Politics, Society, and Economy in a Changing Iran

Thursday, May 20, 2004 to Friday, May 21, 2004
Stauffer Auditorium<br /> Hoover Institution<br /> Stanford University
THURSDAY, MAY 20
8:00 A.M. Continental Breakfast
8:30 A.M. Introduction
RICHARD SOUSA, Hoover Institution
8:45 A.M. Panel I: Theory and History
LARRY DIAMOND, Hoover Institution
MICHAEL McFAUL, Hoover Institution and Stanford University
"Theories and Experiences of Democratic Transition"
 
DISCUSSANT: HOSSEIN BASHIRIYE, Tehran University
CHAIR: ABBAS MILANI, Hoover Institution
10:00 A.M. Break
10:30 A.M. Panel II: The Political Landscape in Iran Today
HOSSEIN BASHIRIYE, Tehran University
"The Political Landscape in Iran Today"
 
AZAM TALEGHANI, Payam Hajar Weekly
"The Political Landscape in Iran Today: The Women's Perspective"
 
DISCUSSANTS: ALI ANSARI, University of Exeter
GUITY NASHAT, Hoover Institution
CHAIR: LARRY DIAMOND, Hoover Institution
12:00 NOON Lunch in the Staff Lounge and Hatfield Court
1:00 P.M. Panel III: Constitutional Reform
MEHRANGIZ KAR, University of Virginia
"Directions for Constitutional Reform"
 
DISCUSSANT: ABDULKARIM LAHIDJI, Attorney
CHAIR: MICHAEL McFAUL, Hoover Institution and Stanford University
2:00 P.M. Panel IV: Iranian Culture and the Question of Democracy
SIMIN BEHBAHANI, Poet
"The Struggle for Freedom in Contemporary Iranian Literature"
 
DISCUSSANT: FARZANEH MILANI, University of Virginia
CHAIR: ABBAS MILANI, Hoover Institution
3:15 P.M. Break
3:45 P.M. Panel V: The Mass Media
ALI REZA REJAI, Jame'e No
"The Role of the Media in Recent Political Changes in Iran"
 
BEHNAM TABRIZI, Stanford University
LILY SARAFAN, Stanford University
"The Implications of the Internet for Political Change in Iran"
 
DISCUSSANTS: ALIREZA HAGIGI, Journalist
NAJMEDIN MESHKATI, University of Southern California
CHAIR: JAMES BETTINGER, Stanford University
5:00 P.M. Conclusion
6:30 P.M. Reception and Dinner at the Crown Plaza Cabaña
SHIRIN EBADI
Recipient of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize
 
 
FRIDAY, MAY 21
8:00 A.M. Continental Breakfast
8:30 A.M. Panel VI: Religion and Politics
ABDULKARIM SOROUSH, Princeton University
"Islamic Democracy?"
 
DISCUSSANTS: ABBAS MILANI, Hoover Institution
ERIK JENSEN, Stanford Law School
CHAIR: LARRY DIAMOND, Hoover Institution
10:00 A.M. Break
10:30 A.M. Panel VII: Religious and Ethnic Minorities
MOHAMMED TAVAKOLI-TARGHI, University of Toronto
"Religious Minorities in Iran"
 
HAMID AHMADI, Tehran University
"The Question of Ethnic Minorities and the Future of Democratic Islam in Iran"
 
DISCUSSANTS: HORMOZ HEKMAT, IranNameh
GAIL LAPIDUS, Stanford Institute for International Studies
CHAIR: ABBAS MILANI, Hoover Institution
12:00 NOON Lunch in the Staff Lounge and Hatfield Court
1:00 P.M. Panel VIII: The Economy and the Question of Democracy in Iran
DJAVAD SALEHI-ISFAHANI, Virginia Tech
"The Contemporary Iranian Economy: Recent Trends and Future Prospects"
 
DISCUSSANT: MORTEZA ABDOLLAHI, Private Businessman
CHAIR: MICHAEL McFAUL, Hoover Institution and Stanford University
2:30 P.M. Break
3:30 P.M. Roundtable Discussion: U.S.-Iran Relations
GEORGE SHULTZ, Hoover Institution
ABBAS MILANI, Hoover Institution
HORMOZ HEKMAT, IranNameh
MICHAEL McFAUL, Hoover Institution and Stanford University
 
CHAIR: LARRY DIAMOND, Hoover Institution
4:45 P.M. Conference Concludes

HOOVER INSTITUTION
IRAN DEMOCRACY PROJECT
presents

Shirin Ebadi
Recipient of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize

"DEMOCRACY: OUR ONLY HOPE"

* Talk As Prepared *

May 20, 2004

Grand Mediterranean Ballroom
Crowne Plaza Cabana Hotel
Palo Alto, California

 

Ladies and Gentlemen: I am happy to be here in your midst, and to participate in the conference on Iran.

The university is a place for the free exchange of ideas. I wish to pose one of the fundamental questions of our time: Is it possible to improve the human condition, and to foster economic development, human rights, and the pursuit of happiness without democracy? In other words, is not democracy the sine qua none of every positive social development, and the gateway to happiness?

Let us look at history. The October Revolution in Russia, creating the Soviet Union, was undertaken with the hope of eliminating poverty, expanding social justice, solving the unemployment crisis, and improving people's livelihood. In short, it was undertaken to bring about human happiness. When Lenin seized power, he probably did not have anything other that his countrymen's happiness in mind. He spared no effort to bring about his desired end. He was even willing to cause the death of about two million people, so that, on the ruins of the Tsarist Russia, he could build a new and prosperous society. Even Stalin probably did not have anything other than the people's happiness in mind, and in achieving this goal, he will willing to execute or exile to Siberia hundreds of thousands of people. But were the people of Soviet Union happy? The answer is obviously negative; if people have been happy, we would not have witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union after seventy years. People who are content with their government defend it with life and limb and it therefore could never suffer a fate like that of the Soviet Union. Hitler came to power with the weapon of propagating a "superior German Race." He wanted to turn Germany into the world's biggest power; he wanted to afford every German all the world's riches. But he too became infamous for his brutality, and his concentration camps became the shame of the world. And the German people were not happy.

Mussolini too apparently had no aspiration other than the prosperity of his people and the glory for Italy. He sent many youths to their deaths for these purposes; he lost his own life in this pursuit; and yet Italians were not happy.

Why is it that Lenin, Hitler and Mussolini were so universally hated; why were they so despised, even by their own people? Was not their goal more happiness and more prosperity for their citizens? Why were these three leaders so abhorred that some of the world's most renowned men of letters and science were rejected from the world's intellectual community simply for cooperating with them? Here is the crux of the matter. These leaders did not plan to wreck havoc on the lives of their countrymen. If there was a revolution, if wars were fought, if men and women were slaughtered, still their avowed intention was the improvement of the human condition. But they failed, and their failure was due to the neglect of the most important of principles: democracy and respect for the free will of the people. Soviet Communists wanted to forcefully make people happy, and happiness cannot come through coercion. Hitler wanted to forcefully change the Germans into a "superior race," and superiority cannot come through coercion. Some of the religious governments of the world today are making the same mistake: they want to forcefully drive people into paradise, and such coerced redemption is far worse than any inferno.

Democracy is not an accident and cannot take place over night. Democracy is not a gift that can be proffered on a gilded plate. Democracy is a historical process; it must follow its own evolutionary path. If a democratic country is serious in its claim of promoting democracy in other societies, there is only one path to follow. It must offer moral support to the individuals and institutions that are striving for democracy in those countries. Only this way can the young tree of democracy grow in a society and bring the fruit of freedom to its people. A military attack on a country, even for the purpose of establishing democracy and human rights, in the long run will damage the cause of democracy, and invariably become a source of more violence.

Humans are different from one another, as are cultures. People live their lives differently, speak different languages, and different religions guide their followers onto different paths. People come to this world in different shades of color, and different traditions shape their lives. They dress differently, and find different ways of adapting to their natural environment. People articulate their views in different way; their music, art and literature are different. Yet, in spite of all these differences, people all over the world share one thing: they are all human beings, nothing more, and nothing less.

At the same time, people of different cultures, regardless of their race, color and creed, whether they come from the East or the West, have the same fundamental needs. The best proof of this is the incredible similarity we find in the mythologies that have shaped these different cultures. Furthermore, linguists point to many striking similarities in the etymology of words in different cultures, leading many to conclude that all languages emanate from the same original source. When we recognize the common roots of our life on earth, why should we doubt the fact that a common set of rules could govern all of humanity? Surely, the influence of different cultures upon one another will contribute to the creation of a lasting peace in the world.

Cultural influence and exchange must not be confused with one culture's domination of another. Cultures can maintain their singularity while searching for their commonalities with other cultures. They can discern the common needs of humanity, and then establish a common set of rules for their attainment.

Democracy and human rights are the common needs of all cultures and societies. Respecting the life and dignity of a human being is cherished in every culture and religion. Terror and violence, the torture and humiliation of other human beings, is shameful everywhere. Those who refuse to accept democracy and human rights for their own country under the pretext of cultural relativism are reactionary despots, disguising their dictatorship under the guise of a false cultural mask. In the name of their national culture, they deny their nation's rights.

The world shall enjoy peace only when human rights are universally recognized and respected. Unfortunately, in recent years, the war on terror has become a new excuse for abusing these rights. Terror and acts of violence are forbidden in every creed and culture, and while the war on terror is legitimate and just, yet it must not become an excuse for oppressing people and suppressing the voices of opposition. Unfortunately, this form of human rights abuse has reached such proportions that the United Nations, in numerous resolutions, has demanded that all countries respect human rights, and that they do not use the fight against terror to further oppress their people.

On the question of cultural influence, the last point we need to keep in mind is the issue of the use of violence. Surely violence only begets further violence; violence is contagious. A society that wishes to live in peace and security must not deny another nation's human rights. Such aggression only brings about a new cycle of violence, and that violence leads to even more violent acts. Thus it is that the flames of war have for years consumed some countries. If we want peace, we must respect human rights; we must heed the resolutions of the United Nations, which are the results of our collective wisdom. Otherwise, our twenty-first century will become, like the centuries preceding it, mired in disharmony and violence.

We cannot forcefully make someone happy. Democracy cannot be exported at the point of a gun. With cluster bombs, we cannot bring happiness to a nation. Democracy and human rights can only come about when people desire it for themselves. Countries that espouse a concern for human rights must, first through negotiation, and then through the United Nations, compel countries in breach of human rights to comply and respect them. If there is to be punishment, it must be meted out by the United Nations. This way the cause of democracy and freedom will find legitimacy and become defensible.

I end by urging that more power be vested in the United Nations, and that your American soldiers return to their homes safely.

Translated from the Persian by Hoover Research Fellow Abbas Milani.

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