05/17/2006, 00.00
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Iranian dissident Jahanbegloo in prison

by Dariush Mirzai

A graduate of the Sorbonne and Harvard, the secret services have accused him of "links with foreigners", but the true aim of the arrest is to scare critics of the regime.

Tehran (AsiaNews) – "Bad news for freedom of expression in Iran", was how the intellectual, Mohsen Kadivar, expressing the opinion of his Iranian colleagues, described the arrest of one of their own, the philosopher and political analyst, Ramin Jahanbegloo. At first, as often happens in Iran, there were rumours at university, in newsrooms and in embassies: Jahanbegloo has vanished, he is being detained in an unknown place. A typically arbitrary procedure in Iran, before Iranian agencies could confirm the facts, specified that the scholar, a graduate from the Sorbonne and Harvard, was accused of espionage and crimes against security. Vague accusations, carrying the risk of very severe penalties. And the arbiter: the Minister charged with responsibility for the Secret Services, a cleric, the hojjatoleslam Gholam Hossein Hohseni Ejeie. He said the arrest, which took place at the airport of Tehran on May 3, was prompted by accusations of "relations with foreigners". Perhaps more significant still was the initial reaction of the Minister of Culture and Islamic Orientation, Hossein Saffar Harandi: "We are seeking to clarify the reasons for this arrest and we have asked the Justice system to keep us informed."

With this arrest, the Iranian authorities probably want to inspire fear in dissidents, to please extremists and to send a signal to the West, especially to Canada: Jahanbegloo is an Irano-Canadian. Now he is in Evin prison, of sinister fame. It was in this jail that the Iranian photographer of Canadian origin, Zahra Kazemi, was killed, a case that the Canadian government is still pursuing very actively and courageously. In the same Evin prison, a whole range of authors, journalists, lawyers, political activists, trade unionists, and artists have been imprisoned, maltreated, sometimes tortured. One day, perhaps, it will become a memorial, just like the wax museum installed after the Islamic Revolution in the former prison of the Shah's secret police (Savak), in the ministerial quarters.

Jahanbegloo declared himself a dissident when he wrote: "The question of globalized modernity and its debate with the concept of Iranian traditions has become the central question of Iranian intellectuals 25 years after the Iranian revolution. For the new generation of Iranian intellectuals the revolution of yesterday has become the dissent of today."

There are many speculations as to the precise reasons behind the arrest of Jahanbegloo: perhaps it was a statement, an interview, one article too many? Perhaps Ramin Jahanbegloo should not have told the newspaper El Pais about his visit to Auschwitz, and talked about "our responsibility to testify to the 'unqualifiable' of Auschwitz? Or he should not have raised internal polemics against "religious intellectuals"? Perhaps it's better not to speculate too much about the "red lines" that should not be crossed: that would mean granting too much respect to the arbitrary, it would mean reinforcing auto-censorship, one of the aims behind the arrest of Jahanbegloo. One Iranian intellectual said: "The problem is that one never knows where the limits are. One must guess." These limits cannot even be clearly fixed by the regime: they are modified according to circumstances; some circles are more tolerant than others. And the various power centres fight amongst themselves. Those who control the "limits" and arrested Jahanbegloo are probably the same ones who at times decide on the expulsion of intellectual foreigners who have just arrived, despite the fact that they have official invitations and regular visas.

Jahanbegloo's problem is that he was right, as opposed to those who live in their delusions and who spread pious lies (taqqiyya), like the ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who when he was preaching on Friday, said the analysis of Ahmadinejad, in his letter to Bush, had been "inspired by God". A great contrast to the analysis of Jahanbegloo: "Liberalizing Iranian civil society would likely moderate Iran's foreign policy. Today, Iran is a country in a painful transition to democracy, and the only Muslim country where people are rapidly moving away from radical Islam. Despite all the pressures coming from inside and outside and the onslaught of the religious right, the democratic movement survives. Iran is likely to be a very different country in five to ten years from now. Islam will likely become less important as a governing principle and the society will become more pluralistic. What makes Iran so interesting is that it's not a real democracy, but it's not a real Islamic theocracy either."

Today, 17 May, there was no mention of Jahanbegloo on the front pages of Iranian newspapers. The headlines were all given over to the Supreme Guide, with his declarations to meditate: "Supreme Leader criticizes international media networks for ignoring human tragedies" (Iran News); "Mass media should promote human values" (Iran Daily). Who know if newspapers are given out in the cells of Evin?

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