Tolerating Different Opinions – the Basis of Democracy

September 19, 2017 by  

From The Editorial Desk – Shahrokh Ahkami – Persian Heritage, No. 87, Fall 2017

The events of the last three months’ threats, sanctions and a travel ban placed on several countries including Iran, have preoccupied the minds of Iranians inside Iran, the Iranian Diaspora and non-Iranian supporters. An additional concern that plagues our minds is the recent release of classified information on the legacy of the 1953 Coup in Iran (the 62nd anniversary of the Coup upending Mohmmad Mosaddegh). As a result of the declassification of this information books and articles, banned in and outside of Iran, have been published. Some of these articles have created “threatening” dialogue between those who supported or opposed the coup. This “threatening” dialogue has not been limited to one’s individual political opinion or ideology, but has extended to the character assassinations of people on a personal level. These personal attacks have diluted the historical importance of the event; an event that took Iran in a different political direction, one that has impacted the lives of Iranian citizens then and now.

To me, it is disturbing and surprising to see individuals, who are valued and respected members of society, when confronted with an opposing political opinion, are unable to accept it. They become childlike, unable to reason. They walk away from discussions not realizing the impact it has on the younger generation; a generation who has limited knowledge of the coup and the significance of this historical event for Iran and the world. This younger generation accesses information through social media. Not knowing that these are commentaries, individual writer’s interpretations, they repeat them as facts. Few of this younger generation have the patience or interest to investigate historical events that happened sixty-two years ago, just as we in our youth could not relate to the events of the Qajar Dynasty.

On any given day I receive hundreds of emails and information from various social media sites. This year during the month of August, when the celebrations of the Constitutional Monarchy (Mashrotiat) occurred, I received even more. Here and there I would come across articles, that I would describe as interesting and share them with friends. I do this because these individuals may not have the availability to read the article. On one occasion I received an article from a professional writer who I have known for many years and occasionally see. He had written an article of the classified information about the CIA and the Coup. This was one of the articles I shared with friends, who are also writers and intellectuals. One of the people I forwarded the article to is a contributor to Persian Heritage magazine and personally knows me. He responded to me saying, “Dear Shahrokh have you come to the point where you are distributing writings of someone who has a bad reputation!?” 

I was taken aback by this response, that was coming from an articulate person I have known and respected for over 24 years. I was shocked. Later, I received a second email from another person I respect. He was agreeing with the comment from my other friend. Apparently, my friend of 24 years distributed the email he sent me to others in an attempt to say that my ideology was in line with the article. My emotion changed from “shocked” to “sadness.” It made me think about the limited perceptions we have as Iranians. How quickly we judge people, from stranger to close friend. How quick we are to put a label on them, without knowing all the facts. Their responses were truly upsetting.

After mauling over the situation I made the decision to call my friend who asked the first question. During the conversation I said, “Dear friend this email was sent to you and others because I knew you were not in contact with this particular writer. I wanted to show you a different view point on this situation.” I further clarified my position, “I am not in line with this writer’s political view nor am I in line with yours.” This was a clear example how Iranians, even after 40 years as Diaspora, continue to disregard freedoms of speech and expression and lack respect for other’s viewpoints. I ask, “have we progressed at all?”

Perhaps it is hard for many of my friends, holding a different political and religious view, left, moderate, right, liberal, monarch, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Bahai, Zorastrian, non-believers etc. to understand my perspective. I am NOT so dependent on any religious or political party. I form my own opinions, but I always respect individuals even if I do not agree with their opinions. In fact, personally and as a journalist, I seek other opinions. This is the key ingredient to the success of Persian Heritage magazine. Whether one agrees with me or not I will always respect any Persian who respectively opiniates on the subject of Iran! I would help any Iranian, who shows pride for their heritage regardless of their religious or political position. After the voting is over and the prayers are said it is an individual’s pride for Iran or their country, that I respect. Some however, take it upon themselves, when hearing someone’s name they dislike, will attempt to assassinate their character, muddy their name, ruin their reputation, viciously label and destroy them and those they associate with, even if such association is remote. 

TOLERANCE, PATIENCE and RESPECT for one another should be our goal and slogan! This is especially important at this time when our birth country is unfortunately (in my opinion) in the hands of leaders who appear to be corrupt, cruel and brutal. Leaders most of who are former Pasdars, such as the current Minister of Health and Mr. Rohani, who since the early years of the revolution was a participant of the National Security Council until he became president. Yet, despite the current Iranian leadership’s position, Iranian men and women are withstanding oppression and standing up for their individual rights. I find it moving to see Iranians, outside of Iran, ignore the negative stigma that is attached to Iran (because of the present regime’s activities) and fight to uphold the greatness of their birth county in the world.

For the second time Persian Heritage has made Maryam Mirzakhani our cover story. She was the only woman in the world to win the Gold Medal in mathematics. This medal is comparable to the Nobel Prize. Despite her untimely death she has left an important legacy. Her name, when remembered, will be associated with the names of Einstein, Ibn Sina, Omar Khyyam and Farabi. I hope that her legacy will be as much of a symbol as Saadi’s famous words, “Bani adam azayeh yek peykarand….” “The children of Adam are limbs of a whole, having been created of one essence, when the calamity of time afflicts one limb the other limbs cannot remain at rest. If you have no sympathy for the trouble of others you are not worthy to be called by the name of “man.”

Saadi’s words are memorialized on the United Nations building in New York and most recently Saadi’s words were used on August 21, 2017 by President Trump. During a speech, he stated that all Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion are part of the same family and just like any family deals with hardships, so will our American family come together.

We are living in difficult and dangerous times. At any moment a new war can be waged against Iran. Perhaps this war can be avoided, if all Iranians, Diaspora or not, learn to understand and be more compassionate, tolerant and respectful of each other’s differences. Perhaps this is the healing ingredient to bring us together. This is a far more human way of seeing one another than considering, anyone not in line with our personal ideology, opinion or religion, as the enemy. 

Unfortunately, the turmoil experienced by Iranians because of the political differences can be compared to what is presently happening in the United States. This may lead to the possibility of a civil war. I believe and hope that President Trump, Republicans, Democrats, Moderates, Liberals, Congressmen, Senators and American citizens (made up of a variety of ethnicities, religions and political platforms) will apply the principals of Cyrus the Great and leaders that followed his wisdom, to the present conflict here. We are only divided if we allow ourselves to be. We need to turn from those who carry a flame intended to ignite a war over superficial differences, that a minority of individuals are turning into something more. No difference is worth the life of a fellow citizen this we learn from history. In a civil war, there is only one winner, peace is rarely, if ever generated from negotiations. We as citizens can respectfully and with dignity settle our differences. We must learn to develop our own opinions through legitimate research. We must learn from the commentaries we read and hear, but not consider them as truth. We must clearly analyze leadership at all levels. We must not base our lives on what we don’t have but rather what we have and if we want more we must understand that gain comes from hard work. Success is not a birth right. We must always understand that control is best served by division. Cyrus the Great never divided, he respected and received respect in return. Again, division is the strongest weapon one has to divide and conquer and DIVISION is not what I hope for Iran, the United States and the world.



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