Secular or not
Religious intellectuals come short
August 12, 2002
On Tuesday 6 August 2002, the reformist internet magazine, Emrooz, produced
by Said Hajarian and Alireza Alavitabar, published a very brief comment by Hamidreza
Jalaipour in its article column. Jalaipour is another prominent reformist and the
editor of the banned newspaper Asr-e-Azadegan.
After reading his comments, I immediately wrote a
short reaction and e-mailed to Emrooz. Since I did not hear from this daily updated
magazine, I sent a second e-mail asking for the acknowledgement of my comments. Not
hearing a response again, I have concluded that given the critical tone of my comments,
they, understandably, will never see the pages of Emrooz.
However, this issue is extremely important. Reformists have rarely paid adequate
attention to the plight of secular intellectuals. When they have done so, their approach
has been either patronizing and/or instrumentalist. Now that one of them has made
such a move, one wonders why it is so minuscule, polemical, and still instrumental.
Consequently, I have decided to send my reaction, with full translation of Mr. Jalaipour's
original comments, to Iranian.com.
Mr. Jalaipour's comment is titled: "The Rights of Secularists". Here
is the full text of his comments:
Secularists' citizenship [rights] are repeatedly violated. The last instance
of such a violation was clearly evident in the interview by Siamak Pourzand.
When [Pourzand] repeatedly cited the names of secular writers and artists who
had served the Pahlavi regime and foreign enemies in the past half century, Seda-o-Sima
(state radio and TV) aired his comments without any restriction. However, when
Pourzand made reference to names of some religious writers, their names were censored
This discriminatory behavior reveals that some managers of public institutions,
which are funded by the public including the secularists, are not afraid of violating
the rights of secular writers and artists. A delicate point here is that most secularists
do not care about this violation.
Maybe one reason for such a lack of concern is that the character assassination
of secularists by the programs produced by Seda-o-Sima generates the opposite
results. That is, these programs increase, rather than decrease, the status of these
writers in the public opinion.
Dear Editor of Emrooz,
Today, your site carried a snippet by Hamidreza Jalaipour, entitled "The
Rights of Secularists", protesting the abuse of Iranian secular intellectuals'
rights as citizens of the country. I was surprised by this statement both positively
I was very delighted to see that Mr. Jalaipour has for once come out of his habitual
dismissal of secular intellectuals as a relevant and important category of social
strata in Iranian cultural domain. More importantly, he protested the violations
of these intellectuals' rights as citizens during a confessionary program on the
Seda-o-Sima during which an elderly man, Siamak Pourzand, was put under the
most humiliating conditions of denouncing his lifetime activities as a service to
I would like to express my appreciation for Mr. Jalaipour's new attention to the
plight of the secular intellectuals and what has happened to them in the past two
decades in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Given what is happening to the religious
intellectuals in Iran nowadays, I would not be surprised to see more of them sharing
the fate of secular intellectuals.
Any protests against inhuman treatment of intellectuals will serve all Iranians,
secular or religious, intellectuals or non-intellectuals. My comments here are not
meant to encourage Mr. Jalaipour in giving up on this new focus. Conversely, I would
like to encourage him to be more reflective, and sensitive as well, to how he views
the violations of rights of Iranian intellectuals.
My delight in reading Mr. Jalaipour did not last long. His comment is short but
long in assumptions about secular intellectuals. First, he assumes that all secular
intellectuals named by Mr. Pourzand were at the service of the Pahlavi regime and
foreign countries. Mr. Jalaipour now shares the burden of proof too. He needs to
go through the list provided in that interview and prove that those claims were true.
Second, to accept the interview at face value and assume that its content was
true, means that Mr. Jalaipour also believes that the accusations leveled against
Mr. Pourzand were also true. His statement criticizes violations of the rights of
secular intellectuals but not of Mr. Pourzand himself. It would be really helpful
for the nation and its intellectuals if Mr. Jalaipour, who is a reformist and not
associated with the conservative establishment behind that engineered interview,
produces evidence for accusations leveled against Mr. Pourzand. After all, given
the closed-door trial, the nation has a right to see the evidence for itself.
Third, like a number of other reformists' criticisms of Mr. Pourzand's interview,
Mr. Jalaipour's approach to this case is instrumentalist. Mr. Jalaipour is questioning
why the names of religious intellectuals cited by Mr. Pourzand were censored but
not those of the secular intellectuals! Does this mean that if the names of religious
intellectuals were not censored by Seda-o-Sima, Mr. Jalaipour would not have
Fourth, Mr. Jalaipour claims that most of these secular
intellectuals are complacent and do not protest this discrimination by Seda-o-Sima!
Doesn't Mr. Jalaipour know what happens to secular intellectuals when they protest?
Just read the news on the same page of Emrooz about the six lawyers representing
some of these intellectuals. These lawyers have been banned from practicing!
The secular intellectuals are subjected to disappearance, death, jail, torture,
and harassment, even when they do not say much against the apparatus behind Seda-o-Sima.
What would happen if they do? How much did Mr. Tafazzoli say against Seda-o-Sima?
Or Mokhtari? Or Pooyandeh? Or Pourzal?
What does Mr. Jalaipour expect of these intellectuals? The apparatus behind this
TV show has already victimized one of these intellectuals and dragged him to his
own butcher house in front of the whole nation! Is that not enough?
No, Mr. Jalaipour! These intellectuals are not going to complain about the discrimination
between religious and secular intellectuals by the conservative apparatus. They protest
the nature and illegality of these arrests, trials, and inhuman treatments. They
are concerned with substance not technicalities. They are not concerned with unequal
treatment in a society whose citizens' rights are limited by the law itself. They
object to the existence of laws that violate human rights of Iranian citizens. They
are already paying a heavy price for voicing their opinion about the substance of
these charges. They are not going to accept them and then complain about their discriminatory
treatment in a manufactured TV interview!
Finally, at the end of his short comment, Mr. Jalaipour
goes out of his way to accuse secular intellectuals of enjoying this treatment at
the hand of Seda-o-Sima! My God! How dare you Mr. Jalaipour! In a rhetorical
brief you are accusing the secular intellectuals that they are in cahoots with the
conservatives because the attack by Seda-o-Sima increases their popularity!
I hope that your statement is simply a truism. However, a closer look at the rhetorical
tone of your sentence reveals that you really mean it.
Mr. Jalaipour! Do you know why the religious intellectuals like you became popular
in the post 2nd-Khordad period? Was your popularity due to attacks by the conservatives?
We should all know that what goes around comes around.
Ali Akbar Mahdi is chair and professor at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology,
Ohio Wesleyan University. Homepage here.