Iran's Nuclear Issue: The Closure of Critique and its Democratic Alternatives

Stylized Iran - USA handshake icon on black surface.
Stylized Iran - USA handshake icon on black surface.

Akbar Ganjy, one of Iran's known political reformists, recently made a petition regarding the Iranian nuclear agreement, which has been signed by some prominent and respectable intellectuals. But it contains some questionable arguments which need to be addressed if the reactions to the agreement are to be understood.

The first is his argument that "the agreement, which guarantees that Iran will make peaceful use of nuclear energy, is completely defendable, opposed only by warmongers."

This a false dichotomy which traps people into either supporting the agreement or promoting war. It reminds one of George Bush's statement, made before invading Iraq, that "you are either with us or with our enemies." This logic used by Ganji is a repetition of the same determinism which is used by Iranian reformists as it justifies their action within the power structure of the dictatorial regime.

Creating a politics of fear as well as false hope forces people to "choose" between bad and worse. However, there was a third choice, which has long been advocated by "Mussadeghi" politicians operating within a paradigm of "independence" and "freedom." The most notable are Iran's first president Abolhassan Banisadr and the prominent nuclear physicist professor Mehran Mostafavi. Both have repeatedly argued that the regime has to treat uranium enrichment as an economic issue and tell people that it is nothing but loss in a country which has few uranium mines or resources but ample access to oil, gas, solar and wind energy. This would enable the regime to voluntarily close all enrichment facilities and on that basis negotiate with western powers, having deprived them the leverage of imposing over 105 obligations which are enshrined in the Vienna agreement -- which is tantamount to humiliating capitulation.

Ganji is well aware that the Vienna agreement only lets Iran produce 2 percent of the nuclear fuel of its only nuclear reactor, and he knows that Iran is being allowed to produce this amount so the Supreme Leader can save face. The question which people like him need to answer is why the country has to suffer grueling sanctions as the wound of the agreement continues to bleed, only to save the face of one dictator.

Ganjy also casts doubt on the intention of the Iranian regime to build an atomic bomb, saying that with the "Vienna agreement of July 14, Western powers led by the United States have blocked Iran's paths to a nuclear weapon -- if Iran ever wanted it."

It is hard to imagine that he does not know that after Pakistan tested its nuclear weapons, Iran sent General Ali Shamkhani, a Revolutionary Guard commander, to Pakistan in order to buy three atomic bombs.

They refused to sell, but eventually provided Iran with its first generation of uranium enrichment centrifuges. This is why the UN inspection team wants to interview the general. According to a CIA report, Iran abandoned attempts to build the bomb in 2003. However, as the Israeli government and neo-conservatives needed to legitimise an attack on Iran, they continued to reproduce the fear that Iran was building nuclear weapons.

Ganji's petition uses another reformist argument to justify the argument that "the pre-requisites for democracy must first exist, before the transition can begin." In other words, he argues that Iranians and Middle Eastern people in general are not ready for democracy as the preconditions for democracy either do not exist or are not developed enough. So we have to wait. This argument is similar to that of colonial powers, which created "civilizing missions" in order to justify the colonization of countries and indigenous people. The concept of the "white man's burden" sprang out of such practices. In both cases, it is assumed that certain people are not ready for democracy and either have to wait patiently for the ripening of its pre-requisites or accept colonization in order to become "civilized" enough for democracy.

Advocates of the elitist view of democracy, however, need to explain why a much more developed and educated Iran in 1979 was not ready for democracy, but had been in 1951 when the country was under the premiership of Mohammad Mussedgh, the democratic Iranian prime minister (an experiment which came to a sudden end with the 1953 coup that was engineered by the CIA and British MI6). Iran also experienced democracy long before, during the Constitutional revolution (1905-1911), which was aborted by Russian military intervention a British-backed coup (this led to the establishment of the Pahlavi regime).

It is obvious that democracy is homegrown rather than imported. To talk about "pre-requisites" of democracy, in order to justify operating within the space provided by a dictatorial regime, reveals the elitist perspective of the speaker who decides whether people are ready or not.

Democracy is not a goal which stands at the end of struggle and policy, but a state that is embedded and imbued within them. It should be actively present from the very beginning. Democracy should be present in its pre-conditions. It is the pre-condition of itself, and as the process of democratization continues, democracy expands and penetrates deeper and deeper within social life.

This is why reformists like Akbar Ganji need to shield the supreme leader from democracy. In doing so they neglect their role as intellectuals by creating a false dichotomy which forces people to choose between two versions of anti-democratic power (in this case, defined as the acceptance of the Vienna agreement and its power relations or support for military invasion and its power relations) rather than producing and debating independent democratic alternatives.

It is the same mindset which made Akbar Ganji who justified the reason for the failure of Green movement not by the limitations which was put to it but the reformists discourse and reformists leaders and intellectuals but for becoming radical and targeting the leader?

So for him, it is the radical demand for Iranians who wanted not to be treated as "minors" and "orphans" but as citizens. For him it was a radical demand who wanted such citizenship to be exercised within a system which is compatible with such a demand which is a republican system, the system, in which the head of the state is not chosen by God and have all the authorities and no accountability. Whatever the reasons for doing so are, the truth has become its first victim, hence the betrayal of the role of intellectuals who are suppose to critique the power from the standpoint of truth and not defend it.