Sunday, October 23, 2005

Akbar Ganji: From Iranian true believer to dissident

Azar Nafisi, a Visiting Fellow and professorial lecturer at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies and the author of the author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran." writes about the suffering of her jailed compatriot and democracy activist Akbar Ganji in today's San Francisco Chronicle:

Akbar Ganji has come to represent the democratic movement in Iran, not only because of his enormous courage and his original thinking, but because he has revealed the "true face of the system in the Islamic Republic of Iran." Although he has been in prison since 2000 and has been gravely weakened by illness and a two-month hunger strike this summer, he still stands out as the strongest figure in today's Iran.

Among the former revolutionaries who have questioned the Islamic Republic, none has shown the intellectual and moral courage that Ganji has demonstrated in interrogating and holding accountable not just the Islamic regime but also his own former self. His resistance to the regime's tyranny is at the same time a statement against the young Islamist militant who once eagerly helped to bring about the Islamic Revolution.

His transformation from militant Islamist to courageous dissident and staunch defender of democracy and human rights shows how thoroughly the Islamic Revolution has failed to reach its goals. Ganji's transformation gives us a little more hope in ourselves and in Iranian society's potential for change.

Step by step, Ganji has redeemed himself by questioning the very system that he once helped to erect. His firmness and uncompromising attitude spring from an intellectual restlessness and a moral integrity that make him constantly seek and reveal the truth.

...Ganji has grasped the important point that, in confronting a totalitarian regime, the first rule is to create a model of resistance that is effective precisely because it refuses to play according to the rules chosen by those in power. He creates a different domain, a space within which he will set the rules. His questioning of the Islamic regime is not only political but also cultural and ideological.

...At a time when it might seem that the only alternatives are either to accept and work within the Islamic system or to oppose the regime by its own favored method of violence, Ganji proposes a third option. While rejecting the constitution and the rule of the supreme leader and demanding a secular and democratic Iran, he also calls for a resistance that is nonviolent. His hunger strike, his prison writings and his calls for an election boycott all point the way to a third alternative.

There are many risks to the path chosen by those whose voice Ganji has become. The struggle is far from over, but when thinking of those risks we should also remember the line Ganji quoted in a letter from his favorite poet, Rumi:

"Happy the gambler who having lost all he had possessed,

Is left with nothing but the urge to gamble more."