7 June 2010

Place of Secularism In The Green Movement

Maryam Mohammadi interviews Reza Alijani

Source: Rahesabz.net

English translaton by @MrZand

Maryam Mohammadi: Green pluralistic reality and the unity of the movement's activists in the fight for political freedom has transformed secularism, the separation of religion and government, into a powerful ideological tool for creating national reconciliation and democratic  gains in Iran. In this interview with Radio Farda (original link is inoperative), Reza Alijani insists on this important fact and the necessity and importance of understanding it.

What is at stake for secularism within the green movement, what is its position and how does it deal with the diverse opinions about it within the movement? 

“The debate about secularism is very conflictual. This debate has been around for the past several years in Iran. Perhaps the word is confusing, but it seems that if we do not look at secularism as an ideology, or secularization which has a broader meaning, but look at it as a process or work in  progress, then its relationship with the movement Green will become clearer.”

So you believe that the green movement should not look at secularism as an ideology. But if we look at it as a process of social change, then would a single interpretation exist for secularism?

“In this process of secularization, if we look at its history and how it is determined by the reality outside of it, and follow the debates surrounding it, then we will see that it has been presented at two different levels:

One is on a macro level and is calling for the absence of any reference to religion in all social areas: In fact, a universal secularism, or even sometimes a fundamentalist one. On a different level it demands the separation of institutions, especially and particularly religion and government institutions, and specifically the separation of clergymen and mosque from the government.

If we reflect back at your question explicitly to the latter level of secularism which at its base demands the separation of religion and state and naturally opposes religious rule of law and political legitimacy of faith or religion, then we can turn to the issue of its relationship with the green movement.”

Does the green movement, which we want to establish its relationship with secularism, have or should have a specific definition for all the diverse opinions?

“There is much confusion about the green movement, but not as much about secularization. The green movement started as a movement to protest the election results but has since transformed into a movement in opposition to the dominant political system.

Of course, I see the Iranian dissidents, those critical of government or ruling factions, as wider than the green movement. For example, a number of people in the smaller cities or other areas, even in agreement with the criticisms and protests of the opposition have not opted to participate in protests for some reason, maybe for personal reasons.

However, if the Green Movement symbolizes- now I do not know how to name it - the Iranian dissidents, then the discussion becomes clearer.”

If the protest movement is broader than the green movement, can we consider the green movement part of the protest movement? Or that the protest movement currently in progress is the same as the green movement?

“Yes, absolutely. I interpreted on the more macro level, I did not use the word ‘movement’: But I talked of Iranian dissidents. Iranian dissidents are much broader than those who first protested against the election results and have come to the streets to oppose the current political system. I mean there are people that are with the green movement in their hearts, but did not come out.

Iranian dissidents are broader than the green movement, but as you mentioned, the green movement is now the symbol of Iranian dissidents.

With this understanding of the green movement, I want to compare its relationship with the discussion about secularism or the secularization process. When we talk about the green movement, we think of a social reality and identity that embodies symbolism and has civic leaders. We can also think of the green movement as its ideals or programs of action or their common demands.”

But the definition you first gave of the green movement, in effect, we want to consider the effect or its position within the green movement.

“In reality, the green movement is a pluralistic movement. It is even more pluralistic if we consider what I call the Iranian dissidents. I do not think any observers or even the activists would deny the diverse plurality within the green movement.

I mean from religious forces, even traditional religious forces who were attracted by Mousavi’s message and have joined in, to the religious reformists, or so called religious new-thinkers, and the non-religious forces are present within the movement. There has been a wide field of operatives active within the movement.

When we go a step further, we see that the body of the green movement is pluralistic, the demands and ideal are also pluralistic. But when we arrive at the question of a common program, in my opinion, this question is put in parentheses.

I want to point to a concrete example that might be illuminating. Before the election, a movement called ‘demand-based approach’ started. The demand-based approach recognized this diversity and the presumption was that it was possible to cooperate on common grounds. In the language of social science methodology, the cooperation was not on the macro level, but within common grounds. On the macro level people can have different ideologies. For action these differences must be put in parentheses.”

So we can summarize: If the essence of the green movement is centered on specific demands and a common program, how can the differences in interpretation of secularism not play a role?

“Yes, based on my personal experience and not as a matter of research or statistics, however, the green movement has had no religious demands. They have not cloaked their wishes in the form of religious discourse and one that wants a religious government to be established. This is a fact.

This fact does not mean that a part of the green movement activists, or even an important part of them are not religious or do not want religious values. As I said, the body of the green movement is pluralistic, but the dominant discourse in the green movement does not want a religious government, the enforcement of Shari’a law or a return to a government in accordance to Shari’a law.

But demands of the green movement can be embedded within each discourse. It means that the demands could be embedded in a discourse that does accept the practice of current constitution and one that does not adhere to the current constitution and does not see any potential within it. Both discourses can move in parallel paths in the context of a demand-based movement.

This duality can also be operative with respect to an ideal outlook. If the ideal outlook is for maximum secularism, part of the green movement thinks along those lines and some don’t. But in the context of a demand-based movement they would also take parallel paths.

On the other hand – the way that I understand - the essence of the green movement, has been a secularist one. This essence is demand-based and wants to transform lifestyles. This transformation of lifestyles may well be contained in different discourses, even a religious discourse, but will not accept to be the dominant discourse itself within the green movement.

How can we understand this better when as a religious intellectual, one who believes that the essence of the green movement is secularist, while maintaining that the talk of secularism, as an ideology, does not and should not have a place within the green movement?

With this interpretation of the claim that this movement is a demand-based movement, essentially the integration of religious and governmental institutions is beyond the scope of the discussion.”

But Mr. Alijani, if the discussion about secularism and secularists exists inside and outside of the green movement, can we arrive at the conclusion, given your definition, that in the present stage there is no confrontation between secularists and non-secularists?

“No. Even if someone claims that the green movement is a reformist movement within the current government, and its activists are religious and their demands are religious as well, I will theoretically argue by correspondence of their argument to reality that they admit that those who came to the streets did not have merely one idea or opinion.

But I would also argue about the case of a project, for example, in a project I might accept the religious interpretation of Ayatollah Montazeri’s defense of human rights, or I might not accept the religious interpretation and provide a religious new-thinker’s interpretation or even someone who can provide a non-religious interpretation.

The problem is not with the departure point; when we talk about a project, we return to a program of action and what are really our demands. We demand free elections, free speech, and free political parties. Some say that these freedoms exist within the current constitution, and there are some who say that they do not.

I say that whether these freedoms exist within a constitutional framework or within religion is a theoretical discussion outside of the green movement.”

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