so many examples of
a new awakening, not allconfined to the younger generation. It seems that we
had to go through not only a devastating revolution, butalso a generational
change. Only now we can expect the emergence of a consensus among some
groups andschools of thought, which is a vital requirement for the
effectiveness of the opposition.
Reza Pahlavi says his mission will be accomplished the day he sees the
Iranian people off to a free anddemocratic referendum. Why do you think he
is necessary, if at all, to the democratic transformationin Iran?
Of course it all depends on the strength of democratic values both during
our struggle and after theoverthrow of the Islamic regime. Either our
society is capable of sustaining democratic institutions orcontinues to
surrender to different dictatorships. In either case, the name of the
regime, royal or republican,would not be that important.
To me a constitutional monarchy is in a better position and has more vested
interests in defending theconstitution against anti democratic forces so
abundant in our society. The king has both his/her own fateand the future of
the dynasty in mind.
Reza Pahlavi as a modern man can greatly contribute in strengthening
democratic values and institutions byexample. His is a very sensitive
position. Even if he sees no more roles for himself than a
prominentspokesman for the opposition, he has to be mindful of his
credibility as a true democrat. He is judged notonly by his words, but also
his actions and inactions (in disavowing certain actions and talks by
personsknown to be close to him).
He could be vulnerable because of his associates and so many people who
claim to be his supporters. Hecannot simply ignore what goes on in his name.
It is the same with any public figure but much more so withsomeone who could
become a rallying point and is always in danger of becoming a lightning rod
-- mostly because of others.
You are very active in the Constitutional Party of Iran. You and your
colleagues there seem to be partof a small minority who offer a rational and
philosophic defense of monarchy as a viable system ofgovernment for Iran.
Yet your party has concentrated the bulk of its efforts on the Iranian
Diaspora. How are you going to reach the people inside the country? Don't
you think the voice within Iran is thevoice that will ultimately be of the
greatest of importance?
As far as organizational work is concerned we have no choice but to
concentrate on the large Iraniancommunity abroad. The CPI just recently has
started forming its cells in Iran, due to better communications.The
importance of the voice from within cannot be exaggerated, nonetheless.
This huge human potential outside of Iran should not be overlooked. The
intellectual environment ofWestern societies is indispensable for the
development of a new twenty-first century Iranian mind. The factthat the
Party is free from exigencies of dealing with Islamic authorities has been a
blessing. Operating in afree atmosphere, it has become a breeding ground for
new ideas; attacking long lasting taboos with a facilitythat is not always
possible inside the country.
Our message is getting through thanks to Persian speaking radio-TV
broadcasts, Internet and other means.The party among other things performs
two important tasks: an organizational framework that can, when thetime
comes, easily absorb thousands of new members in Iran; and an instrument for
changing the political atmosphere first outside and then inside of Iran.
It is no exaggeration to say that we have initiated and promoted what I
termed as a new political etiquette;its main characteristics being
politeness even at the face of attack, avoiding self-aggrandizement, fair
play,restraint and understatement, respect for a different point of view,
and above all avoiding petty squabbles.These are all very unusual in our
political environment, but awe taking root and bound to go further
andimprove our political culture.
Who has been the greatest influence in your mind? What thinkers and
philosophers more than othershave contributed to your intellectual
I had the good luck of having a rather deep classical education, the Persian
classical literature that is, whichI recommend to every Iranian parent and
educator. This is a solid base for any intellectual development. Itwas Greek
philosophy, however, that enabled me to come out of the golden cage of that
literature; to freemyself from the mould of a captivating language that had
taken the place of thought.
Socrates, the first Intellectual, and the first non-military hero, is an all
time role model. Aristotle, whodefined everything, taught me the importance
of powers of observation and analysis, and introduced me topolitics, not the
gutter politics we too often deal with, but the essence of living as human
beings, and not thebeasts of a higher order.
In forming my character and basic attitudes, my instinct so to speak, no
influence has been greater than twosources of constant inspiration. First,
the Zoroastrian concept of "khish-kaari" meaning the human beings'duty and
responsibility not only towards and for him/herself, but the whole universe;
his/her godlike andvital role in the outcome of the perpetual conflict
between forces of good and evil; being and doing good asa natural function
of just being human, and not for any expectation of reward or fear of
The second, was the two great concepts of Stoic philosophers of Natural
Rights and the man/woman'sultimate loneliness in the world; nothing but
him/herself to rely upon for salvation. Democracy, pluralismand secularism
all emanated from Natural Rights. The Stoic concept of Man's total reliance
on and responsibility for itself, most likely influenced by Zoroastrianism,
has been the driving force for progressand emancipation.
In political theory from Kant to Hobbes to Hume, Adam Smith and Locke, along
with Burke and KarlPopper have been great teachers. I live mostly in the
world of Scottish-English Enlightenment, with itsempiricism; reliance on
common sense, rather than rigid systems; and an organic approach to society.
French intellectualism always seems to me too clever by half, and German
romanticism wrought withdangerous consequences. They both have been
responsible for the monstrous twentieth century; as Islamismis for the
atrocities of the late twentieth and early twenty-first. In short, I
consider myself a product ofPersian literature, Greek philosophy, and
European Enlightenment -- a perfect background for engaging alifetime with
In one of your papers called "A different World View" you have said that
although our country islocated in that part of the Middle East and we cannot
change the facts of our geography, we shouldattempt a departure from our
present spiritual world? You say that disentangling ourselves from theMiddle
East, Third World and Islamic culture are necessary to our future
development and to ouraspiration of ever becoming a first world country. Do
you believe that you have any allies within theintellectual community in
Iran for this kind of attitude?
I am used to standing alone and challenging conventional wisdom. Life has
been kind enough to me toallow me to witness the, usually belated, triumph
of common sense over conventional wisdom. Iran hasalways been preoccupied
with the West, perhaps because of our longstanding confrontation with
WesternPowers -- the Greeks, the Romans, and the New Europeans.
India with all our common roots and the great Vedic tradition has been
completely overshadowed by Europein our worldview. Such a Western oriented
people with a taste for the best in life and unbounded and sometimes
baseless ambition could only vie for a higher form of civilization.
The tiers-mondisme of the 60s and 70s; the Islamism that came with our quest
for modernity and corruptedit from its start in the late nineteenth century;
and the obsession of our intelligentsia with the Middle Easthave led to
disappointment and even disaster.
The intellectual proponents of a worldview, which wanted Iran to be a
vanguard of a Third World revolutionagainst the West; a champion of Islamic
values against alienating Westernization; and who saw the worldfrom the
narrow perspective of sheer anti Semitism and the rights of the
Palestinians, who were consideredright at any time and whatever
circumstances, are discredited.
We can see a new awareness of Iran's self interest which entails
disengagement from the quagmire of theMiddle East and the inherent
backwardness and cruelty of the Islamic world. As an active part of the
MiddleEast we have condemned ourselves to share the plight of both Islamic
and Third World societies.
More and more people come to the realization that those three worlds have
nothing to offer but misery andsuppression and perpetuation of
underdevelopment. Iran, even now and under an Islamic regime, which ismore
Palestinian than the majority of the Palestinians themselves, and bent on
rejecting Westernization, ispractically abandoning a value system that has
brought us to the level of a Third World, an Islamic, andMiddle Eastern
Anybody can see the thirst of the people for things Western. We are in the
process of a spiritual exodus. Iam sure of seeing the full fruition of this
idea. As a nation, Iranians want progress. We are a consumersociety and
there is nothing wrong with consumerism, the motor for humanity's long march
from top of thetrees to landing on the moon (the problems caused by
consumerism can be solved by further progress, newtechnologies and
That desire for the best and most comfortable distinguishes Iranians from
most Third World societies. Thereis a longing to get away from a failed
world, which is drowning before our eyes.
After the establishment of democracy, how formidable do you think is the
task of reconstruction inour country? Can we ever be able to repair the
damage of the past twenty-four years? What will ittake?
Iran has an excellent geography; few countries of its size command such a
strategic position at the heart of anew silk road, between two seas,
controlling the flow of most of the world's oil and gas reserves, and itself
possessing huge resources of both and other natural wealth. On top of that
we have an urbanized, more orless educated population with a long tradition
in commerce, manufacturing and entrepreneurship.
We have had the past twenty-five years to study and learn the lessons of our
own and other countries'mistakes. Following the removal of this regime we
will experience an explosion of national energy that allproblems
notwithstanding, would once again see our nation in the forefront of
emerging economies. The American power has solved almost all our
geo-strategic problems -- Russia's two hundred years ofsouthward
expansionism at our expense, the 22 hundred years of insecure western border
in Mesopotamia,and Taliban sitting in Afghanistan.
Now instead of perpetual threat, all we have is opportunity; to resume our
historic role as a cultural andeconomic magnet in a vast area comprising
western and Central Asia; alleviating its needs for industrial andcultural
products. This is where we belong, can contribute, and make a difference to
the better foreverybody. The Americans, by destroying the "Evil Empire",
gave Iran a singular chance, but we were inour worst position to take it. If
it only had occurred under the Pahlavi regime! Even under the
infamousQajars, Iranians would at least have been allowed as private
citizens to go in their hundreds of thousandsand establish ancient ties to
the mutual benefit of us all.
The Islamic Republic by its nature has tried its best to ruin this
opportunity but the strength of Iranian factoris beyond this farcical
repetition of the tragedy of 1,400 years ago -- as it proved to be under the
originalArabs. People, resources and geography are there and this Islamic
Mafia is but a passing phase.
The important thing is that our intellectuals, instead of overstaying in a
vanished and vanishing world, opentheir eyes to a new and most promising
horizon. We need a new driving idea, one that gives us direction
andmobilizes our energy. This new aspiration for excellence and create a new
world around us is what reallymatters; the rest is a matter of time and
logistics -- removing obstacles, IRI first of all, and marshalling themeans.
How do you estimate the strength of the so-called Third Force in Iran? Do
you believe those who aredisillusioned with the process of reform have
strong and effective leadership? How can their strengthbe harnessed for a
real democratic change in our country?
Nobody knows for sure. The potential is there; the majority of people,
especially among the youth, are readyto explode, and it could happen any
time. Any leadership that emerges would be closely related to thestruggle
itself. It is the struggle that creates the leadership. So the leadership
has to have an effectivepresence in the struggle.
In present circumstances the leadership from abroad can only inspire,
stimulate, work as spokesman, andhelp generally. But to effectively lead,
there must be an organization linking the leadership to the forcesinside of
Iran. The internal leadership of the so-called third force is already there.
Some of them have thecredibility to pose a serious threat to the ruling
clergy. However they are in prison and under extremerestrictions, waiting
like all of us, for the inevitable concurrence of external pressure and
internaldeterioration to act decisively.
The outside opposition should not wait for a charismatic leader to galvanize
the nation and overthrow theregime by the strength of his leadership. Any
comparison with Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution is invain. Then the
organization was inside and very strong. Now we do have an unorganized and
shiftingpresence in the country. We can get our message through, which is
very important but not enough.
By continuing our efforts to create a large and effective organization, we
will be in a position to help Iranianpeople in more ways and increase and
strengthen the ties between the two sides of the struggle against theRegime.
I cannot understand those narrow-minded people that spare no effort to
undermine a party that ishaving the greatest role in promoting their own
In the light of recent developments in the region and the total
disillusionment of the Iranian peoplewith the Islamic Republic, do you think
the time is ripe now for calling of a free and patrioticassembly to create a
national consensus and put together a clear agenda for a democratic
alternative to the present regime in Iran?
What we realistically can expect is a consensus among a good part of the
opposition leading to morecooperation and perhaps the formation of a council
to coordinate its components. A sizable part of theopposition is now
actively in tandem with the irrelevant reformist faction in the Islamic
government. They are concentrating their efforts mostly to discredit the
name of Pahlavi; and using actions and remarks bysome of the more extremist
and irresponsible royalists.
These royalists and their opponents in the "reformist" camp are naturally
outside such a consensus. Astruggle that deteriorates into a fight for or
against personalities and forms of government is not whatIranian people
expect from us. Our like-minded friends, and I think they form the majority,
want a new politics and a new society, as distinguished from what we have or
had in the past, as possible.
You have a very busy schedule. Addressing national assemblies and
parliaments, giving speeches,chairing various political meetings and when
you get a moment of freedom from all this you go backto what seems to be
your real passion which is writing, what motivates you? What keeps you
sodynamic in your seventies?
I am making for the years I wasted in my youth. In a sense I have taken away
some fifteen years from thepast and transplanted them to the present. It is
working fortunately well both mentally and physically. Mygoal from the days
I was a mere child has been to take part in the renaissance of Iran; to turn
my life into abuilding block to be built higher upon.
Iran is not simply a country, a homeland like any other. Iran is an Idea,
one of the few countries in the worldto be justly described as that. This
needed both thought and action, each helping the other. It is the samenow.
By writing and talking, and acting accordingly with scruple, I am trying to
help transforming Iranianpolitical culture, to raise the level of political
discourse -- a longstanding passion -- and to create a real partythat
carries on the task to the destruction of Islamic Regime and beyond. I need
all the time in the world. Forsuch a noble cause one can surpass oneself.
In your book, "Dirooz va Fardaa" (Yesterday and Tomorrow), you level
criticism against theshortcomings of both the Pahlavi era and the Islamic
Republic. Yet you are advocating therestoration of monarchy. Why a return to
a system of government that could so readily nurtureabsolutism will be the
right choice for the Iranian people?
Monarchy, as any form of government, is prone to breed dictatorial
tendencies. It depends on politicalculture; the political class, the
circumstances, and, in the case of a weak country like us, the external
I tend to think that a new monarch, who could not escape thinking about the
fate of the past Iranian kingsfrom 1890s to 1978 -- only one of them died on
the throne, three ended up in exile and one was assassinated-- could better
adjust him/herself to the role of monarchy in the age of democratic triumph.
In an uncertain climate for democracy, a republican form of government has
always proved more vulnerableto military dictatorship under various guises.
Nonetheless we must keep our guard right from here and now. It is very
important that the heir to the throne,our candidate for the future head of
state, not the government, and depending on the people's vote in
areferendum, is a democrat, but his supporters may have their own agendas.
They could turn an institutionand its representatives into an instrument of
their own. This is why the existence of an independent anddetached political
party devoted to a constitutional monarchy along west European lines is so
Constitutional monarchy is an option, and a very credible one for post IR
Iran. It cannot be eliminated bythe joint efforts of the Islamic regime and
a good part of the opposition. It also has only one other chance inIran, a
chance that could be easily squandered by its partisans and representatives.
Here our past experiencehas not been a very happy one, and our party is
trying valiantly to redress some of the excesses and mistakes-- all too
avoidable by timely intervention.