By Hamid Dabashi
27 October 2016
During a recent rally, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani ridiculed and dismissed the kind of democracy we are witnessing in the United States during this presidential election.
"Look at their way of speaking," he said, "the way they accuse each other and the way they mock one another. Do we want such a democracy in our country? Do we want such elections in our country?"
"America claims it has more than 200 years of democracy," he declared, "and they have had 50 presidential elections, but there is no morality in that country."
He has some bloody nerve.
As the whole world is witness, Americans as a nation are now suffering through one of the worst manifestations of their democratic institutions.
But of all people, Rouhani is not in a position to criticise this dastardly US election for he is himself the product of a constitutionally flawed and shamelessly rigged system, where a gang of octogenarian clerical tyrants censor the electoral process for a nation of 80 million human beings, the majority of them under the age of 40.
Lesson for Iranians
Any lesson from the current presidential election in the US is for Iranian people who just a few years ago were clubbed, kicked, punched, tortured, imprisoned, and point-blank murdered for having questioned the validity of a presidential election. Their leading reformists are to this day political prisoners in the dungeons of the Islamic Republic.
Rouhani ought to be ashamed of himself in objecting to the US election when the last two Iranian presidential candidates who dared to question the very rigged system that now calls him president, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, are still under house arrest and mostly incommunicado.
Rouhani is confusing himself and the entire undemocratic, theocratic, ideologically infested regime that has produced his presidency, with the democratic will of the Iranian people that has every right to denounce this horrid US presidential election and learn from it to strengthen its own democratic intuitions - as indeed millions of Americans do.
Underlying Rouhani's comment is still the ignorant and self-denigrating assumption peculiar to his clerical class that presidential elections in the US ought to be the model for Iran or anywhere else in the world.
The fact that people in and out of the Muslim world can learn from the horror of both his favourite theocracy in Iran or elsewhere and the cul de sac of American oligarchy and find alternative modes of self-governance is beyond the limited imagination of Hujjat al-Islam wa al-Muslimin Hassan Rouhani.
Iran and the rest of the Muslim world from one end to the other suffer from a massive and structural democratic deficit. Hassan Rouhani is the poster boy of that democratic deficit. He is not in a position to cast a stone at the current calamity of the US presidential election.
Masses of millions of Americans, just like masses of millions of Iranians, Arabs, Turks, etc, are trapped inside a vicious and violent political system that does not represent their democratic will. They need no lecture from an incompetent politician who just last year forfeited the national sovereignty of his homeland by an ignominious nuclear pact reminiscent of the Golestan and Turkmanchai treaties of the early 19th century that the equally incompetent and corrupt Qajars yielded to the Russian empire.
Iranians, Americans, Arabs, Turks and other nations continue their historical marches towards the dignity of their democratic aspirations. The name of the functional equivalent of Mir-Hossein Mousavi in the US is Bernie Sanders, who, though he failed to mobilise enough votes to become the next president is free and active to continue his struggles for the political aspirations of millions of his supporters.
Go and set Mousavi, Zahra Rahnavard and Mehdi Karroubi free, Rouhani, before you utter any inanity about any other country.
Right now in this very United States with all its flaws, I remain severely critical of the US election and its entire foreign policy - and yet I continue to speak my mind openly, teach in its top universities, publish my books with its top university presses, travel freely around the world, and live peacefully with my family right here in New York. Can I do this in my homeland, Mr Rouhani? Do you have an iota of decency left in you?
From right here in the heart of this deeply flawed democracy, like millions of other Iranians in the US and around the world I have opposed crippling sanctions and warmongering against our people when you, your predecessors, and your entire regime were wasting precious resources of our nation on a wasteful, dangerous, and misbegotten nuclear project. You may have the delusion that you prevented a military threat against Iran. You did not. The Iranian people did.
I would be in Evin prison if I were in your Islamic Republic and its cruel rule over my homeland.
Right now the state-controlled media in Iran is broadcasting the TV series House of Cards. Indeed, House of Cards is a magnificent series exposing the deep pathological corruption in US politics, and Iranian people have every right to watch and learn from it. But can any Iranian filmmaker make a film about the depth of enduring corruption in the Islamic Republic, over which state apparatus you preside?
You, Mr Rouhani, and the entire calamitous regime you represent have over the past three decades and more presided over massive university purges, ghastly cultural revolutions, slaughter of political prisoners, and forced into early retirement, exile, and silencing leading scholars and intellectuals of my homeland.
You and your ilk have gutted out the very foundation of social sciences and humanities in Iran. How dare you point the finger at a country that with all its enduring flaws and corruptions still allows me to think critically and write freely even against its ruling elite? I would be in Evin prison if I were in your Islamic Republic and its cruel rule over my homeland.
Nations Grow, States Falter
"Garlic one day turned to onion sarcastically and said ..." - Do you even know or care to remember that immortal poem of Parvin Etesami, Mr Rouhani? - "you wretched thing you really smell terribly."
You and your entire cabinet are grounded until you go to the blackboard and write this down 10 times each.
Nations grow, nations learn, nations triumph over the tyranny of cruel power and obscene wealth that rules over them. The combined calamity of Clinton and Trump can never do to Iran what you and three and a half decades of your Islamic Republic have done to our homeland.
Neither the ruling regime in Iran nor any other tyranny in the Muslim world should take the current calamity of the US presidential election as a green light to continue their illegitimate and abusive power. No state - the United States, the Jewish state, or the Islamic Republic - is the model or the aspiration for nations and their continued struggles around the globe.
You do your violent vulgarity and we will do our nonviolent defiance. At the end you will lose, and we the people will win: Iranians, Arabs, Turks ... and Americans. Mark my words and mind your own business!
Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.