The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Khatami in 1998

In 1998, President Khatami of Iran spoke to the United Nations General Assembly. Recall that at this stage relations between Iran and the US were uneasy, but more cordial than today's; also that Khatami was for a time hailed as a reformer, before apparently being co-opted by hardline conservatives.

The speech itself is quite long, and I will just focus on a few parts I think are instructive. It is in six sections, separated by the salutation "Mr. President." The first section is a call for self-determination.
It is only a few centuries since genuine knowledge was construed as the source of power, rather than an agent of its control. Ever since, knowledge has, instead of serving human salvation and instead of exalting human character, been used as an instrument in the hands of those whose only object was to advance their narrow utilitarian self-interest. Despite its magnificent progress, humanity has suffered massively over these centuries form [sic] discrimination and anguish.
In short, the Enlightenment was a source of evil.
Particularly desperate is the situation of the countries in the underdeveloped world, where... some remain at the mercy of rulers who do not even take the trouble of pretending respect for democratic standards or enjoying popular support.
A perfect line for the representative of a government which does take the trouble.
Primarily responsible here, are those powers whose intelligence services take pride in their dark record of overthrowing popular governments and supporting unpopular ones. This image of our world is indeed grim and repulsive. Until the day that the wise and the learned wrest the reins of power form the unwise and the capricious, this image can not, all at once, be transformed.
This is the picture of Iran's recent history Khatami would wish to paint; only the wise (in this case, the theocrats) can be entrusted with power.
The second section is a paean to Islamic Iran. For example:
Allow me to speak here as a man form the East, the origin of brilliant civilizations and the birth place of Divine Prophets... I come from the noble land of Iran, representing a great and renowned nation, famous for its age old civilization as well as its distinguished contribution to the founding and expansion of the Islamic civilization; a nation that has survived the strong winds of despotism, reactionism and submission, relying on its cultural and human wealth; a nation which pioneered in the East the establishment of civil society and constitutional governments...
Note the repeated invocation of Iran's ancient greatness. The colonial period, and the Shah's rule, are construed as a brief glitch in the passage from glory to glory.
There follows an exhortation for peaceful and diplomatic relations between countries.
The establishment and continued functioning of the United Nations is a testament to the progressive path of the world and of human society... The twentieth century did not only witness the manifestation of violence and human sufferings at the hands of old colonialists and the unprecedented injustice of their modern inheritors, but it was also the century of the rise and fall of totalitarian regimes. Let up hope that in the coming century resort to force and violence shall not be glorified, and the essence of political power be compassion and justice, externally manifested in dialogue between civilizations.
Readers may be ideologically divided here. It is possible to view this as a sincere plea for peace, or as the temporizing of a hostile but presently weak government.
In the fourth section, we get two proposals, one of which actually has substance.
I would like to propose, in the name of the Islamic Republic of Iran, that the United Nations, as a first step, designate the year 2001 as the "Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations," with the earnest hope that through such a dialogue the realization of universal justice and liberty be initiated.
The United Nations took shape in a dark era of human history, when many of its current members were still experiencing the bitter and abominable conditions of colonial rule. As a consequence, the new Organization reflected the domination of the powerful few. Things have changed now, and the opportunity has presented itself to restructure this Organization, particularly its Security Council. Here, I would like to refer to the wise words of the Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran in his inaugural address to the Eighth Session of the Islamic Summit Conference in Tehran that the Islamic countries, representing one billion and several hundred million people should acquire a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council with the same privileges that are enjoyed by current Permanent Members.
This seems to stop just short of calling for a security council seat; no actual proposal is tabled. I honestly can't see why not.
The penultimate section is a rousing attack on Israel [hardly newsworthy], and then on the Taliban.
The Afghan people, as other peoples in the world, have the inalienable right to determine their own destiny, and have the right to enjoy a broad-based government representing all ethnic groups, communities and tendencies in that country. This is the only way to restore tranquility in Afghanistan. This requires resolute international cooperation in order to inhibit the lucrative and deadly business of production and smuggling of narcotics, illicit trafficking in weapons and cultivating of terrorism.
Finally, Khatami closes with a call for nuclear disarmament and global environmentalism.
At the threshold of the third millennium, the world also needs to be liberated from the nightmare of nuclear war and weapons of mass destruction. Recent nuclear tests in our region, which have led to further complications, make such a necessity all the more imperative. We should all realize that the idea of attaining security through the acquisition of such armaments is nothing but an illusion. The manifestation of a resolute global determination to eliminate all existing arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, within an agreed time frame, would render clarity of objective, lend credence and add dynamism to the international efforts against the production and proliferation of these deadly weapons.
Comprehensive peace, over and above peace among human beings, also calls for peace between mankind and nature, which in turn requires that mankind bring to a halt the systematic devouring of nature and instead emphasize the coordination of man and nature. The preservation of the environment, as the common natural heritage of mankind, constitutes the most important priority of the coming century. I thank you for your attention.

Mohammad Khatami, transnational progressivist! Who'd've thought it?