The Next Secular Revolution?
A Secular Student in Tehran Committed to Change
The following Op-Ed is from Free Inquiry magazine,
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
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
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.
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
|Students rebuke the
once-popular President Mohammad Khatami with a poster that links
women's chador with prison bars.
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
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.
Danesh is a student in Tehran.
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