Feb 27, 2006

Ahwazi: Cambridge Academic Calls For Recognition of Iran's Ethnic Social Forces

University of Cambridge academic Gabriel Glickman has called for greater recognition of cultural and ethnic diversity as a basis for democratic change in Iran
University of Cambridge academic Gabriel Glickman has called for greater recognition of cultural and ethnic diversity as a basis for democratic change in Iran.

Writing for the Henry Jackson Society think tank, the Pembroke College historian stresses the need to brak from the notion that "the nation's key political dynamic as that of a popular theocratic mainstream, opposed by a fragile minority of reformists, whose cultural base - the student movement - is under vigorous assault."

He criticises the 'realist' tendency within the British Foreign Office, which hopes that 'moderates' can emerge to lead Iran by accommodating and appeasing the Iranian regime. Such arguments, he says, "deny the reality of dissident political forces."

Glickman advocates a "re-interpretation" of Iran to recognise the social forces that lie outside the regime. He states: "The greatest of our Iranian misconceptions surrounds the country's ethnic composition. A Tehran-centred analysis exaggerates the capacity of the ruling Persian community that, in reality, probably comprises less than 50 per cent of the Iranian population." The rest of the population comprises Arabs, Azeris, Balochis, Kurds and Turkomen.

The West has chosen to ignore the ethnic cleansing, state terrorism, land confiscation and environmental destruction faced by ethnic minorities such as the Ahwazi Arabs under an Islamic Republic which has adopted the creed of Persian ultra-nationalism advanced by the Pahlavi monarchy.

"Western disregard is cruelly ironic," he writes, "when Tehran's surface rationale for mistreatment of the Ahwazis is a belief that they represent 'the stooges of foreign nations' and British imperial designs."

However, ethnic minorities have developed a "complete, alternative and increasingly coherent" blueprint for the reform of Iran. The Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), which includes parties representing minority groups, has published a manifesto that looks to establish "a democratic, independent and non-aligned Iran", including "separation of religion and state" and "equality of men and women."

Glickman acknowledges the role the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) has played in "the need for the realization of democracy and human rights in Iran", against "continuing systematic social, ethnic and cultural discrimination ... The upshot is a genuine moral and intellectual challenge to the orthodoxy communicated from Tehran.

"Taking these alternative voices into account, a re-interpretation of Iran should shape a new response to the current nuclear crisis, not by propelling us into a drive for war, but by encouraging a more robust policy in the region; based unapologetically on liberal democratic virtues. Western powers can work to foster connections between minority groups, lend support to a unified vision of reform, and enhance the credibility of liberal voices at the forefront of the disaffected communities, to offset separatist claims.

"Now is the time for the West to let re-interpretation bring about re-engagement, by embracing the democratic possibility."

The Henry Jackson Society was founded to support "the pursuit of a robust foreign policy ... based on clear universal principles such as the global promotion of the rule of law, liberal democracy, civil rights, environmental responsibility and the market economy." Its patrons include Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, former US Assistant Secretary of Defence Richard Perle, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Jack Sheehan and Former CIA Director James Woolsey. Among the list of signatories of its founding principles are senior politicians, academics, leading journalists and former military chiefs.

Source: British Ahwazi Friendship Society