BEIRUT: In March 2005, whilst the second Lebanese independence intifada was pounding the world like a battering ram, I accepted an invitation on behalf of the Middle East Council of Churches to give a lecture at a conference jointly held by the Council in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Back in 2005, Sayyed Mohammad Khatami had his mind set on defeating Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” by producing “the Dialogue among Civilizations”, a theme later on adopted by the UN which designated the year 2001 as the “Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations”.
On March 15, against the backdrop of the second independence intifada, I headed to Teheran, and was mesmerized to see the wide media coverage of the large crowds of protesters gathering at Martyr's Square; the protest and its enthralling pictures were front page material.
I tried to grasp the coverage and assimilate it to the support shown during a previous manifestation on March 8. All too many questions met with one answer: a profound reading of the speech delivered by President Khatami in Camil Chamoun sports city in Beirut on May 16, 2003, a speech that was a hymn to peace and love.
I quote him as saying: “Here is the Land of Freedom and Dialogue”. Unfortunately, two years later, during my visit to Teheran, on the eve of presidential elections marked by the devastating victory of President Ahmadi Najad over the reformists, I felt that, under the religious-military Iranian Establishment, the Islamic Republic missed the opportunity to regain a once prized civilizational historic role led by President Khatami.
It is not true that the Establishment’s unrelenting grip over initiatives and mobilizations holds evidence to the absence of any Iranian dynamic meant to reclaim the bits of a historic role inside Iran and among the two main blocs namely the youth and the intellectual elite. These two, though secluded and subdued, never lost hope in trying to streamline public policies and seek a calm transformation.
I have come to this conclusion throughout the many discussions held with Iranian friends and during conferences outside of Iran.
From these discussions has emerged the solid conviction– intended as a lesson learned and not as an attempted Coup - that for these blocs, such status quo is no longer viable forty years after the revolution.
Some members in the Establishment have indeed moved from absolute silence to an open and profound search of options to restore Iran’s constructive and peaceful presence from within, to begin with.
As for Iran’s regional role, well it is the protraction of an irrefutable fact. These persons have one obsession, ending the disastrous consequences that are weighing on the Iranians.
In a politics-free encounter, a friend, an Iranian religious scholar, told me once that it is crucial to recreate new horizons for the Iranian national identity to revive its capacity to create space for a civilizational dialogue similar to the one engaged by President Khatami in his previously mentioned book.
The West, namely the US, and the Arabs, namely the KSA, must irrevocably, according to my friend, ponder the current dynamic in Iran to re-establish internal and external reconciliation for the sake of reform. He does not hide his appreciation of the consultancy-based approach of the ruling Establishment though cautiously; the revolution’s setbacks prevented the creative regeneration of a peaceful identity, one that meets his deep faith and the teachings of his religious beliefs.
He continues that the humanitarian civilization captured in the Persian literature, priding itself with its Jewish, Christian, Armenian, Assyrian and Zoroastrian MPs denotes respect for diversity.
He goes on to explain the reasons behind Iran’s withdrawal from a peace-calling stand to an involvement beyond national boundaries since such an impetuous approach is a step into the unknown that it is wiser to avoid. However, it would have been more astute not to hold Iranians accountable for the government policy on one hand or to venture blindly into saying that confrontation is the only option.
When asked about the most efficient and least damaging options, he responded in a perplexing calm: “It would be wise to attract qualified people from inside the Establishment. A transitional period will help Iran integrate the disassociation policy especially in light of a difficult economic situation; such transition will bend the crisis from explosive to constructive, a crisis with a fragmentation spillover effect for the whole region”.
The confrontation in the Arab World and the Middle East has peaked. What Persian wisdom will halt upcoming crashes and what Arab and Western astuteness will be capable of arranging alternatives to the upcoming collapses?
The doves from both camps are required to reason the bloodthirsty hawks or their proposals for ending disastrous living catastrophes. I fear that any forward escape will practically translate into a premeditated explosion under the pretext of reclaiming what is being secretly negotiated.
Ziad El Sayegh is an expert in Public Policies and Refugee crises.
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