Picture credit: Mahmood Sariolghalam website
A Patchwork Of Sketches
For many months, we dug in and searched relevant writings and papers on the Iranian diasporas. We wanted an answer, even partial, to one question: why after forty years of the autocratic theocracy are there no powerful and credible political structures to oppose it? Why has there not been solid bonds between the diasporas and the internal groups to shatter with determination the glass dome of the theocracy?
Fear of the cruelty of the clerics must not put stoppers on our hopes and aspirations for betterment. A major overhaul of the Iranian political system is only the first step in a long process that lies ahead of us all: building a country that is sweet to live in, not one that only exists in our dream world, and not one that we want to build abroad but jealously conserving the traditions that let autocracy develop.
Firouz Farzani rightly remarks: Iran has never had its Enlightenment. The Farsi-speaking people of this country remain in thrall to a religious establishment that is complacent and backward.
Although the natural domain to answer our political questions should have been the political sciences, we found responses in the wealth of academic papers from other domains: sociology, anthropology and ethnography.
For the sake of coherence, and sometimes simplification, political sciences papers and international relations studies miss the most important ingredient of the country to include in their analysis: the fabric of the society from which people draw their individual and cultural identity.
In what follows, we have transgressed the spirits of the academic caution by being a modest militant defender of democratic rights and values. We added our past experiences in observing the behaviour of the Iranian migrants. How, in the harbouring countries, do the diasporas use the democratic tools at their disposal? Do they understand the raison d’être and the limitations of them?
We were often thwarted when we tried to be fairly comprehensive in our coverage of various issues. For any course we explored and adequate causal explanations we could bring forward, there was always an example that would bear witness to the contrary and invalidate our line of thinking. However, we believe that the lessons learned from setbacks are as valuable as the fruits of a success. Recognising the inadequacies of a given situation strengthens the argument, but the deceit of omission weakens them.
We made do with the raw material used in the humanities, in a broad sense, to depict and study Iranian communities across a large spectrum.
Quantitative random surveys and meaningful statistical analysis cannot be carried out since the multifariousness in contributing factors plays out in migration data collected from different countries.
Open discussion in micro interviews and limited scope questionnaires on small samples are the only available means. Yet, micro interviews, in the sceptical, suspicious and wary Iranian mood, would only mainly include Iranians contacted through a network of family, friends, and acquaintances. In other words, one is trapped in meeting people with similar ideas and backgrounds.
To interview, the interviewer must be introduced to the interviewee, via a middle-person trusted by both. Moreover, the questionnaire should be designed in such a way to avoid blank or untruthful answers when the interviewee finds them personal, tricky or dangerous.
However, the personal connections and the nature of the questions could also be source of doubts from the interviewee, which in turn creates scepticism and sometimes unfounded suppositions by them toward the interviewer.
The Iranians are in a Catch 22 when it comes to their political stands and personal beliefs.
Face to face interviews are expensive and limited in number and scope. These non-random surveys are informal and even unscientific. But, that is all we have. Whenever possible, we included the interpretation of comments made by Iranians posted on the Net.
We refrained from quoting the original papers and books in an effort not to betray the spirit of the papers with an out-of-context quote that would suit our presentation but would not have been explicitly conveyed by the author.
To what extent does the richness of the sociology, anthropology and ethnographic studies read penetrate the mind of Iranian diasporas? To which extent is the bulk of what is written in English, French and German, and translated into Farsi, read and discussed? Are the findings reaching out to a broad range in public?
The Diasporas Sceptical Moods
Actually, these are only rhetorical questions and figures of speech. The Iranians do not indulge in orgies of reading, even in their mother tongue. Those who read the most endeavour to obtain a higher education diploma in a well defined domain, especially the sciences, to help them build a career. Beyond this, reading looks too adventurous, alas, boring and a waste of time.
A writer writes for the readers; a platitude. However, those who study Iranian subjects are rewarded in using a European language since they reach a large audience and reactions worthy of debates from the readers.
To write in Farsi is like having an epistolary relationship with a lover through a mailbox never picked up.