Khodnevis website has conducted a critical interview with Dr. Zahra Rahnavard. Nikahang Kowsar, the interviewer has written the following introduction: “Having a discussion with Ms Rahnavard is not an easy task. From the first cell phone conversation, when the individual who answered said: “I wish I were Ms. Rahnavard.” until the time I finally received written responses to our questions took approximately two months. Some of the questions by Khodnevis are related to events happening at that time. We wanted to have a question and answer session, but Zahra Rahnavard is known as one of the prominent and most direct individuals within the Green movement. In many ways she is not as dogmatic as Mir Hossein Mousavi and she welcomes all forms of criticism. Months ago, when we were attacked for asking questions regarding the revolution’s past and in particular the “Imam’s Golden Era”, Ms. Rahnavard’s comments in her interview with Roozonline were like a bucket of cold water extinguishing the blaze of criticism and the nagging of the opponents. She had claimed that asking questions and criticism even by the media associated with the totalitarian rulers is useful and necessary. Naturally, many whose aim was to create an environment of silence chose to ignore this part of her comments. It was around this same time that because of my activities, I was threatened by a group that called themselves “anonymous defenders” of the Green movement. I brought this point up with Ms. Rahnavard through someone close to her and requested to talk to her. My first question to her was regarding this same issue. My goal was to pose questions that many were seeking answers to, however, I would have preferred that this discussion had taken place over the phone so that I could also ask questions to her responses. Since that was not the case, many questions remain unasked, even after her response to the last question we sent to her. As such we ask that she responds to them at her convenience. We thank her for accepting our questions and for responding to them and we are hopeful that the communication lines will always remain open.”
The content of the interview is as follows:
Khodnevis: In the past few months, I have been threatened repeatedly by individuals who called themselves Green; individuals who have tried very hard to discredit me online, their behavior has ranged from insults, to slander, character assassination and most recently an attempt to eliminate my presence online due to my continued insistence to ask questions. Just recently, a few individuals even threatened to kill me. The coordinated effort was very interesting to me. A few months ago one of the journalists involved with a Green media outlet threatened to make me regret all my activities online. According to a number of social activists who are affiliated with this reporter, a group of individuals are seeking to discredit me in order to stifle any questions begin asked, using my elimination as a means to scare others. In other words using me as an example for others. Do you have any remarks for this group? If they claim to be Green, then what is the difference between them and Ansar-e Hezbollah and other vigilante groups?
Zahra Rahnavard: Criticism is both a blessing and an opportunity for the person being criticized. Even the person criticizing can be criticized and should view the criticism as a form of opportunity. If we allow ourselves to criticize and be criticized, we will not only grow mentally and as individuals, but we will also avoid being self absorbed and more importantly from a political point of view, we will be able to protect ourselves from tyranny and dictatorships. Said more simply, criticism of you, me, Mousavi, the Green movement, the people, only means that there is room for improvement for all of us. Of course a cartoonist usually has their own specific style of criticism, often blended with sarcasm and a harsh tone. Criticism from a humorist or comedian comes in one form; criticism from a poet comes in another and in the realm of literature, poetry and newspaper reporting, criticism has an even more different and specific tones. Once, Mr. Golagha criticized a poem I had written about the war. He made fun of the different ways in which I had used the word “Now”. At the time I was upset with the ironic way in which my poetic technique was being criticized and as a result, I also responded to him critically. Now I realize that I was too severe and that I should have welcomed his criticism. Of course it goes without saying, that back then there had been no coup and both I and other people were calmer than they are today. Perhaps your critics are making reference to your “Crocodile” cartoon [Here reference is made to a cartoon Nikahang Kowsar did of Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi in which there was a play on words referring to Mesbah as "Temsah" or crocodile] and because they hold you in such high regard when it comes to justice and criticism that they expect you to also support the friends and companions who have protested against the despotic power. I however, tell these friends and critics who complain, of my own personal experiences. It is important that we all refrain from self indulgence and self worship and to welcome all forms of language, expression and criticism from the intellectual and artistic society.
Khodnevis: Naturally, not everyone’s memories of the revolution are the same as yours. Many view the “Imam’s Golden Era” differently. Many do not reflect positively on the Imam’s “ideals”. Do you not believe that too much emphasis on these matters may lead to more divisiveness?
Zahra Rahnavard: We all have different individual memories. We also have memories that are similar. Those years included dignity and glory and errors, mistakes and excesses. I have made this point consistently over the past 30 years. There was room for expressing both the greatness associated with that era and criticizing the procedural short comings and fanaticism. As critical intellectuals, fully integrated in the university atmosphere and having expressed our disappointment, we must remember in our thoughts and beliefs that we only have 14 innocent, no more no less [reference here to Islam's 14 Imams]. As such no one should be viewed as “the absolute” power or omnipotent. Why not instead agree on our liberal and democratic values and principles? Why not focus on the rule of law and making the Constitution our common axis? This while emphasizing that no where in the world is any constitution considered a divine revelation and as such all Constitutions are reviewed and amended every so often. At the same time, we are a pluralistic nation, with a variety of tastes, thoughts, beliefs, races, cultures, and languages. We are a nation with an ability to reflect upon our rich history, with an intellectual maturity and strength of character that understands the importance of pursing our ideas. Why do you think that ideology can overcome the maturity of a nation?
Khodnevis: A large segment of the middle class has a different view point regarding the revolution. There is a large majority of the population that remains silent; the gray area of the population per say, and it seems that there is a need to work harder to attract that segment to the movement. Why have Mr. Mousavi’s statements not had the desired impact on this segment of society? Why does it look as though Mr. Mousavi’s main concern is the deteriorating level of support?
Zahra Rahnavard: I believe that our entire 30 year experience at this juncture and after the 10th presidential election is once again being questioned through our criticism and our judgments. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, point of view and preferences and they are also entitled to fight for achieving those ideals. We have come to the realization and conclusion today that the magnificent rainbow of unity within our nation is a kaleidoscope made up of many colors. This is a significant experience in and of itself. The plurality of this unity is philosophical and political, social and cultural. Within this kaleidoscope, why not allow for all colors to exist side by side? Why should Mousavi, a religious man and a supporter of Khomeini not be entitled to honestly wear his true colors? He has stated repeatedly that he stands with you, that he stands as one individual amongst the myriad of colors within the rainbow of our society; a rainbow that consists of a variety of thoughts, tastes, cultures, ethnic backgrounds and languages. This kaleidoscope consists of the most religious individuals and people with other beliefs and ideologies. Freedom and democracy include every color. Why not allow Mousavi, an individual who is both religious and friendly towards Imam Khomeini to remember him fondly? It goes without saying, however, that we Muslims have no more than 14 innocent (referring to the 14 Imams after Mohammad), and no one is considered the absolute power or omnipotent. While it goes without saying that anyone in the political or religious realm is open to criticism, we must also accept that Imam Khomeini led a revolution that resulted in the collapse of an authoritarian regime and an old and failing police state that was under foreign influence. A large segment of our society believes in Imam Khomeini and continues to support him.
Khodnevis: What is your view on freedom of speech? How does Mir Hossein Mousavi view this subject? Many question what will happen when Mr. Mousavi comes to power, when the Kaleme website currently censors comments that are respectful in nature.
Zahra Rahnavard: Both Mousavi and are strong believers in freedom of speech, freedom of thought and the freedom of press. This was the main reason we became involved in the 10th presidential elections. Personally, I would have preferred to express my opinions regarding our nation’s prosperity and freedom and political, international, economic and cultural issues outside the framework of the elections, however, as we are all aware, the events of the past year made it not possible. I would like to state clearly and unequivocally that I have no direct affiliation with the Kaleme website. I personally believe that comments should never be censored, unless our objective is to glorify, idolize and worship – a tendency that has unfortunately existed throughout our country’s long history. Criticism and guidance are both necessary and needed. However, in response to your last point in which you ask what will happen if Mousavi would come to power, my response is that the goal was never for Mousavi to come to power. The objective was to make sure that the people come to power; that the people are ensured security; that the people obtain their rights. The intention was never then and will not be in the future to bring an individual to power, but to ensure that our society regains its legitimate and rightful power.
Khodnevis: Even though many of the letters written by the Imam to Mr. Mousavi have been distributed amongst some people, the majority of people are still unaware of their content. It looks as though the experiences of 1988 and 1989 were unpleasant to say the least for Mr. Mousavi who was prime minister at the time. In other words, it looks as though he had less power. When the head of a government has insufficient power, he of course cannot be held responsible for many of the actions of his own government. Why did Mr. Mousavi decide to come back to the political arena? Why did he come back, even though he was aware that he did not have the support of the armed forces and many of the forces loyal to the past and that it would mean that in the event of victory, given the nature of the regime, his hands would be tied?
Zahra Rahnavard: I don’t believe that if Mousavi or Mr. Karroubi had become president in this past election, they would have not been successful in their presidency. Mainly because the Islamic Revolution was quickly derailed from its foundation. Many of the events and deviations that took place that led to the crisis that our country is facing right now stem from the rigged election and when this coup government came to power and their actions became apparent. I believe that these events are an important step for our nation in our quest for democracy, freedom and the rule of law. I am hopeful that these objectives will be realized through our peaceful reform movement.
Khodnevis: Why is it so difficult to talk about the 80s? Understandably, a terrorist group had altered the environment within our society. Was it right however, to so easily eliminate so many prisoners from this group, in the summer of 1988? Is it feasible to accept that the Prime Minister at the time was unaware of these events? Doesn’t the silence that followed these events, in a way translate into acceptance and agreement with the events that occurred?
Zahra Rahnavard: Of course as you pointed out in your question, the crimes and terrorist acts of the group you referred to is not hidden to anyone. However, revenge by the opposing side was also a big mistake and cannot be disregarded nor accepted in any form. As has been stated repeatedly in the past, neither Mr. Khamenei nor Mr. Mousavi were aware of these crimes; nor were these acts within the scope of their responsibilities. There has of course never been any justification, nor has there been silence. The events that occurred were outside the legal framework and acceptable human behavior. In the many question and answer sessions since, these events have always been denounced. It goes without saying that these events are permanent, dark stains on our history that will never be removed.
Khodnevis: Have you ever gone to Khavaran [cemetery in south east of Tehran] to extend your condolences to the families of religious minorities, those who lost their loved ones in the 80s and have buried them there? If not, when do you intend to do so that perhaps the distances can be narrowed and the differences mended?
Zahra Rahnavard: Mr. Kowsar, what exactly do you wish to convey? I wish you were in Iran and directly exposed to the police state and suffocation that exists in our country. Do you believe that I am idly sitting here in a rocking chair with a fruit juice in one hand, crossing my legs and leisurely reading Harry Potter books or memorizing lines from the story written about Hossein Kard Shabastari? Do you believe that you reside with the freedom seekers, while we are living without worries and conspiring with the criminals? Understand that it is not so; we are all part of one family. We have all had our family members or loved ones imprisoned; we have all endured pain and anguish; we have all endured torture and paid a high price; we have all sat dressed in black in our cemeteries and mourned the death of our martyrs and loved ones. Why don’t you come and pay a visit to Iran and be with us? Or at least read the biographies, become aware of our dire circumstances, of the electric batons we’ve endured, of the pepper spray in our eyes, of our injured lungs, of the interrogations in the streets, of character assassination of journalists and those involved in the digital world so that maybe then you can better understand what we are going through and in doing so not abandon the Green movement.
with special thanks to Banooye Sabz for English translation