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The Next Secular Revolution?
A Secular Student in Tehran Committed to Change

Soroush Danesh


The following Op-Ed is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 25, Number 4.

At around the age of eighteen, I became interested in politics. Prior to that, my attention was focused elsewhere due to my age, I believe. I did not understand the real meaning of political language, but I tried, mostly without success, to seek out sources to research and understand it.

When I turned eighteen, in accordance with Muslim education, I completed an intensive program of Islamic study, which took four to five months. During this time, I began reading non-Iranian, secular books. While reading history, sociology, anthropology, and religious texts, it became clear to me that, when religion moves from a private, personal belief to an institution in society, it can lead to war and antihumanism--the laws of God can so blind humanity and destroy the connection between human beings. These observations, along with my intellect, quickly allowed me to free myself from the rusty chains of religion. Not only do I accept secularism as a human right, but I am slowly but surely coming to consider myself an atheist.

In all schoolbooks, we were taught that God is great and generous and imposes his will over us. I regret that I have had to spend most of my life studying Islamic scholarly scriptures, but I now intend in every way to resist, defy, and refute all the laws of God and Islam; to become an activist towards this goal; and to bring down the rule of the soldiers of God until Iran has a free, equal, and humanist society.
I am currently a third-year university student. Through my involvement with the student movement, I have learned a lot about the various tactics for attacking the infrastructure of the Islamic Republic. In the past, these same methods were employed against secularists and reformers by the Societies of Islamic Students and the Office of Enforcement-organizations that were appointed by the government and designed to reduce student activism and thinking. They were largely successful.

These nationwide associations worked to combat the swell of resistance that was slowly weakening the Islamic hold on university students. An ever-growing student movement had gained strength and was poised for revolution, although it was circumvented by unfulfilled promises of reform made by Iranian president Mohammad Khatami and his government.

Students rebuke the once-popular President Mohammad Khatami with a poster that links women's chador with prison bars.
On December 7, 2004, the protest reached its apex. Students disrupted Khatami's speech at a university with widespread booing and heckling that was directed not just at him but at all the Islamic associations. Pointed questions were put directly to Khatami until he was forced to answer. Then, the students held up a drawing that depicted a woman in a chador with prison bars covering her face. This was a rebuke to moderates like Shireen Ebadi (who recently won the Nobel Prize) who wish to pasteurize, homogenize, and modernize Islam and feed it to the masses. They believe that Islam can accommodate freedom. Displaying the drawing served as a response to them, stating that, while women wear the chador, there is no freedom or equality in Iran.

Over the past six years, the secular movement at the universities has grown rapidly. Even the average student who is politically naive and uninvolved will tell you in plain language that religion is a personal and private matter and that it must not interfere in politics. And yet, secular organizations cannot operate openly and freely under the current regime. For this reason, students are attempting to establish chapters and plan activities at their campuses across the country. And today, even Islamic students, as well as supporters of the Shah--who historically have been at most indifferent toward and sometimes even supportive of religion--are being attracted to secularism.

The mainstream media have attempted to suggest that Iran's population is primarily Islamic. However, independent journalists would disagree, noting in particular that young students wish to be no different than any free Westerner. Among other things, they want to date and have romantic relationships and attend parties, all of which are opposed by Islamic government and law.

The government that I want for Iranians is what Iranians want for themselves. It is a government that accords freedom and equality to all-uncompromising equality between men and women and complete abolition of executions and stonings. It is a secular government whose principles recognize the dignity of human beings.

I am completely in agreement with a public referendum on the future of the government as long as the vote is not designed to give the government control of the process. Does anyone really believe that this violent, bloodthirsty government would be willing to negotiate or step down? Is such a thing possible? Any referendum should be a two-step process. First, Iranians should vote on the removal of the Islamic government. Only then will Iranians be able to speak openly and propose plans for their future.

It is important ask whether American military intervention in Iran would really free the Iranian people. I would say no, because an American attack could not destroy all of the Islamists and other extremist supporters. Indeed, in the face of a U.S. attack, these segments of the population would only grow stronger and would almost certainly retaliate against reformists. Many innocent people would be hurt as well. No human being who seeks freedom would want this. In my opinion, Iranians themselves should overthrow the Islamic government, and they themselves should wipe out this shameful stain from the history of humanity. By strengthening the political resistance, they can-we can-perform this important task.



Soroush Danesh is a student in Tehran.


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