Thursday, August 04, 2005

And Ganji Decides to Die

Sa‘id Farzaneh, Iran Scan:
Akbar Ganji, the imprisoned Iranian dissident nearing the end of his second month on hunger strike, is perishing his life in Milad Hospital, Tehran. At the time of this writing, the latest news according to his wife Massoumeh Shafiei is that during a five minute meeting, Akbar, on the verge of death according to his doctors, fainted and she agreed that he should be syringe-fed to avoid the loss of his life.

In recent days Ganji has been in the news and in the consciousness of many Iranians as well as leading international politicians and personalities, world public opinion and human rights advocates. A glance at the Iranian media, however, demonstrates the Islamic regime‘s absolute determination to present Ganji‘s saga as no big deal. The latest statement from the head of Iran‘s judiciary is based on the argument that Ganji did not help his own predicament during his temporary release, making outspoken statements openly questioning the absolute rule of Supreme Leader Ayattolah Khamenei. READ MORE

I have read many opinions about Ganji‘s hunger strike, signed petitions supporting his demands but begging him to stay alive, and written letters to my Member of Parliament. I have received a reply expressing his concern as well as the plea of the British foreign minister on behalf of the European Union Presidency to the Iranian leaders to safeguard Ganji‘s life.

I am, however, alarmed by the lack of any efforts by some of us at understanding where Ganji is coming from and accepting him for what he has decided to do. In an opinion by the blogger Hossein Derakhshan entitled , he writes: “Only a dead Ganji would give Mr. Bush a unifying symbol (a martyr) for the future phases of their desperate efforts to change the regime of Iran from outside. That‘s why they are all loving him so much. Because a dead Ganji will not be able to have nuanced opinions and could easily be hijacked by the neoconservatives for their own agenda. The authoritarian regime of Iran is smart enough to keep Ganji alive and to use him for their own future plans… ... Ganji, in my mind, has started a game in which the only winner will again be Khamanei and the biggest loser would be himself – and of course Mr. Bush.“

Derakhshan is not the only person who is judgemental about Ganji‘s decision and steadfastness in his political beliefs, and somehow miraculously links it with “Mr. Bush“ or neo-conservatives‘ designs for regime change in Iran.

This is a serious misconception based on a number of falsehoods:

1. The Iranian regime is entitled by some undeniable rights or conventions to imprison those who criticise its leader and call for him to go. I am sitting peacefully in my London office and I can state categorically that “the Queen must go”! At most I would be branded as a minority republican sympathiser not in line with mainstream British political opinion. The Ayatollah said the same thing about the Shah so many times from 15 Khordad 1342 (1963) to Jan 1979 and his maximum punishment was exile to Turkey, Najaf and then Paris.

2. A regime change can and will only happen in Iran from outside. Therefore, Ganji is not acting according to his own will but rather Mr. Bush‘s. This is a misconception based either on the premise that all transitions to ‘democracy‘ are somehow instigated by outside (the West) and therefore the people in Russia, Poland, Ukraine, and so forth have just been pawns in this grand scheme; or that, as in the case of Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran‘s transition to democracy will only happen as a result of direct forceful interference by a US-led coalition. This view emanates from a sense of disempowerment, frustration and helplessness that ordinary people, like Ganji, me and you can change things and ascribes any political change to outside powers.

3. Ganji‘s actions and decisions become devoid of their personal, human dimension. Ganji is a ‘political animal‘ and yes he has been calculating his every step in response to the many letters from friends and threats from foes such as notorious Sa‘id Mortazavi, Tehran‘s chief prosecutor-inquisitor, who has constantly been ‘negotiating‘ the terms of his freedom with him. But in the end he is also a human being and can decide for himself whether he is to ‘eat his words‘ and stay his stay in the dungeons of his captives or to take some other course of action he feels appropriate based on his newfound viewpoint.

Of course like many other Iranians I fear for Akbar‘s health and well-being. I want him alive and well, and the prospect of his death like with any needless loss of human life lingers heavily on my shoulders. But whatever happens next I have no doubt: Ganji never dies.