A Letter from a Persian
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
A friend of mine from Iran, also known as Persia, showed me several letters that he wrote to his colleagues and relatives back home while he was a visiting professor of literature in the USA. I told him that he had some interesting insights about society that he could try to have published, but he declined, because some of his ideas could get him into trouble on his return to Iran. He suggested that I could use them in my Progress Report editorials, without mentioning his name. So, with only a few grammatical corrections, I am reproducing here his last letter. If readers find it interesting, I might have some of his other letters published here as well. Here, then, is:
Persian Letter number 1
My dear Zephir,
As you know, America has been preaching democracy to the world, and American officials seek in Iraq to create a government in their image. To Americans, it is obvious that democracy is superior to any other form of government. Having lived in America during the past few months, I have had an opportunity to witness how democracy is actually practiced here.
The next election for president will take place in November 2004, but already, there are numerous contenders for that office. Clearly, president Bush will be the candidate of the Republicans, but there is no leading candidate in the Democratic party. There are a dozen Democratic party candidates campaigning for the office, with occasional meetings where the dozen are up on a stage, each declaring what his policy will be.
You are probably wondering why these fellows should start their campaigns so early, as it would seem more efficient to start the effort in the spring of 2004. As a foreigner here, I don't fully understand it, but it was explained to me that the elections take place in two stages. The first is the "primary" elections within the political parties to determine who will be the candidate of that party. The will hold big party conventions during the summer of 2004, where the candidates will be anointed. You may not believe this, but I am told that the expenses for these big party conventions are financed by the federal government!
These candidates are mostly unknown to the mass of voters, so they need time to make their names known. This requires large amounts of money, so the candidates spend a great deal of their time speaking at large dinner meetings. I read that people pay $100 or even $1000 for a dinner in order to personally see and hear the politician express his views.
I find this really astonishing. I cannot imagine anyone in Persia paying so much to hear a politician express his personal opinions. Perhaps it is because someday the speaker might be the president, and the donor will be able to brag to his friends that he saw this man in person? These Americans must be really wealthy to be able to spend so much for such a trifling benefit.
Each of these Democratic Party candidates needs to differentiate himself from the others, to give the voters some reason to vote for them. Now, if these candidates were learned philosophers, theologians, economists, or legal scholars, who had spent years of study in order to become a wise ruler, these office seekers would be worth listening to. The debates would center on what are the best policies for the people. But, dear Zephir, that is not the case at all.
These candidates were lawyers or business executives or doctors or plumbers who went into politics with little study of ethics, economics, or governance theory. I don't know what makes people think that the opinions of these politicians should be wiser than that of ordinary folk. One candidate is advocating that the USA enact a totalitarian governmental medical care system. I don't need to remind you, dear Zephir, of what the result would be. Those needing urgent medical procedures would be put on a waiting list, with many patients suffering in hospitals being put in hallways because the beds are filled. Life and death decisions would be in the hands of bureaucrats. It is a nightmare I don't even want to think about, yet many Americans who fancy themselves to be "progressive" are promoting this madness!
So here is the problem I see with American democracy. Voters will get a long ballot with the names of candidates, none of whom they know personally. They will get bombarded with television ads and mailings telling them why this candidate is superior. On the basis of this, their vote determines who will be the party candidate. The one selected will most likely be the one who has managed to get the most money from various special interest groups. And this is the democracy that Americans boast of and want to impose on Iraq and the rest of the world!
I must admit, however, that ridiculous as the American voting system is, it at least does not descend to the even greater madness possible in our own governing system in Iran. We have our two levels of government, the higher level being that of the religious authorities and the second being the level of the democratically elected officials. The higher level claims its authority from the Glorious Qur'an. The higher level cannot be democratic, because the higher law comes from the Eternal.
I fear that some of our higher authorities may want to make national suicide the supreme policy of our nation. They aim to destroy Israel. They promote the killing of Jews in Israel in order, it would seem, to provoke the Israeli government to strike back harder at the Palestinians. This could create an excuse to send Persian missiles to Israel. Not only would Israelis be killed, but also the Arabs there. Israel would retaliate with nuclear missiles that would kill many millions of us in Iran.
My dear Zephir! I am not a theologian, but I have to wonder, is it written in the Glorious Qur'an that we should seek national suicide? It seems to me that martyrdom should be an individual choice. At least in American democracy, any politician who advocated national suicide would not get a hearing.
As a professor of literature, I am a keen admirer of the French writer Montesquieu, who wrote that "the proper relationship between crime and punishment is the soul of the state." It seems to me that government should confine itself to preventing and punishing crimes of force and violence, and leave the rest to individual preferences and values. Whether they are elected by voters as in America or are monarchs as in old Persia or a religious elite as in today's Iran, governments have too much power, yet only a tiny minority of people seem to see this.
Well, Zephir, those are my thoughts as I prepare to return to Iran. I need not remind you to keep this letter well hidden, or better yet, please burn it, lest the authorities get hold of it. I take enough risk sending it with no better protection than a flimsy paper envelope. Please send my greetings to my beloved Fatme and to our friend Usbek. Also, I would appreciate if you could inform Rustan that I have saved a good bit of my salary while in America, and will repay my debt to him in full immediately on my return. I look forward to seeing you very soon!
Written in Berkeley, California, USA, the 8th of June, 2003.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2003 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
Email this article Sign up for free Progress Report updates via email
What are your views? Share your opinion with The Progress Report:
Page One Page Two Archive Discussion Room Letters What's Geoism?