Omid Memarian

Sunday, April 15, 2007

This Office Is Closed Today!
"...These are bad days for Iranian civil society, Dr. Razzaghi, Koneshgaran(Volunteer Actors Institute), arrested women, teachers, drivers, factory workers, journalists, and many others."

How can the society change? How can people’s participation and their part in their socio-political destiny be increased? What are the quick and expensive ways? What are the slow and low-cost ways? How can the game of change in a society have a win/win outcome, as opposed to a lose/lose or a win/lose situation?

Over the past few years, these questions are constantly occupying the minds of those active in Iranian civil society. Many organizations have started work, based on the very same questions over the past several years, and many people, from those in newspapers to universities to private sector, have mobilized all their resources to reduce society’s shortcomings, and to use all available capacities for solving the shortcomings with a civil society presence.
Koneshgaran Davtalab (Volunteer Actors) Institute is one of tens of such organizations. In mid-March, two offices related to the Institute were shut down and sealed, barring it from further activities. The day along with Dr. Sohrab Razzaghi and a few other social activists we started this Institute was a very big day for us. Such was our enthusiasm and optimism about strengthening social ties through the Institute that we stayed together for years. Dr. Razzaghi, a university professor, who has researched and written about social development and public participation for many years, and all those who began work in the Institute later, followed the goals of promotion of understanding of civil society, public participation in problem-solving through increased awareness, and effective participation in social events.

It is obvious that such social ambition cannot fit any intolerant political system. Raising political awareness and encouraging the nation’s participation in their social destiny, is not only one of the original objectives of the Revolution, but is one of the main missions of all democratic societies, whether right or left, and will strengthen existing social relations, upgrade social investment, and develop a general political consciousness. What government will not appreciate those active in this effort and admire their hard work?

Over the past years, I have observed foreign journalists, writers, government and non-government organization members traveling to Iran who would say that non-government organizations in general, and Koneshgaran in particular, represented symbols of the will inside the Iranian society to bring about change, and how it portrayed an elevated maturity of Iranian society, determined to overcome shortcomings.

Photo: A workhshop on the role of United Nations to empower civil society in 2003. Omid Memarian (Left), Bagher Asadi (Middle), Dr.Sohrab Razzaghi (Right)
Today, however, Koneshgaran’s offices are closed. All of this has to do with the government’s pessimistic views over the past few years of all civil society organizations in Iran. This view condemns and criticizes all relations with organizations outside Iran, and is incapable of understanding the complexities of the multi-faceted relations of a modern society, perceives conspiracies forming against it, and is breathless with a sense of insecurity. This view will not only discourage organizations seeking assistance from international support organizations, but will also blame them for this effort. All this where, in fact, such relationships will improve international outlook on Iran, because in this type of interaction, cultural misunderstandings and inaccurate cultural images of Iran are corrected.

Maybe this is the reason civil society organizations such as Konenshgaran, have always served as a detriment to catastrophic social and political upheavals, and their absence increases the society’s vulnerabilities. I remember all the days that Dr. Razzaghi would paint his ideas about a strengthened civil society at his desk, participate in workshops, share in the laughter and sorrow of workshop participants, and was always involved in a creative two-way learning process. There were days when all participants of such workshops, from the most religious layers of the society to the most secular ones, were encouraged to be diligent in solving social problems they could tackle.
The very satisfaction of existence within such a process has always been the reason why so many choose to endure the difficulties of this road, as one can continually feel the intangible steps taken in this process. I am sad these days to know that people like Dr. Razzaghi are inactive. I remember the days when he would talk to the Institute’s visitors, taking pride in the strength of the Iranian society and their will as the most important factor in the coming changes. When asked for examples of this will, he would point out to activities in which Koneshgaran and similar organizations were involved, because from Lebanon to Afghanistan, our region does not have a similar social movement with such stellar participation rates.

Sometimes when we faced serious funding difficulties in Koneshgaran, and had to endure a lack of compassion for our cause from the authorities, I would ask myself how I would interact with these organizations if I were representing the Government? I would always arrive at the same conclusion that these organizations need support and encouragement, because collective efforts of ordinary citizens of the nation, determined to bring change about with minimal costs, would achieve a strengthened society which is capable of solving its own problems. Would a healthy modern government act differently?

During all this time, I remember how patiently Dr. Razzaghi would talk about ways to continue our activities, his demeanor never appearing affected by these adversities. Perhaps one of the reasons he could continue more easily, was that he had no expectations as a member of the civil society. His immense patience was representative of many others active in the Iranian civil society movement.

Over the past few years, especially after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election, those in charge of overseeing and interacting with Iranian civil society and its related organizations view them with fear and this fear propels them to take actions to prevent and stop people’s participation and presence. These actions not only lead to our nation’s pessimism toward government organization, but also disappoint people in connecting with the government. This process keeps people at home. Closure of Koneshgaran Institute, a pioneer of strengthening and empowering civil society organizations, along with the non-government training center, whose director is Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, and Ahi Institute which provides free legal services, to name just a few, are very bad signs, signs of the increased levels of insecurity among government organizations to the point where the most important agents for social change are harassed and eliminated.

This is a bad sign, because those who could bring effective change to the society are rendered inactive, and the regime loses its effective sensors, becoming blind and deaf. Retiring a former university professor who chose social activism over academic life, and gave all he had to this cause, is a bad sign. This acute lack of appreciation for all those who give themselves to Iranian society selflessly is now a standard practice by the ignorant few in charge, guaranteeing social discouragement and ill. I wished every job would be entrusted to specialists in its field. This office is closed today and the hustle and bustle of social activists visiting it with a glint of excitement in their eyes is no longer present. These are bad days for Iranian civil society, Dr. Razzaghi, Koneshgaran, arrested women, teachers, drivers, factory workers, journalists, and many others. How much more can be added to this list? Really, what is happening with this country? Who can destroy with a higher speed? Who?

(Photo: Dr Razzzaghi and me at the WSIS in Geneva, 2003.)


At 1:19 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You cannot reform a fascist ideology and fascist government. The oligarchy/IRGC is too vested in the status-quo to allow any reforms or change...wake up from your deep denial. You can't solve a problem when you can't identify the problem accurately first. What do they teach you in school. You need to take some business and political economy classes to understand any politics you're trying to understand. If you haven't studies political economy and Business/Economics, you have no business giving opinions on anything. Expand your horizon and step out of your small world of Berkeley...You have a lot to learn.

At 1:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Increased Level of Repression in Iran

Iran’s Oil Mafia

At 1:59 PM , Blogger Omid Memarian said...

My Anonymous friend,

Thanks for your suggestions. Although, it doesn't mean to achieve something there is just one certain way. And if you insist on it, you ignore the other ways to go forward on this path. You might be a student who is inspired by political economy, which I love it as well. But dude, studying at home and doing something in the society are totally different. People who are doing something in their society do not choose this tone and language for speaking. Good Luck!

At 2:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude: It is precisely because of deluded and uninformed people like you who are on a fool's errand because they are too idealistic that we are in this lamentable state of affairs. You're a reformer and part and parcel of the status quo. I understand that you have too much vested in the regime to want to look at things clearly...but that is exactly how the monaorchist acted too. You're not on the side of the truth and you will fail.

At 6:04 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You reformists remind me of the old Constitutional Monarchist who didn't like the Shah but wanted the system to stay intact because they were feeding from the same trough (toobreh).

You people sound like some bimbo who is sitting in her house and while the house is on fire, they talk about hiring designer to change the decor of the house. I don't expect you to understand what I'm trying to say because your into deep and your very identity would evaporate if you thought otherwise. You and your ilk will hold on for dear life to the status quo because you're the status quo.

At 2:01 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can an ideology based on suprstition be reformed? If yes what type of thought can it be related to? Hint: It can evolve.


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