Ardeshir Amir Arjomand is a former law professor at Beheshti University and an adviser to Mousavi. In an interview with Kalame, this law professor spoke of how he views the current condition in Iran and reflected both on the bitter and sweet memories of the events that succeeded the elections. Amir Arjomand criticized the policies of this regime over the years; policies that have led to the disqualification of honorable and qualified citizens under the pretext of infidelity towards the regime. He also complained about individuals who have tolerated and in some cases even endorsed fraud and in doing so have demonstrated that contrary to their claims, they are not only not committed to the Constitution and the regime, but in particular they reject the “Republic” part of the regime.
Translation of the interview by Negar Irani:
It has been a year since the inception of the Green Movement. What are your thoughts about this past year and the evolution of the Green movement during this time period?
The past year was filled with both bitter and memorable events. During the elections we witnessed a re-invigoration of hope and a desire for change by our people. A large segment of our society was fed up with the way the country was being run, with the lack of honesty, demagoguery, deceit, the difficult political and economic conditions and human rights violations.
In the first four years, the 9th government was in a solid position when it came to oil revenues. If they had implemented sound economic policies, our country would have benefited enormously. Instead as a result of their corruption and monopolization, our economy, our people’s livelihoods, our culture and behavior towards others suffered an irreparable blow that may never be recovered.
With Mir Hossein Mousavi’s entrance into the 10th presidential elections, our people once again began to believe in the possibility of change. Our nation began to feel more hopeful; hopeful about a return to rational thinking, honesty and ethics when dealing with the affairs of the country; hopeful about a return to a more open and relaxed political and cultural atmosphere and hopeful that there would be economic reforms. The election related activities of campaign supporters demonstrated the shift that had occurred in the political spectrum, leading to a hope that the various political factions would compete next to each other without any form of violence. There were also days of great bitterness, including widespread fraud organized and enforced through military intervention, even though the military is not suppose to intervene in politics and the election process. The election fraud was followed by the brutal attacks, illegal arrests and the killing of innocent citizens, through an army of plain clothes agents. The complete domination of the judiciary process by plain clothes agents, the atrocities at Kahrizak prison and the continued denials were all insults to millions of Iranian people.
Some within and some outside the regime seek to deny these facts. For example, they try to link unconstitutional, immoral behavior that is against our religion and infidelity towards the government to the Green movement. What is your opinion regarding this matter?
If anyone is accused of a lack of commitment, it is these gentlemen themselves who are all key players. They have put the country in crisis. For years they rejected and disqualified some of the most honorable and qualified citizens in our country, accusing them of infidelity towards the regime. However, these individuals [belonging to the ruling government], have tolerated and in some cases even endorsed fraud and in doing so have demonstrated that contrary to their claims, they are not only not committed to the Constitution and the regime, but in particular they reject the “Republic” part of the regime. Their only goal is to eliminate and destroy all potential competition.
We are proud of being Muslims and we believe that Islamic principles enable people and our society to achieve their goals. However being a Muslim does not mean that we should allow a bunch of violent individuals and monopolists who seek to take advantage of religion, to impose their version of religion on us, or to tell us what our understanding of Islam should be, or how to be good Muslims. Unlike them, our goal is not to impose our interpretation of and approach to Islam on others. The only interpretation of Islam that is compatible with the truth about this divine religion is the one that speaks of the principles of human dignity and a fundamental right to justice and human liberty and freedom. We appose using religion as a tool and also believe that it is immoral to turn religious institutions into state owned entities.
Recently we have all witnessed the deceitful efforts by the power mongers to turn religious institutions (seminaries) into state owned entities. This when the seminaries are one of the most ancient and historic institutions in Iran’s civil society. In the same context, we have also witnessed their effort to create new Marjaa (sources of emulation) and to destroy the existing Marjaa.
As Muslims we are obligated to fight against such a deceitful approach to religion.
You referred to the lack of commitment to the constitution by the ruling government and referred to this lack of commitment as a type of infidelity. These days there is a lot of discussion regarding legislative institutions in our country and how some non judiciary entities have entered the legislative process, misusing the law to justify their illegal behavior. What is your opinion on this subject?
I will leave the detailed discussion of this subject to another time. I would like to however emphasize one fundamental point. The main condition for the existence of any constitution and in this case our Constitution is the belief that everyone, including the highest government officials are limited in their power both as institutions and as individuals. Without limited powers, the claim that we are commitment to the constitution is meaningless.
From 1992 and since the objection of the Guardian Council towards the law and a list of both governmental and non governmental institutions, the laws can only be ratified under the leadership and with the approval of the Supreme Leader. Providing unlimited powers to one institution and threatening the power of others creates an imbalance in the relationship between these institutions leading to some institutions having no access to or protection under the law.
It looks as though the Guardian Council instead of protecting the Constitution has turned into an institution intent on destroying it. It is true that according to the Constitution, the Guardian Council is to interpret the law. However, this institution does not have the absolute advisory, elective and interpretation authority. In other words, they cannot just interpret the constitution, a national covenant, however they choose to or deem necessary. Interpretation must be in accordance to principles, proven practices and within certain limits.
With their arbitrary interpretations, the Guardian Council is in fact creating a new Constitution for the country. They alter the Constitution with this type arbitrary interpretations; these changes effect the Republic and the people’s right to self determination. Take for example the legislative legitimacy of the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council. In order to confront the 6th parliament (Majlis) and neutralize the people’s representatives, the Guardian Council resorted to interpretations of the Constitution that limited the legislative powers of the Majlis.
Some institutions believe that the resolutions put forth by the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council are considered the law. Do you agree with this interpretation?
The Supreme Cultural Revolution Council was not included in the Constitution in 1979. As per the Imam’s request, the amendments made to the Constitution after 1979 which included the formation of the Expediency Council, still made no reference to the Cultural Revolution Council.
Now the Guardian Council alone has decided to legitimize the legal power of this institution. They even go as far as saying that when a subject is brought up by the Cultural Revolution Council, the parliament (Majlis) has no right to interfere. They keep announcing that the Imam said: “This council is responsible for ratifying laws”. First, this claim has no validity. The president at the time, wrote a letter to the Imam asking that the council be given legal authority. To which the Imam answered, the decision making powers of this council should be enacted, not that this council should ratify laws. Or for example that statutes should be put in effect. Second, even if they are to ratify the law, they are still not above the law. Apart from that the Imam did not want to be put in charge of the Legislature or to create a new legislative entity. The Imam’s last word was that we must return to the principles of the Constitution.
Let’s get back to the Green movement and it’s relation to these institutions. A Green Charter was proposed in Mr. Mousavi’s recently published statement number 18. Based on the description you just provided on how the Constitution should be implemented, what is your understanding of the Constitution within the landscape of the Green movement’s Charter?
The Green Movement’s Charter points out to a number of important issues, each of which requires a discussion in and of itself. In general one can say that this Charter could have been introduced 8-10 months ago. However, I believe that if that had occurred, we would have had less of a participatory and democratic process and regardless of the content, to some it would have seemed as though the content was being forced on the people. Today, however, the suggestions made in this Charter can be viewed as the culmination of the evolution of the Green movement over the past year. This Charter provides a set of coherent and consistent principles necessary to further develop cooperation and expand the movement.
Some of the components of this Charter may have been presented in speeches given in the past, but the Charter itself is a new concept and its introduction was an important and necessary act. This Charter addresses some of the most important questions such as the role and responsibility of governance, the people’s role, democracy as a form of ethical governance, human rights, different ways to view and interpret Islam, our civil society, Constitution and last but not least, methods of peaceful resistance and the leadership of the Green movement.
One of the areas discussed is the Constitution. I believe that the reliance of the leaders of the Green movement on the implementation of the Constitution is understandable. I personally accept the fact that the Constitution has a number of flaws, some of which are serious flaws. Particularly when it comes to the issue of institutions involved with the electoral process. With all its current flaws, the Constitution still provides us with considerable ability to defend freedom, justice, and the right of the people to self determination. The legitimacy of the Green leaders is in their ability to allow people to determine their own fate, in other words, in their ability to promote self determination through the people’s votes as defined in the Constitution.
Some believe that all existing problems stem from the Constitution. In your opinion however, the Constitution is much more extensive than the way it is being interpreted today. What we are witnessing today is a completely different interpretation of the Constitution.
I don’t believe in the claim that all the problems in our country stem from our Constitution. We must be realistic. Let’s not forget that a perfect Constitution with out any flaws is not the only prerequisite for democracy. Some countries, such as Azerbaijan, operating under dictatorships have very democratic Constitutions. The Constitution is important, but what is even more important is how it is implemented. These gentlemen would have done the exact same thing with any other Constitution. They would have openly planned and executed a coup.
In response to your previous question, I would like to reiterate therefore that since the Green movement is a non violent movement, the reliance of its leaders on the democratic capacity of the Constitution is a reasonable strategy. Particularly because there is concern that due to the existence of power mongers within the different government institutions, emphasis on the law in order to protect the rights of citizens will be neglected. These power mongers define laws that are unjust and against freedom, or interpret current laws in a manner that allows for violence and injustice with in the framework of the law. A good example of this type of interpretation of the law was seen during Hitler’s Fascist rule.
It looks as though the leaders of the Green movement are very aware of this danger. This can be seen in their continuous emphasis on fundamental rights, the importance of human rights and remaining within the law and preventing the misuse of the law. The leaders of the movement have announced on numerous occasions the law should not be used as a vehicle to legitimize discrimination, violence and oppression.
How can we scientifically and effectively fight this type of lawlessness?
In my opinion, we must pay attention to three areas. Currently, our laws in the area of legal procedures, arrests, sentences and imprisonment do not meet the standards required to provide the necessary protections for our citizens. However, sadly, they [the ruling government] do not even apply the existing laws. If they would apply them correctly, some of the existing problems would be eliminated. The Green movement activists and human rights organizations should first and foremost focus on making sure that the existing laws are executed correctly. Secondly, by relying on our civil society and increasing pressure, they must work to stop these autocrats from enacting unjust laws or including anything they want under the law. Lastly, we must seek to modify and correct unjust laws though continuous and organized efforts. The law should express the will of the people.
In my opinion, in the past year, the illegitimate government and its supporters were forced to spend their entire capital coming close to bankruptcy. In contrast the Green movement despite all the challenges it faced only further expanded and strengthened.
The issue is that the slightest non violent activity by the movement has been responded to with violence and imprisonment. This has created very difficult conditions for the movement to grow. Even the leaders of the movement have been exposed to this form of violence as evident in the attacks on Mr. Karroubi and the Marjaa.
The survival and perseverance of the movement against a group that stops at nothing when it comes to violence; a movement that has survived an electoral coup followed by a military, economic and information dissemination coup, is in itself a significant victory. The oppressors are self destructing. In contrast the Green movement has entered a phase of stability and expansion through democratic dialogue and the creation of unity.
Another point is the issue of the movement’s leadership. In reality, the Green movement is not a political party. Under the current circumstances having what is referred to as leadership in classical terms though perhaps impossible, by no means implies that the movement is lacking leadership. The leadership of the movement is partially achieved through decentralized social networks. The success of such networks depends on a number of factors, such as the continuous empowerment of the networks and the existence of leaders with integrity, perseverance and the fortitude to represent the people. Lastly, it is important to establish independent media and information dissemination channels designed to create unity and to build consensus. Fortunately, to date the leaders of the movement have exhibited strength, endurance and an admirable level of honesty and integrity. The further development and expansion of social networks is vital to the movement and it requires further discussion and initiative by the activists within the movement.
You referred to information dissemination. The oppressors seek to block all news regarding the Green movement and currently the little news that reaches the people is disseminated through a very limited number of media outlets. Mr. Mousavi in addition to emphasizing awareness though information dissemination has made references to the necessity for the establishment of an independent media outlet to achieve this goal. What steps have been taken in this area to date?
With regards to information dissemination unfortunately, the ruling government through the violation of the rights of the protesters and activists within the Green movement, has been effective in preventing the movement from freely connecting with the people. The IRIB has turned into the government’s propaganda machine waging psychological warfare against our people. The IRIB had an integral role in what happened before the elections, during the elections and after the elections. The fact that they engaged in clear violation of the law and legitimized violence and deceit is undeniable.
The Green movement seeks to inform people about privatization and the enforcement of Article 44 of the Constitution, so that they aware of the fact that the country’s capital is being put in the hands of a specific few all in the name of privatization. They [the ruling government] do not want people to know that a government that came to power with slogans that spoke of justice and fighting against corruption, is now itself one of the most corrupt governments in the past 50 year history of Iran. They don’t want the people to know how they physically destroy all those who appose them. They don’t want people to be aware of their irrational economic policies. As such they have made it impossible to establish an independent, domestic media outlet. Since the Green movement is based on the principle of creating awareness, it is incumbent upon every activist within the Green movement to do everything in their power to establish an independent and persuasive media outlet as suggested by the leaders of the Green movement.
Within the framework of the Green Charter, this type of media outlet can play a decisive role in the empowerment of social networks, further collaboration and the strengthening of national unity. With the support of the activists in the Green movement and the Iranian people, this goal can hopefully be achieved in the near future. To this end we ask for the support and assistance of all Green activists in the achievement of this goal.