This paper challenges the claims of Will Kymlicka, made in his book ‘Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights.’
In his book, ‘Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights’ Kymlicka argues that cultural groups in general should be supported and given specific rights in order to be able to maintain their own culture and by doing so have an equal position in respect to other groups. He claims that from a liberal point of view, however, cultural groups should not be given rights that could harm the individual. But this second claim does in fact conflict with the first, since not giving these rights to groups could endanger the existence of the cultural group itself.
An example is female genital mutilation (FGM), which is known to be a cultural tradition that has a history of thousands of years in different places in the world, such as the Northern African region. Since 2007 the law prohibits this practice in Egypt , since the effects of female circumcisions have proved to cause diseases, psychological trauma’s or even death . From Kymlicka’s perspective the prohibition of FGM is a positive development, since it is an action to protect the individual from harmful cultural group practices.
But what if female circumcision is one of the main pillars of that culture, empowering the role of the woman within its community? From the perspective of the cultural group, being a circumcised woman increases the chances of finding an appropriate husband and having the respect of other members of the cultural group. When, on liberal grounds, it would be forbidden to have a circumcision, what would its effects be on that cultural group? If the uncircumcised women do not find husbands, or even worse, are rejected from their cultural group, does this not have a destabilizing effect on the cultural group as a whole?
Kymlicka argues that the state should prevent external threats which could destabilize the cultural group. Individuals, however, should be protected against harms of the cultural group. In the case of cultures executing FGM’s, Kymlicka’s two claims prove to conflict.
The same problem can be seen when considering the situation of Muslim homosexuals and Muslim apostates in The Netherlands. In Islam, it is a grave sin to commit apostasy or to be homosexual. When the Muslim community becomes aware of one of its members being guilty of this sin, according to the Quran, they would have the right to end this person’s life.
The Dutch government, however, enables Muslims to maintain their faith by giving them the right to have Muslim schools, mosques, etc. One could say that the Dutch government has had a supporting role towards this religious group.
If, according to Kymlicka, the government should support individuals against the harm of their religious group, this would mean that the government would have to support Muslim homosexuals and apostates who are rejected by their community and who are in grave danger. It would result in organizing special shelters for these groups and having some kind of reintegration programs enabling these individuals to start a new life elsewhere, perhaps even with a new identity.
By doing so, however, the Dutch government would be interfering with the fundamentals or the core values of this religious group, which would have a destabilizing effect and perhaps endanger its future existence in The Netherlands. Enabling individuals to leave this religious group could make it easier for other individual members of the group to leave. Women, for example, whose rights are not respected within this religious group could decide to leave, since there would be government support providing shelter and protection against the harm of the group and there is a chance to start a new life elsewhere.
Kymlicka’s claim that governments should protect individuals against harm of their own cultural or religious group is perhaps correct from a universal human rights perspective, but the claim does not stand against his other claim that government should protect cultural or religious groups against external restrictions which could destabilize it.
Kymlicka primary claim that by protecting cultural groups and by providing them with special rights in order to put them on a “more equal footing by reducing the extent to which the smaller group is vulnerable to the larger” , does not stand. When considering the position of the Moroccan minority in The Netherlands, for example, one has to refute his claim. The government of The Netherlands has supported this cultural group by acknowledging and supporting its culture. It has, for example, provided government communication in Arabic and Berber and it offers Arabic speaking intermediaries in its local government organizations to communicate with this group.
As a result of this policy, however, this group, and especially its older generation, lack the incentive to learn the Dutch language properly. The result of this shortcoming within this cultural group is that children from Moroccan families lack a proper knowledge of the Dutch language, fail to enroll in higher education and have difficulties finding fitting employment. This cultural group belongs to one of the largest groups of unemployed people in The Netherlands. Unemployment subsequently results in social and cultural isolation and a larger distance from the rest of the Dutch population.
In the end, the ‘support’ the Dutch government gave this cultural group by providing all necessary government communication in Arabic, resulted in this group having a weaker position against the larger. Therefore, Kymlicka’s claim of supporting ‘vulnerable’ cultural groups proved wrong in the case of the Moroccan minority in The Netherlands.
Besides the conflicting character of his claims, one would have to question Kymlicka’s overall claim about the support of cultural groups in general. It is characteristic for different cultures to have different values. In my opinion, however, having shared values could be the best base on which coherent societies could be built. Having shared values has proven its success when it comes to managing organizations and companies, why not for entire societies? From this perspective states supporting the maintaining of different and conflicting values would only diminish the chance of having social coherence in society. This is not a solid base for a just society, since the lack of social coherence and shared values could lead to culture clashes, misunderstandings and discrimination.
When examining the Dutch example of a government supporting different cultural groups we see that it eventually results into an unjust society where cultural groups have a weaker position towards the rest of the population and where the emphasis on different cultural values leads to fundamental conflicts within the Dutch society.
From my perspective Kymlicka made a mistake in his starting point when advocating support for cultural groups. If he would have advocated the support of multi-ethnicity instead of multiculturalism, the result of such policy would lead to a more just society. The emphasis of state support would then not be aimed at maintaining the different values of different cultural groups, but rather on the manifestations of different ethnic groups.
A concrete example could be the Municipality of The Hague giving subsidies to a Chinese-Dutch organization that organizes the Chinese New Year’s festivities in The Hague. This way government support is given to the manifestation of the ethnicity of a group, rather than on the culture of a group. In this case one should make a difference between ‘culture in the narrow sense’ and ‘culture in the broad sense’. ‘Culture in the narrow sense’ is considered to be the norms and values, symbols and heroes of a culture, while ‘culture in the broad sense’ is considered to be the visible and tangible manifestation of a culture. The emphasis on the multi-ethnicity of a society, which I would advocate, is based on the idea of states supporting different groups based on their ‘culture in the broad sense’. The Chinese community this way is given acknowledgement of its existence, without supporting its cultural values. Notice the difference in result when compared to the Dutch governments support to Muslim schools that advocate traditions that could harm individuals.
This approach of supporting cultural groups ‘in the broad sense’ is one which is visible in the U.S where there are very active and visible communities based on religion or ethnicity, but where shared values among its citizens are the base of the overall American culture. Values as freedom and equality as general American values are superior among all American citizens. Their own ‘cultural’ values have an inferior position against these general American values.
In a nutshell one could say that Kymlicka’s claims about government support to cultural groups in order to empower them in society works contra productive. His claim to support individuals against the harm of their religious or cultural groups results in weakening the cultural or religious groups and conflicts with his initial claim. And to conclude, Kymlicka’s aim of creating a just society by giving government support to cultural groups proves to be contra productive as well since cultures have different values and a society with conflicting values is one that increases the probability of an unjust society.
After several years of IAEA inspections, accusations of a clandestine production of nuclear arms, UN security council sanctions and even threats of preemptive strikes, Iran continues its nuclear program. The question remains whether the possibility of Iran joining the Middle East nuclear arms family would destabilize the region. Or would it stabilize the balance of deterrence and with that only empower Iran’s position without causing a security threat to Israel and the US interests in the region? This review essay focuses on these questions and provides a critical analysis on these issues.
Iran’s nuclear program
After the Islamic revolution Iran receives help from other nuclear weapons states such as Russia, China and India to reconstruct its nuclear facilities.[i] In August 2002 an Iranian opposition group called the National Council of Resistance of Iran discloses a secret nuclear facility in Natanz. This results in a request of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to Iran to inspect its facilities, since Iran is a signatory of the Non-proliferation Treaty. The IAEA report showed that Iran had been pursuing a uranium enrichment program for 18 years and a laser enrichment program for 12 years.[ii]
The disclosure of Iran’s clandestine nuclear developments, and the character of the nuclear activities caused a general sense of distrust with other NPT signatories and states who feared the outcome of Iran becoming a nuclear arms actor in the region.[iii] Especially after the 9/11 attacks in New York and the famous “Axis of Evil” speech of president George W. Bush during his State of the Union Address, Iran was being accused of producing nuclear weapons.[iv]
Additionally, Iran’s support of Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic jihad gives the “war on terror” foremen more reason to fear the result of Iran acquiring nuclear arms. The thought of these actors having access to nuclear weapons is a scenario that poses an existential threat to Israel and US interests in the Middle East region.[v]
While diplomacy with Iran shifts from a “assisting” to a more hostile and even threatening tone, Iran’s decision makers use the same rhetoric and threaten their opponents in return. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi even declares that Iran will retaliate with force against Israel or any nation that attempts a pre-emptive strike on its nuclear program. [vi] On 18 September 2004 the IAEA unanimously adopts a resolution calling on Iran to suspend all activities related to uranium enrichment. Two years later however Iran’s president Mahmood Ahmadinejad announces that Iran has enriched uranium to reactor-grade using 164 centrifuges. [vii]
Speculations about Iran’s nuclear program and whether it aims at acquiring nuclear weapons are answered in 2007 when the U.S. Intelligence Community released a National Intelligence Estimate concluding that Iran “halted its nuclear weapons program” in 2003, but “is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.”[viii] A year later the UN Security Council adopts Resolution 1803 - the third sanction resolution on Iran which extends financial sanctions to additional banks, extends travel bans to additional persons and bars exports to Iran of nuclear- and missile-related dual-use items.[ix]
A series of “robust threats” marks the period of 2005 to 2009. An example is the Iranian president’s speech during the “World without Zionism conference” saying that “Israel should be wiped out of the world map”.[x] President Ahmadinejad repeatedly denies the holocaust, which both alarms the US and Israeli government. As a reaction, US Vice President Joseph Biden states in an interview with ABC News in July 2009 that the United States would not stop an Israeli attack on Iran.[xi] At which Mohammad Ali Jafari, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards commander-in-chief, answers that if Israel attacked Iran, Iran would strike Israel’s nuclear facilities with their missiles[xii].
However Iran constantly stresses the aim of its nuclear program to be for peaceful purposes only, many states fear Iran is acquiring nuclear arms. According to Ambassador Javad Zarif ..“the predominant view among Iranian decision-makers is that development, acquisition or possession of nuclear weapons would only undermine Iranian security. Viable security for Iran can be attained only through inclusion and regional and global engagement.”[xiii]
In contrast to what Ambassador Zarif states on Iran’s nuclear policy, it is likely that from a defensive rationalist perspective, Iran would have to obtain nuclear arms when considering its security position in the Middle East region. Like any other country Iran feels the need to secure itself in a hostile region and could very easily continue its “policy of concealment” in order to obtain nuclear weapons in the future.
In an article written by Zanvyl Krieger and Ariel Ilan Roth[xiv] they elaborate on Kenneth Waltz’s theory of defensive realism. They state the following:
“… according to Waltz, one of the main engines for war is uncertainty regarding outcomes and because the immense destruction that can come as a result of a nuclear exchange can be fully anticipated, it is never rational to engage in a war where the possibility of a nuclear exchange exists. Consequently, as Waltz forcefully argues, “the probability of major war among states having nuclear weapons approaches zero.”
Taking Waltz’s theory into account, it would be a very realistic to consider the need of Iran to proliferate. In addition, there are the lessons from the past that would provide incentives for Iran to obtain nuclear arms as well. Iran learned, during the 1980s Iran–Iraq War that for deterrence to operate, the threatening state must be confronted with the certainty of an equivalent response. Thus in order to deter Israel with the certainty of an equivalent response, it would be sound security policy for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, perhaps only for reasons of “arms control”.[xv]
For the US the thought of Iran obtaining nuclear arms and by doing so strengthening its role in the Middle East has become very alarming. Its most important issues regarding this matter are: the security of Israel, the status of Iraq and the security of Middle East’s oil. Iran obtaining nuclear weapons will be a downright catastrophe for U.S. interests in the Middle East.[xvi]
From an Israeli perspective Iran’s current nuclear development is aimed at balancing other nuclear regional threats, and deterring Israel. However, beyond deterrence, Iran is issuing threats to Israel. Iranian nuclearization creates a major existential threat to Israel. In turn, Israeli efforts against Iranian nuclearization and the implied military threats to destroy the Iranian nuclear facilities have brought upon more Iranian hostility toward Israel. After repeated declarations by Iranian leaders that Israel should disappear from the map Israel emphasized its second strike capability for mutual deterrence stability.[xvii] Iran however does not have a second strike capability. Therefore it would not be likely for Iran to attack either the U.S or Israel, from a rational point of view.[xviii]
Analyzing Iran’s non-conformation with the IAEA sanctions, the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions and EU-3 diplomacy, one would have to conclude that Iran has no intention to limit or alter its nuclear program. The repeated disclosures of several clandestine nuclear programs also show that Iran has no intention to show its cards to the international community. Its policy of secrecy, combined with its support of Hezbollah and threats towards Israel have alarmed the region and states that have interests in the region.[xix]
The possibility of Iran secretly acquiring nuclear weapons is based on rational deliberation, especially from a defensive realist point of view.[xx] Therefore, it would be rational to consider the effects of the outcome of that situation. According to Waltz’s theory, Iran’s proliferation would only bring stability in its relations with other nuclear states. But the dimension of Iran’s support to Hezbollah complicates the matter, since Hezbollah is a non-state actor and does not have a state to consider its security options, in case of deterrence. Thus having a nuclear Iran, with its current regime (that support Hezbollah) would cause an existential threat to Israel and empower Iran in its strategic position in the Middle East region.
Current sanctions are unlikely to prevent Iran from pursuing its nuclear program, since Iran has more interest in preserving the status quo.[xxi] Another reason why the sanctions will not cause Iran to stop its nuclear program is the character of the sanctions itself. These will never directly threaten Iran’s core interest: the export of petroleum and gas, since the international community has been unwilling to impose sanctions that will harm energy trade between Iran and other capitals. [xxii]
Therefore one could conclude that the world has to prepare itself for a proliferated Iran and focus on Iran’s support to terrorist groups that could harm the stability between nuclear states. Engaging in equal diplomacy and accepting Iran’s nuclear program could perhaps make space for negotiations to shift towards mutual interests in guarding stability in the Middle East region. A proliferated Hezbollah could just as well cause harm to Iran as much as it could attack Israel or other nations in the region or outside the region.
[i] Sultan, M., 2005. Iran, proliferation magnet. SAIS Review, 25(1) pp. 123-138
[ii] Sultan, M., 2005. Iran, proliferation magnet. SAIS Review, 25(1) pp. 123-138
[iii] Sultan, M., 2005. Iran, proliferation magnet. SAIS Review, 25(1) pp. 123-138
[iv] Chubin, S., 1995. Does Iran want nuclear weapon? Survival, 37(1) pp.86-104
[v] Chubin, S., 1995. Does Iran want nuclear weapon? Survival, 37(1) pp.86-104
[vi] The Associated Press. 2004. Iran repeats warning against attacking nuclear facilities
Available at: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1079941.html
[vii] Sultan, M., 2005. Iran, proliferation magnet. SAIS Review, 25(1) pp. 123-138
[viii] National Intelligence Estimate, National Intelligence Council. 2007. Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities
[ix] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1803, 3 March 2008
Available at: http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/Focus/IaeaIran/unsc_res1803-2008.pdf
[x] Fathi, N. 2005. Text of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech. New York Times
Availbale at: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/30/weekinreview/30iran.html?_r=1&ex=1161230400&en=26f07fc5b7543417&ei=5070
[xi] BBC News. 2009. Biden strikes tough note on Iran
Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8135414.stm
[xii]Haaretz. 2009. Iran: If Israel attacks us, we’ll hit its nuclear sites
Available at: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1102705.html
[xiii] Zarif, H.E. 2005. An Unnecessary Crisis- Setting the Record Straight about Iran’s Nuclear Program. New York Times
[xiv] Roth, A. 2007. Nuclear Weapons in Neo-Realist Theory. International Studies Review 9 (3) pp. 369-84
[xv] Chubin, S., 1995. Does Iran want nuclear weapon? Survival, 37(1) pp.86-104
[xvi] Moss, K.B. 2009. Defining strategic priorities: Ballistic missile defense, Iran and relation with major powers. Mediterranean Quarterly, 20 (1) pp.31-51
[xvii] Kam, E. 2008. Israel and a nuclear Iran: Implications for arms control, deterrence and defense. Institute of National Security Studies
[xviii] Zaborski, J. 2005. Deterring a nuclear Iran. The Washington Quarterly, 28(3) pp. 153–167.
[xix] Kam, E. 2008. Israel and a nuclear Iran: Implications for arms control, deterrence and defense. Institute of National Security Studies
[xx] Roth, A. 2007. Nuclear Weapons in Neo-Realist Theory. International Studies Review, 9 (3) pp. 369-84
[xxi] Roth, A. 2007. Nuclear Weapons in Neo-Realist Theory. International Studies Review, 9 (3) pp. 369-84
[xxii] Shen, D. 2008. Can sanctions stop proliferation? The Washington Quarterly, 31 (3) pp. 89-100
This paper argues how the mediatization of issues related to the religion of Islam and its manifestations in the Dutch society effected the public debate and how political actors who portrayed themselves as experts, or who were portrayed by the media as experts used this political wave to put their issue on the political agenda.
In general, politicians consider media to be very powerful in influencing public opinion. They know that media have the power to either make or break a politician. Their relationship with media is therefore mostly one of love and hate. Media on the other hand have a more commercial approach to news coverage. They cover those stories that have ‘news value’, whether they are institutional-driver or event-driven.
In their love and hate relation with media, politicians tend to ‘ride the wave’ of certain public debates that receive attention in media. They either do this to show the public that they care about that subject, or because they want to show that their idea’s or political program provide solutions to the issue discussed in the public debate. Moreover they hope that their media appearances could push their cause or issue onto the political agenda. In short, Gadi Wolfsfeld and Tamir Sheafer describe these periods during which politicians use media to draw attention to certain public issue as ‘political waves’.
During these political waves, depending on the issue, media search for actors that are either experts on the subject or for politicians who have a clear opinion about the issue and its possible solutions. But which actors are in the best position to participate? According to Gadi Wolfsfeld and Tamir Sheafer charismatic politicians are most likely to ‘ride the wave’ in ‘open waves’, while specialists are in the best position to participate in ‘restricted waves’. For this last group thematic relevance is most important. The question, however, is whether the distinction between ‘charismatic politicians’ and ‘specialists’ is one correctly made by media.
This question comes to mind when examining the case of the behavior of Dutch media related to issues of oppression of women and apostates in the Dutch Muslim community. In the period of 2002-2008 there were several ‘public debates’ about the oppression of women and apostates within the Dutch Muslim community. Several Dutch politicians at the time were in the news almost on a daily basis, making statements about the religion of Islam, supporting it with arguments they based on the Quran, the Hadith or other Islamic writings.
These politicians, being Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Member of the Dutch parliament for the VVD, liberal party) and in a later period Ehsan Jami (Member of the City Council of Leidschendam- Voorburg for the PvdA, labour party), are both very charismatic personalities according to Wolfsfeld & Sheafer’s description (charismatic politicians are gifted with a combination of “demonstrated skills, performance and talent in the political communication arena”) who know the “rules of the game” and can find their way to the media very well. Instead of approaching them as ‘charismatic politicians’ though, the Dutch media made the public believe that these politicians were in fact scientific experts on issues related to Islam. Whenever an incident occurred which was related to Islamic practices or the effects of it in the Dutch society, these two politicians would be invited to television programs and interviewed on their ideas about the subject. They would then use written sources to support their critical statements about the religion of Islam. They would also give examples from personal experience, since both politicians have an Islamic background. Their personal connection to the religion and the references they made to written sources made the broad public think they were specialists, when in fact they were politicians aiming to put this subject on the political agenda.
But what kind of wave was this public debate? The religion of Islam and the way Muslims live, whether oppressive or not, is one which belongs to a restricted wave. In a restrictive way it is the specialists with thematic knowledge who are most likely to ‘ride the wave’. How then can the behavior of the media towards these two political actors be explained?
From my point of view it was due to the ‘mediatization’ of this subject that made Dutch media choose these political actors as ‘experts’ in order to sharpen the edges of the public debate. The commercial approach of media provides a simple explanation for this decision. When there is much controversy added to a public debate, by for example charismatic figures making critical or perhaps even insulting remarks about the religion of a large group of people living in that country, there would be more people willing to follow that story. The attention span of the media and the public is then stretched and perhaps even more newspapers covering that story are sold. A more important question that rises in this case is whether the mediatization of the subject influenced the political agenda. Walgrave & Van Aelst refer in their article to Eilders who states that the media could influence politics if all media focus on the same issue, frame it in a similar way and do that persistently.
History shows that the Dutch Media, by giving attention to every comment and statement made about the Islam, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, raised the subject to a broad public debate. One could say that the political wave stretched from a restricted wave to an open wave. Hirsi Ali, who at the time was a member of parliament appeared in media and was portrayed as being an expert on issues relating to Islam. Her main subject, female genital mutilation, is one which received much attention in media and created an avalanche of reactions both from the group supporting Hirsi Ali’s idea’s and the group protesting against them.
Due to the mediatization of the subject of ‘oppressive Islamic culture’, supported by Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s “specialist” advocacy in media, the subject reached the parliamentary agenda and eventually resulted in an adaption of a law allowing the GGD to control young women from certain ethnic backgrounds on FMG, as a means of prevention. One could say that the mediatization of the subject, introduced by a politician in the role of a specialist, led to agenda-setting of the subject.
On the other hand, the second example of the politician Ehsan Jami would refute the claim that mediatization of the same subject of ‘oppressive Islam’ could lead to agenda-setting. As in the case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the media portrayed Ehsan Jami as a critical expert of Islam displaying his statements about this religion and its negative manifestations in Dutch society. The mediatization of this subject in his case, however, other than in the case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, resulted in the same kind of public debate but failed to reach the political or parliamentary agenda.
On the contrary, the media attention in his case shifted from the core debate of Islamic oppressive practices to Ehsan Jami himself. After a period of constant media coverage regarding the same topic, the tone of the media coverage altered portraying him as an opportunist who uses a strategy of ‘Islam bashing’ in order to draw attention to himself, by feeding the public’s fear towards this religion in a post 9-11 society, in order to eventually benefit his own personal political career. Jami himself proceeds his instrumental use of media though, in order to bring across his statements and opinion to the public. The media attention given to the subject, initiated by himself, however, still has not affected the political agenda.
In this example both politicians are charismatic and know the rules of the game, both focus more or less on the same subject, but they reached different effects. Disregarding other factors that could influence the political agenda-setting by Jami, one could perhaps state that the spell surrounding his main subject has worn out in the media.
As it seems, the media has the power to strengthen a public debate by mediatizing an issue and giving sharp-edged politicians the full ‘specialist’ voice of the subject, through which it could even influence the political agenda. Moreover, the media also has the power to magnify a political actor within that same public debate and again portray him as a “specialist”, only then, depending on factors such as the “expiry date” of a debate or the “public attitude” decide to alter the target of its mediatization, influencing the path of agenda-setting. In both cases, the role of the media and its agenda-setting capability should not be underestimated.
Iran’s “Green Wave” received much international interest and support, both with the Iranian diasporas and the international community. Even certain foreign politicians, like the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the head of European foreign policy Javier Solana, showed their support to the Iranian people and condemned their oppressive regime.
The interesting and different characteristic of this green movement is that it is not limited to a certain political group or a part of the population. It consists of Iranian people from different social, economic, educational, religious and political backgrounds. This characteristic could imply that it is a national movement that has a broad legitimacy within the population of the country.
Activists of the green movement in general demand respect for their civil rights. This demand is mainly the immediate demand of the middle class. In Iran, this demand is a struggle for individual and social rights and freedoms and civil equality. This struggle is one that has been carried out in most countries by the modern middle class. The driving force of the Green Wave too mainly consists of the modern urban middle class. But the heavy price of this civil struggle, is being paid by the various layers of the middle class.
Implicitly, the demand of the Green Wave expresses the need for a more democratic regime in which the basic human rights of the people are protected, in which there is a rule of law, in which their voice can be heard and their relation with the international community can improve. In the core of their call one can hear a call for democracy. As we move further in the timeline after the rigged presidential elections and consider the demonstrations of the Green Wave we can even see that the people on the street demand more change than their “leaders” would be willing to provide. This gap of political ideals between the “leaders” of the Green Wave and the people on the streets is widening further and further.
Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Karroubi, the presidential candidates that lost the battle, would never have accepted the demands of the people once they would have been elected. These two ex-presidential candidates would have wanted to return the internal state of the country back to the basic principles of the Islamic revolution as it was in the time of ayatollah Khomeini. According to Mehdi Khalaji in “Foreign Policy” “If you want to know the unconventional nature of this movement — and what the people who have bravely taken to the streets really want - don’t listen to Mousavi, Karroubi, and Khatami.”
One of the interesting aspects in the development of this green movement in Iran is the question which kind of democracy would eventually best fit the need and desire of the Iranian people. In this question concepts as culture and political attitude should be considered. A democratic regime would only be possible after a regime change, since the system of the current regime does not allow processes of democratization. With a Guardian Council that can veto any bill of the majlis (parliament), the representation of the people has no true power or ability to change law in a reformatory manner. The system in which the highest religious leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, is the leader of the country and can veto any decision that politician institutions make is called the ‘velayate faqih’ and is undemocratic and unable to alter. A new democratic regime in Iran would have to answer to the call for freedom of the Iranian people, but should also fit the political culture and receptiveness of the country in order to be able endure. Examples of “imported” models of democracy have not shown much success in the past. Especially in the Middle East region, like the case of Iraq.
Iranian identity and national culture
When considering Iran’s political history, one has to include notions of a self image and its cultural values. However difficult to enhance general presumption about a nation, it is necessary to be able to define a national character in order to design a democratic model that fits its character.
To begin with, there is a constant tension visible in Iran between its Persian and Islamic identity. Another dimension to this conflicting self-image is the present tension between its national superiority and subjugation. The Iranian identity projects a certain superiority towards the Arab neighbors and a pride about its Islamic imperial past. There is a sense of pride towards their ‘Aryan’ race, while at the same time there is a sense of humiliation of one being conquered, and humiliated by external forces. Keeping this in mind, one has to consider a model of democracy that provides a special place within civil society in which they can enhance their Islamic beliefs and both allow growing space for their national pride and imperial past.
Secondly, there is a particular relation Iranians have with the West. On the one hand they have a deep respect and admiration for the development in the West in the field of science and art, but on the other hand they have a sense of being victimized or sidelined by that same culture. Their liking of Western culture has even triggered certain nationalist Iranian intellectuals to revolt against the “Westoxication” of Iranian culture. Therefore, a democratic model that would best fit Iranian political culture should be one that is based on best practices in non-Western countries, allowing the Iranians to feel that it is one they designed themselves, using symbols and attributes of their of culture.
Thirdly, there is also a tendency to enhance conspiracy theories in which they imagine devious coalitions of enemies and foreign powers against them. Therefore, any external influence in Iran’s new democratic model should be prevented.
Additionally Iranian modern culture can be characterized by its individualism. This however does not mean that they are socially detached. Aside by individualistic, Iranians are known to have institutions outside their family which they trust and feel connected to. Within this ‘circle’ there is a case of ‘party-bazi’ (protectionism) and ravabet (connections). In society this has resulted in corruption and nepotism. Knowing this, it becomes extremely important to introduce a model of democracy that would not create opportunities in which people would be tempted to act corruptly. This could for example have its implications in voting procedures.
Political and social occurrences and their effect on Iran’s political attitude
Iran has a vast history one could study in order to have a notion of its political attitude. But since this paper’s research question is focused on current and future Iran, only the post-Islamic revolution period will be considered; the period 1990 until now, to be exact. Over 30 percent of Iranians are between the ages of 15 and 29, and 60 percent are under the age of 30. They are predominantly the ones whose political attitude has to be considered in this research, since they are the ones who will have to be able to give their support to a new democratic regime.
Studying Iran’s timeline of political history, one notices certain highlights that have been decisive in shaping its national identity and attitude towards politics, government and civil society.
The first occurrence that shaped Iran’s current political attitude that could have effect on its attitude towards a democratic regime is Mohammad Khatami’s landslide victory in the 1997 presidential election. He won with 70% of the vote, beating the conservative ruling elite. Khatami won the election thanks to his campaign in which he promised to implement social reforms, giving more individual freedom, which charmed the young generation; promote the rule of law; create a civil society and promote a dialogue of civilizations.
In 2001, however 60 reformist parliamentarians were brought to court for their views. The president was unable to defend them, in contrast to what he had promised the people. In 2002, another 17 parliamentarians were brought to court on charges of liberalism. One of the parliamentarians was sentenced to 40 lashes, one was arrested, and another was fired. This was the end of Khatami’s credibility inside Iran. His supporters began accusing him of having deceived them.
This course of events proved two things: firstly, that the parliament is not able to answer to the will of the people, since any form of reform that could even mildly endanger the core values of the Islamic republic, will not be tolerated. Secondly, it proved that the role of the president was overestimated when considering change. However, the fact that the young generation was willing to go out and vote for Khatami in the first place, proves a major sense of political responsibility and participation. A democratic system, in which the political participation of the people is taken seriously is suitable in today’s Iran. Another lesson of Khatami’s disappointing political outcome is that a democratic system in Iran should have an embedded mechanisms of accountability.
The second aspect that influenced Iran’s current political attitude is the continuation of major censorship in all layers of political and social life in Iran. An example is the closing down of numerous newspapers after publishing news that authorities considered dangerous to national safety or an insult or threat to the values of the Islamic Republic. A more extreme example is the imprisonment of thousands of political activists who in any way promote a different political ideology than that of the Islamic Republic. Despite the massive censorship, Iranians find creative ways to express their own idea’s. Iranians are vastly represented on the internet, making Persian the 28th most used language online and the second most used language in the blogsphere. Through weblogs Iranians express their idea’s anonymously. Through online forums and news websites they share information on political occurrences, which otherwise would not be reported through official channels of communication.
The fact that Iranians, in reaction to censorship, go ‘underground’ and use various (online) platforms massively shows a strong sense of participation and political and social awareness. Their will to express their individual voice proves a need for plurality and having something to choose. Therefore a multiparty model of democracy would best fit the Iranian political and social awareness. This awareness and participation is also visible in the civil society, like the women’s, students and human rights movement. Therefore Iran’s ideal model of democracy should also be able to give an active participatory role to groups in civil society. This model of democracy should of course also protect all the human rights, basic civil, social and political rights all its citizens.
The Green Wave
As a response to the rigged presidential elections in Iran, thousands of Iranians from all walks of life went into the streets and a spontaneous demonstration took place. Entire streets were filled with people carrying the color green, being the symbolic color of Mir-Hossein Mousavi. These demonstrations continued for days and was brutally struck down by the authorities, which lead to many protests around the world. The live murder of a young girl, Neda, in front of the camera of a mobile phone, became the symbol of the uprising and the inhuman way the authorities handled this.
At first the demonstrators chanted “where’s my vote?” in protest to their stolen vote. But when days went by and violence against the protestors, initiated by the Basij and riot police, the tone of the chants altered. They then chanted “marg bar dictator!” meaning “death to dictator!” Before this change of chants, the supreme leader Khamenei had threatened the protestors in one of his speeches and chose the side of the new president, Mahmood Ahmadinejad. This enraged the demonstrators even more and was made them turn their disappointment to him and the entire system of the current regime. As a response to the demonstrations the guardian council marked the president candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi and their greatest supporter, ex-president Khatami as traitors and demanded treason trials.
Since the Green Wave is a popular movement without a strong leader figure to define their concrete demands and wishes, it is difficult to make a clear analysis of the direction of their political and social interests. Only their chants can be taken into account. As mentioned earlier, these chants have changed along its timeline. What began as a protest movement against the rigged presidential elections became a general protests against the supreme leader and his regime. After the June demonstrations the protests were silenced, many protesters were imprisoned without a fair trial; many were tortured and raped in Kahrizak prison, among other prisons.
And yet the Green Wave has not given up its protest. During the 2009 Shi’ite commemoration of Ashura, the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet, in 680 CE. Each year there is a government organized event in all cities in which everyone is welcomed to participate in order to mourn the death of Hussein. This year, authorities had forbidden the large gatherings for the commemoration, out of fear of another protest of the people. On 26 and 27 December people again went into the streets, at first in order to commemorate, not only the martyrdom of Hussein, but also of all those who had died in this year’s demonstrations. When the Basij started attacking the protestors, people hit back and started chanting even more extreme chants compared to last June, like: “death to Khamenei and his regime!” The violence against the protestors grew and again many were injured and killed, including the nephew of Mir-Hossein Mousavi.
Listening to the chants of the people supporting the Green Wave, one can hear an increase of dismay against the dictatorial character of the current regime. A revolt against a dictatorial regime implies a need and interest in a democratic regime that allows the people to have a say in the way the country is governed. A deeper lying need is that of a rule of law, which make remove all kind of arbitrary law that is characteristic of the current Islamic law that is in power. The apartheids regime that the current regime holds against the women is as well one side of the Islamic law and its interpretations that causes much protest among the Green Wave women who stand at the frontlines of the movement and want equal rights, respect of their human and social rights. In this plea for equal rights, within the context of a model of democracy, there should be a protection of the people against the governors and protection against each other in order to “ensure that those who govern pursue policies that are commensurate with citizens’ interests as a whole”.
A fitting model of democracy
When we take the chants of the Green Wave as a representation of the needs and wishes of the majority of the Iranian people, we see that there is a strong need for another regime, a respect of social and human rights and equality of all Iranians. A rule of law should be the base on which this is founded. The ideal model of democracy for Iran should consist of the following aspects, considering the political attitude and cultural acceptance of the Iranian people:
- Within civil society there should be room for both Islamic beliefs and national pride and respect of Iran’s imperial past;
- Best practices of democratization in non-Western countries should be applied, allowing a cultural acceptance by the Iranians by using symbols and attributes of the Iranian culture;
- Any external influence in Iran’s new democratic model should be prevented;
- The model should prevent any opportunity in which people would be tempted to act corruptly. This could for example have its implications in voting procedures;
- Political participation of the people should be taken seriously;
-There should be an embedded mechanisms of accountability in the system;
- The model should also be able to give an active participatory role to groups in civil society; -
- The model should guarantee all human rights, basic civil rights, social and political rights of all the citizens;
- The model should be based on the rule of law, which will remove all kind of arbitrary law that is characteristic of the current Islamic law;
- Equality of all citizens should be guaranteed;
- The model should protect people against the governors and against each other in order to “ensure that those who govern pursue policies that are commensurate with citizens’ interests as a whole”.
All these “ingredients” for a fitting model of democracy for Iran can be found in different existing classic models, but the model which fits best is that of a protective democracy. The key features of a protective democracy is that
a) There is a sovereignty of the people: this is vested in representatives who can exercise state functions;
b) In electoral procedures there is a secret ballot, a clear and independent competition between factions. Majority rule is the basis for achieving accountability;
c) State power is not related to persons and is divided between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.
d) A constitution is in a central position in order to prevent arbitrary treatment in law. This could be guaranteed by implementing law based on the protection of human rights, civil rights, including rights in the field of freedom of speech, expression, association, voting and belief.
e) In a protective democracy there is a separation between civil society and state;
f) Citizens are protected from risks of violence, anti-social behavior or unwanted political interference.
This model of protective democracy fits the social needs and political and cultural acceptance of the Iranian people. When implementing this model, it is important to have a constitution that allows all above mentioned features, like the separation of persons of state power and the separation of civil society and state. This classic model of protective democracy is one which does not have a recognizable “Western” character. It is one which allows a balanced and lawful society to be created in which all citizens know what they can expect from their authorities and to which extent they can act as citizens in order to influence the governing of their state. This is a characteristic which is very much needed in today’s Iran. The matter of equality and protection of human, civil and political rights too is a characteristic of this model that fits the need of Iran’s people.
The fact that there is a separation between civil society and the state allows the existing groups in civil society, including religious and cultural groups to exist as another group within civil society as an advisory group to the representation of the people in the parliament. This characteristic of the protective democracy will cause a clear separation between religion and state, which until now were intertwined in Iran. This in itself will solve a major problem of the people, namely the inequality in law, censorship and discrimination of other religious groups. In a nutshell this classic model is an ideal model to implement in today’s Iran and it would offer the kind of state system that the current Green Wave demands.
To conclude, the classic model of protective democracy would best fit the need of the people of Iran when listening to the demands of the current Green Wave, which has initiated an uprising in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The theocracy which currency exists in Iran, with Ali Khamenei as the supreme leader is a system that no longer answers to the needs of its people. Iran’s people are calling for a democracy. According to their political history, their social needs and cultural acceptance the model of a protective democracy is one which best fits the Iranian society as an alternative to its current regime. The characteristics of a protective democracy are those that allow a separation of religion of the state, provide a rule of law based on human, civil and political rights, which is demanded by a large amount of Iran’s population. And finally, the model of a protective democracy demands a constitution on which all the above mentioned characteristics could be based on. When such a model of democracy could be implemented in Iran, its civil society could have an advisory role to the parliament, through which existing groups could continue their lobby for the improvement of the position and a protection of their interests. This would answer to the call of Iran’s people who ask for equality in law protection against other citizens. The most important aspect of such a model of democracy is, however, its acceptance by the people. Looking at today’s Iran, the vast demonstrations of the Green Wave and the active women rights and human rights movement from within the country, one has to conclude that there should be a major basis for acceptance of this model of protective democracy.
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