For the Flower of Freedom

(Persian image text)

The following is a response by Dr. Abdolkarim Soroush, a reformist Islamic thinker, to a recent statement by Iran's Foreign Minister Dr. Ali Akbar Velayati.

Dr. Soroush, who recently returned to Iran after attending conferences on the Middle East in Europe and the United States, rejects accusations of creating "scandal" and "weakening the foundations of national independence and harmony."

"That which will guarantee the permanence of religion and belief," he says, "is only and only the spread of ideas and that requires freedom -- a pure principle without which nothing can be permanent."

And he adds: "Cling to freedom, because among God's favorite creations, freedom is most beautiful and delicate... Tolerate the thorn (if there is a thorn) for the sake of the beauty of the flower."

Dr. Soroush's response was, for the most part, reprinted in Iran's daily Salam. What follows is the full text of the response as well as a news clipping containing Dr. Velayati's statements.

In the name of God

He whose thoughts
Solve world problems,
Tell him, "Give me
Better insight than this."

Tell him "Your lips
Are doing me a favor --
A really great favor. But
Do me a better favor..."

Being involved in world issues has apparently not left any time for the foreign minister of Iran to look closely at domestic affairs. Until now, many obscurers of the truth and many deceivers had resorted to various distortions concerning the "Dr. Soroush issue", all of which I ignored because [as the Qoran says,] "pass by futility with honorable avoidance."

But this time, irresponsible remarks have been made by a responsible official of the country, which are so painful to the heart of the truth that [this Qoranic verse] resounds in my ears: "Invite all to the path of thy Lord with wisdom and good preaching."

A student at [Tehran's] Imam Sadeq University asked the foreign minister this question in an open forum: "Has the Dr. Soroush issue caused any problems for Iran in international affairs?" And [the foreign minister] answered: "Yes. The Dr. Soroush issue definitely affects our foreign policy situation." (Daily Kayhan's report on Dr. Velayati's comments).

This in itself is an interesting point to hear since it is a statement that is related to the foreign minister's job, as it is based on confidential and non-confidential messages which the minister is naturally informed of, and contains concerns which he and his ambassadors have been facing around the world.

But when it comes to an assessment of the "Dr. Soroush issue" at home, the weakness and crudeness [of the foreign minister's statements] becomes apparent.

From the foreign minister's point of view, the "Dr. Soroush issue" is that he drags "scholastic issues into public forums" and he creates "scandals" and "weakens the foundations of national independence and harmony, as well as the state" and "harms the people's national and ideological foundations." And [from the foreign minister's point of view,] not only is this not a service [to the nation] "but antagonistic toward the nation" and it is similar to the things Ahmad Kasravi (1) used to do.

The picture that the foreign minister has painted of Dr. Soroush is one of a sorcerer or a prophet. But is it logical to say that a person who does not have access to radio or television stations, to newspapers, to mosques, to Friday prayer tribunes and to religious gatherings; a person who is constantly pounded by the mass media with the ugliest attacks and accusations such as spying, incompetence, treachery, freemasonry, being an American agent , hypocrisy, liberalism, and being another Salman Rushdie, Kasravi, Malcolm Khan (2) and so on (including the latest accusations by the foreign minister), could weaken the pillars of national independence and harmony and harm the foundations of the people's national and religious beliefs, and weaken the state?

[Is it logical to accuse me of these things when] my speeches are stopped and prohibited by beating me and tearing off my clothes and when at the same time, thugs are given medals of honor? I am a person whose only opportunity is to write and publish an article every two or three months in a specialized magazine with limited circulation and someone who collects those very same articles for a book (which is now also being threatened with censorship).

What happened to all the speeches, articles, films, books, magazines, newspapers and speakers who loudly work day and night in the interests of the state and guide the people? Where have they all gone? And how is it that their efforts to strengthen the national and religious beliefs of the people is not getting anywhere and only this writer, with his broken pen and shut up mouth, who has no freedom of expression and no personal security (I have many times heard thugs and attackers threatening me with death and burning and I have read their threatening letters) has succeeded in casting a dark cloud? God knows that not even sorcerers have such powers.

Anyhow, Soroush is neither a sorcerer nor a prophet, only one of God's humble creatures.

The strange picture of Iranian society presented by the foreign minister is that of a termite-infested orphanage that could crumble with the slightest shove and whose children's minds would be in disarray with the lowest cry. And the picture that he has painted of himself is that of a medieval priest, appointed foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the end of the 20th century, wielding the weapon of excommunication in front of the alert eyes and ears of the world, while ignoring his responsibilities to preserve the cultural interests, integrity and reputation of this country.

He resorts to such statements for the sake of domestic consumption in order to remove a rival whom he compares to Ahmad Kasravi, thus further endangering that person's life. And he does not even act upon his own words that "nothing should be said to give pretext to the enemies of this country and people." By speaking in such a way, he himself is not only giving a pretext to the enemy but also disgracing a strong culture whose slogan has been: "show generosity toward friends and caution toward enemies."

He does not stop to think for one moment that if the "Dr. Soroush issue" is an international issue, it is precisely because this case is an example of the lack of security that the pen pushers of this land experience, and because even the foreign minister resorts to comparisons and analogies within familiar and unpleasant contexts.

Yes, Mr. Foreign Minister, the "Dr. Soroush issue" is nothing but the fact that in this country, whenever a selfless truth teller starts speaking out of pain and for the sake of religious reform, he is stripped of his reputation, freedom and security and nailed so hard with curses, accusations of heresy and threats in mosques, the press and the radio and television that he is unable to move in any direction.

And they do not stop at that either. They then send misled individuals to attack him in broad daylight so that after breaking his reputation, they could snatch what is left of his half-alive body. And then people like the foreign minister come along, blindly opening their mouth and making not the slightest mention of all those cruel and wicked acts against a servant among the servants of the pen in the cultural scene, throwing dust in the eyes of fairness and putting the weight of all the wrongs, treacheries and condemnations on the weak shoulders of someone [like me], reminding him of the fearful fate of the likes of Kasravi, suggesting that he be silent, and in the end demanding that he be not "antagonistic toward this nation" and not give pretext to the enemy -- as if those whose violent actions present this nation as savage, uncultured and abusive of human rights, are not the enemies of the nation and do not give pretext to the enemy!

Mr. Foreign Minister! A government and a country cannot claim virtue or honor if its academic community and artists are oppressed, intimidated and treated as criminals for expressing their views, and live in fear and insecurity, and are scared of exercising their intellectual and artistic talents, and see their lives, work and reputation attacked by hooligans. [A government and a country cannot claim virtue or honor] when, at the same time, a bunch of ignorant individuals mock science and justice and ruin the reputation of a country and a nation by waving the whip of fear, and who rely on their ignominious views and ideas to demand the submission of scholars, and who neither care about the interests of the country nor of the nation when they act upon the commands of instigators and puppet masters.

Mr. Foreign Minister! Dr. Soroush thirsts neither for wealth nor power nor fame, and he does not speak with domestic or foreign interests in mind. He does not strive to protect a post or seek any reward from anyone for his (right or wrong) remarks. Rather he has something to say; he has pain, courage, faith, rights and responsibility. He has given his heart to a gentle, spiritual, heavenly and humane religion and wants its glory and splendor.

He believes that the cultural foundations of this land are stronger than a termite-infested orphanage and sees the people of this society more mature than school children and strives for the interests and reputation of this land in such a way that he will not create a weapon or pretext for the enemy by saying anything imprudent. And he is so patient toward the indecencies of the indecent and the threats of those who make the enemy happy by destroying security, that he ignores them and does not respond to them.

He has accumulated experiences in time and has learned from great men, and he assures you that the interests of this country and its people, and that which will guarantee the permanence of religion and belief, is only and only the spread of ideas and that requires freedom -- a pure principle without which nothing can be permanent.

Mr. Foreign Minister! I advise you not to join voices with groups that fight against freedom and distort the lofty name and good image of this country in the eyes of foreigners and future generations, or with those who worship violence and distort truth and religion. They add no jewel to this country's crown or bring more glory to its glories.

Cling to freedom because, among God's favorite creations, freedom is most beautiful and delicate. Do not give excuses for plucking the petals of the flower of freedom. Instead, tolerate the thorn (if there is a thorn) for the sake of the beauty of the flower. Do not hand over this dear gem to evil forces.

And show Iranians and the world that the words and deeds of Iran's politicians and policy makers are one; that they are in deed serious in their freedom-seeking claims, and that they do not overtly or covertly collaborate with the enemies of freedom. It is this very thought and freedom which will ultimately uproot all evil enemies from this land. Appreciate those who speak justly without expecting anything in return.

To you, I seem
Small and weak.
But I can be an arrow
And thrown at the
Eyes of enemies.

The dervish does not posses
Even a petal compared to
The sultan's palace.
There is only me and my
Wornout garment that could
Set fire to the palace.

[Qoranic verse:] "My Lord! I truly called my people to Your path day and night. But they learned nothing but escape... and they brought tricks and more tricks... My Lord! Give thy blessings to me, to my father and my mother, and to anyone who came to me out of faith, and there is nothing but humiliation for oppressors."

Abdolkarim Soroush
31 December 1995

(1) A clergyman in the early part of the 20th century who left the clergy to become a secular ultra-nationalist. He was assassinated by the Fedayeen Islam militia. Back to text.
(2) A leading secular intellectual in the Iranian Constitutional Movement in the late 1800s. Back to text.

From the daily Kayhan, December 26, 1995:

"New Points Regarding Foreign Policy and Domestic Issues in Foreign Minister Velayati's Discussion with Students"

...In response to a member of the audience [at a question and answer session at the Imam Sadeq University in Tehran] about whether the Dr. Soroush issue had become a problem in Iran's international affairs, [Dr. Ali Akbar Velayati] said:

Yes. The Dr. Soroush issue definitely affects our foreign policy situation. If someone intends to serve the people, he should remember that if he says something that will be reflected in society and in the world, and will give a pretext to the enemies of this country, he should be fair and not say it.

Public forums are not the place for scholastic issues. Dragging these issues to the newspapers and public places and creating scandals and weakening the foundations of national independence and harmony is not a service, but rather antagonistic toward the people of this country. If someone says something that creates problems for this revolution, which is under pressure from all sides, he has not done this nation a service.

There was a time when Ahmad Kasravi said things and wasted the spiritual wealth of this nation with his quarrelsome words -- a time when the spiritual wealth of this country was also being attacked by Reza Khan [Pahlavi] and the British.

Compared to other Islamic and third world countries, we are very successful. These kinds of actions are not in the interest of the country and the people. Therefore, even if there is no mal-intent, these attitudes certainly do have negative results. Ruining national and religious beliefs is not a service to the country, to the people or to Islam.

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