Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Childish Dreams

In response to a question about what he wants to be when he grows up, one of the characters in Abbas Kia-Rostami’s film Mashghe Shab (Homework) responds: a Committee member (i.e. local militias). His reasoning was that his elder step brother beat up his mother. The child dreamt of stopping his mother from being beaten up and saw no other way to do this than to join the local militias.

When Mr. Ahmadinejad campaigned and promised during his election tours that he wished to return the Iran to the original values of the 1979 revolution that dismantled the monarchy in Iran and established the Islamic Republic, no one really asked the question why does he carry this wish. But a reasonable assumption was that he was talking about the return of that revolutionary spirit which while creating solidarity among the people had also led to wrong decisions and heavy costs for everyone in the country. But nobody believed that people really missed those long parades in front of the US embassy after its staff were taken hostage or Iraq’s military attack and invasion of Iran.

During the initial days of the revolution, people were optimistic, cheerful and positive. Waves of groups of educated Iranians returned to their motherland and naively believed in the slogan that when the devil left house, the angel would replace it. The angel of hope. Subsequent events proved how wrong some of the revolutionary decisions were. Revolutionaries later learned through experience that negating everything that had taken place before the revolution was wrong and imposed a heavy price on people. So it is not surprising that individuals who lacked training or experience in management, and who had mostly either returned from exile or had been freed from prison, behaved like those who did have such experience.

Under those conditions and sweet memories of the initial months of the downfall of the monarchy, even the most revolutionary individuals have bitter stories. Nobody dreamed that after 28 years, those very individuals would return to the limelight. And as a sign in negating officialdom and ceremonies, one of them had promised to travel among and like people, rejecting travel by official government aircraft. Three months later, things had reversed and he responded to the question of a reporter that security officials would not let him do that, and that such travel was disrupting normal people’s lives. Another example is when one of his cabinet ministers disclosed his private cell phone number to the public announcing that he would directly respond to their questions and concerns. A year later when the practiced had reversed, when a member of parliament asked the minister about the reason for ending the practice, no other than the president himself stepped in to support the minister’s decision, asking the MP, “Would you do something like this?” The MPs of course responded that their cell phone numbers were in fact all available to the public. “Is it possible for a minister to respond to thirty million farmers?” president Ahmadinejad asked the parliament. His reasoning is so sound that it silences the representatives, some of whom even apologize while others state they would not give their cell phone numbers to the public!

Among the policies that revolutionary managers soon discovered needed to be revived were those related to family planning. For accomplish it, they needed the support of someone as overpowering as the leader of the revolution, who conceded. By that time the 3.7 percent population growth in Iran had created such havoc that anybody with access to statistics and indices of the country’s development and conditions would know. In the words of a former president, the issue would haunt the country for years to come and prevent it from desired economic growth.

Even before the president revealed his dislike for the idea of “2 children are sufficient”, there are many who think that family planning is certainly more important on the national agenda than issues such as nuclear enrichment, the revival of the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, and the decision to keep the old Plan and Budget Organization.

But does the street justice and the slogans that culminated in Mr. Khalkhali’s phenomena during the initial months of the revolution, have a place after 28 years, even though they may have made sense then?

More importantly is the emphasis the chief executive makes about unannounced visits to people’s homes to directly learn of their plight, an initiative that is supposed to be limited to the up-scale Shemiran district of Tehran.

It is noteworthy that this plan, which has probably been sold to the president by his aides as an innovative initiative, had been experimented during the Rashedein Khalifs with much fanfare and historic myths. The best known person to have practiced it is Shah Abbas. But who recalls that none of those ‘ancient regime’ kings and princes kept the idea secret from the public and never left a record about it. But the current president who disdains publicity announces the idea even before trying it once.

So if all the events that took place in the initial months of the revolution are planned to return as new initiatives, one wonders what will be left to publicize after the new round of experimentations.