There are no short cuts from tyranny to liberty. As it is evident in the example of Iraq, removing the dictator is only the first step in the long arduous process of democratization. Tyranny has one thing in common with liberty: it sends deep, powerful roots into the collective psyche of the society. These tenacious roots affect a population's habits, attitudes and way of life. Today those who are busy thinking of a means of putting an end to clerical dictatorship in Iran should at the same time not lose sight of the necessity of thinking out a plan for healing those malignant moral maladies caused by long term despotism.
Going through the hell-fire of twenty-six years of political cataclysm has taken a heavy toll on Iranian sanity. To give Iranians a clean bill of mental health is far from realistic, and no one should expect such a bill unless one is unfamiliar with the inveterate psychological effects of tyranny.
Tyranny has a way of destroying the country's sense of community. Its victims learn to think mainly of their own survival and that of their kith and kin. The state's survival to a large extent depends on infusing fear amongst the population. All one's success depends on trying to get on the right side of an arbitrary political system and getting ahead of everyone else in doing so. Duplicity and secretiveness here are indispensable ingredients. It is clear that such a milieu can be an ideal hotbed for moral and ethical disintegration.
Contrary to democracies where normally one is rewarded for one's efforts in advancing the welfare of the community, in a tyranny one has to think of a way of pleasing the supreme leader or currying favor with the ruling establishment. This of course is a degrading exercise. In this system consciously or unconsciously one loses one's self-respect, and at the same time looks down on everyone else for compromising their integrity and kowtowing to an inhuman system.
That is how a culture of self-hate comes into being. You might say: 'what are you talking about? If anything, Iranians suffer from over-confidence and are too fond of themselves.'
I am not a psychologist, but one does not need to be an expert to realize that self-loathing and self-aggrandizing are two sides of the same coin and symptoms of an unstable and insecure personality.
Many Iranians when together praise each other to the skies, and when they part company shred each other to pieces. A friend was telling me a story about an Iranian policeman in one of the cities in Azerbaijan province, which can illustrate the point I am trying to make. This policeman was talking in the telephone to one of his superiors in a packed waiting room. He was addressing him in the most servile and sycophantic manner. After he hung up however, he took a look around the room feeling ashamed of himself. To recover his lost air of self-importance, referring to the person he was just talking to in the telephone he emitted: “son of a b****.”
Today, if great Iranian political initiatives like rallying together for holding a national referendum encounters difficulties, we have to remember that symptoms of age-old tyranny such as mutual suspicion and mistrust are to a large extent responsible for frustrating the process. These symptoms will not disappear overnight. Even many of those Iranians who have lived abroad in Western democracies have not yet been able to shake them off.
In a country which has never enjoyed political accountability, no one is used to doing one's level best and taking responsibility for one's triumphs and failures. Everyone blames someone else. Even the most venerated political figures in the opposition today are not safe from being maligned and viciously attacked by other so-called political activists.
Many Iranians talk about progressive politics and modernity, but act in a way that shows what they mouth, and mouth so convincingly has not sunk deep in their character. In other words they use and borrow these concepts without willing to pay the price of owning them. What is certain is that one cannot talk about human rights, tolerance and democracy from one side of one's mouth, and from the other side shout obscenities at those who hold a different viewpoint.
Many Iranian activists have repented from their past failures of judgment and deplored their previous political decisions. Repentance from past mistakes however, means nothing if it is not accompanied with a firm resolution to desist from those mistakes in the future and to form new, healthy political habits. We cannot defenestrate our dictators and at the same time hang on to the virulent viruses of a totalitarian mentality. If we do so, we have only succeeded in removing a dictator and not the dictatorship itself.
Comparing with free, civilized nations political discourse has had very little chance of developing in Iran. Notwithstanding one or two bright exceptions, Iranian leftists or rightists have little intellectual stamina to stand on their feet and clearly see what is ahead of them, let alone taking a rational deliberate turn to the right or the left. They are not led by firm political convictions, but by undigested information and primitive impulses typical of tyrannical societies such as envy, avarice, false pride and mean rivalries.
Although problems are numerous, Iranians should not give up. They have to fight on and believe not only in the physical removal of dictatorship, but also in the possibility of finding a cure from all its long-term ramifications and consequences. They owe this not only to themselves and their rich and ancient civilization, but also to the future generations of Iranians.