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Tajzadeh: Reformists Should Ask Nation for Forgiveness

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

15 Jun 2010 13:49Comments
Tajzadeh-46.JPGReformist Seyyed Mostafa Tajzadeh has written a very important analysis of the current state of affairs, which was posted on Mir Hossein Mousavi's website, Kalame. In this piece, Tajzadeh addresses vital issues facing the nation. Most importantly, in my opinion, he has critically reevaluated the reformists' record and the role that they have played in the creation of the current situation in Iran. He criticizes the reformists' position on repression in the early 1980s and the execution of thousands of political prisoners.

In that era, the present reformists were known as the followers of Imam's line and were -- and still are -- mostly Islamic leftists. "Imam" refers to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and the present reformists were his ardent supporters; many still profess to be loyal to many of the Ayatollah's principles. What follows is a brief profile and the first half of Tajzadeh's analysis that, in my opinion, represents an important historical document.


Seyyed Mostafa Tajzadeh was born in Tehran in 1956. After graduating from high school, he moved to the United States in 1975, where he lived for almost three years and studied political science. He was active in the Muslim Students Association, a political group run by university students active against Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. When the 1979 Revolution started gaining momentum in 1978, Tajzadeh returned to Iran, where together with Hasan Vaezi, Homayoun Khosravi, and Seyyed Mahmoud Yasini, he founded the Towhidi-ye Khalgh group, which agitated against the Shah. After the Revolution, Tajzadeh's group merged with six other Islamic groups to form the Organization of Islamic Revolution Mojahedin (OIRM) -- not to be confused with the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO). OIRM is now one the top reformist groups in Iran.

Tajzadeh was active in the Islamic Revolution Committees and in the OIRM. His political career began in May 1982, when he joined the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (Ershad). There, he worked closely with former president Mohammad Khatami, who was head of Ershad in the Mousavi government, and similarly with the administration of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani during its first term. Eventually, Tajzadeh was promoted as Khatami's chief deputy at the Ministry. Under pressure from right-wing reactionaries, Khatami resigned from the Ministry in 1992, and Tajzadeh left with him. After Khatami was elected the President in 1997, he appointed Tajzadeh as deputy interior minister for security and political affairs, a post second only to Abdollah Nouri's, who was the minister and a progressive cleric.

The elections for the Sixth Majles were held in late February 2000 and Tajzadeh was in charge. The Guardian Council disqualified relatively few candidates, and as a result, the elections were very competitive. The reformists swept up all 30 seats for the Tehran district, which was a huge upset for the Council and the conservatives. Thus, the Council began claiming that there had been voting irregularities at several polling stations. First, they ordered a recount, and then annulled, without presenting any evidence, about 700,000 of the votes cast in Tehran. That started a fierce struggle between Tajzadeh and the Council.

The Council's main goal was to get Rafsanjani and Gholam Ali Haddad Adel elected as Tehran's deputies. At that time, Rafsanjani had been under fierce attack by reformist journalists and was thus in the conservative camp. Haddad Adel's daughter is married to Mojtaba Khamenei, the Supreme Leader's son. Another Council goal was to prevent Dr. Ali Reza Rajaei, a journalist close to the Nationalist-Religious Coalition, from getting elected.

Tajzadeh insisted that no irregularities had taken place, and declared that the elections were the "cleanest and freest elections" in the history of the Islamic Republic, which was true. When it became clear that Tajzadeh would not back down, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the Council to accept the people's verdict. The Council had achieved its goals, though. Rajaei was prevented from getting elected, and in his place Haddad Adel got elected. Rafsanjani, though ranked 20th in Tehran in terms of the votes that he had received, resigned his position and never joined the Sixth Majles.

The Council took Tajzadeh to court, and in return, Tajzadeh filed a lawsuit against Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the powerful reactionary cleric and secretary-general of the GC, accusing him of trying to rig the elections. His lawsuit against Jannati never went to trial -- Jannati is too powerful to be tried! But Tajzadeh himself was put on trial in March 2001. He repeatedly clashed with the judge, Naser Daghighi, and said, "Some people are angry about the way the people voted last year." The court "convicted" Tajzadeh and gave him a suspended one-year term, and barred him from all government employment for three years, hoping that he would go away. Then in 2004, once the three-year period was over, Khatami appointed Tajzadeh as his senior adviser, a post that he held until August 2005, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's first term began.

Right after the rigged presidential election of June 2009, Tajzadeh was arrested by the security forces and spent months in solitary confinement. He is the only one who has been temporarily released without bail, refusing to put up any bail. He underwent a surgery for severe back problems.

He is married to Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour, a notable political figure in her own right, who is active in defending women's rights, and has been an outspoken critic of the hardliners over the past year. They have two daughters, Arefeh and Fatemeh. Tajzadeh is also a doctoral student in political science at the University of Tehran; he has been unable to finish his studies.

Throughout his career, Tajzadeh has always been a straight shooter: blunt, honest, plainspoken, and to the point. He has an impeccable record as an uncorrupted official who has held senior positions in the political establishment, and has been a progressive reformist.

The statement

"Father, Mother, We Have Been Accused Again"

Tazjadeh begins his analysis by saying that his imprisonment provided an opportunity for him to debate with his hardline interrogators. During this process, But he quickly realized the extent to which a huge gap existed between his thinking and that of his interrogators. He then compares the political system that the hardliners have in mind with what he favors (in the following text, the comparison is made in the same order):

A political system that sees its power in terms of forcing people to confess [under pressure] and forcing them to "repent" vs. one that sees it in terms of free debates and discussions in the press.

A political system that considers any opposition or criticisms a conspiracy [to overthrow it] vs. one that corrects its course of action due to the criticisms by the opposition.

A political system that denies the citizens some of their most elementary rights, such as the right to freely travel and bars them from traveling abroad [with the fear that the opposition would speak against it], and creates all sorts of limitations for practically everyone but its own supporters vs. one that encourages people's free choices both in society and elections.

A political system in which the military is the most powerful center of power and sees the entire country as a huge military barrack in which no one should dare say "why and how" vs. one in which people own the nation and the barracks mirror what is going in the country.

A political system in which if we consider the characters, education, and intelligence of the political prisoners, we reach the conclusion that they are the best and cream of the crop of the nation vs. one in which the same people either lead the nation by being the leaders of the government, or are people's representatives in the parliament and in the civil society have the utmost [political and personal] security.

A political system that is terrified by peaceful marches of the citizens and their shouts of "Allah-o Akbar [God is great]" on the roofs of their homes [that has become a way of protesting the hardliners over the past year] vs. one that considers the protest marches as the citizens' right and a basis for improving and strengthening the political system.

A political system in which political groups and parties cannot be active within the framework of the Constitution, even during peace time and when the country is [in] stable [condition], and when the condition [demanded] for the release of their leaders and members from jail and illegal detentions is to put an end to all political activities vs. one that ruled the nation during the first decade after the revolution, when there was war [with Iraq], but the leaders of the political groups were never arrested.

A political system in which the independence of the judiciary means only ignoring people's demands and rights, and during its show trials "convict" the best of the nation and deny their rights vs. one in which the judges are truly independent of the ruling elite, and irrespective of the pressures of the security, intelligence and military groups, act only according to the law.

A political system in which the educated youth want to leave the country from the time that they are in high school; one in which its [annual] book exhibition reminds us of the inquisition era, and one in which its artists' solitary jail cells are smaller than the rooms that they need to keep their international awards vs. the one that the Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] promised the people in Paris [in the fall of 1978].

A political system that is ranked No. 1 for inflation and corruption and is last in terms of economic growth; one in which nearly half of its people live below the poverty line; its private sector is considered [by the hardliners] as the government's competitors and even enemy, with its main goal being weakening of the sector; one in which its investor are more willing to invest in foreign countries [than in Iran]; and where unregulated and undisciplined imports have broken the back of domestic production, with the strategy of the government being "making all of Iran needing the aid committees [that provide help to poor people]." Can such a system be a model of successful management [of a nation] in the region?

A political system that condemns dictatorship, the veto powers [in the United Nations Security Council], and the control of the international media by a few, and labels the United States as the symbol of [applying] double standards [to its foes and allies] lacks the moral right to use the same against its own citizens.

A political system in which "happiness has been lost" [paraphrasing the poet Shafiei Kadkani] and ranks No. 1 in the world for shutting down its mass media and jailing its journalists, and its process of vetting candidates for election is worse than even those of Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Palestine, cannot claim to be the liberator of the same nations and a model for all Muslims.

In the political system that I favor the religious seminaries are independent [of the Supreme Leader]; the universities are not military barracks; distinguished and independent-minded academics are not forced into retirement or fired; [my political system] does not rank the university students for their political activities; does not expel them en masse; mixing of female and male students in universities is not a problem for its officials, and does not threaten the students that if they want good grades, they must follow the orders of the university administrators.

In the political system that I favor the officials think about finding ways to address unemployment, depression, hopelessness and addiction of the youth, not about trying to decide on the makeup and clothes of women, while at the same time making claims about confronting social and cultural corruption, allowing the foreign satellite TV programs without any problem, but closing [political] websites. In my political system lying is not a way of governance.

In my political system -- one that rose as a result of the glorious Revolution [of 1979] -- the Kahrizak [detention center] is a disgrace, not revealing its existence; the Constitution is not a tool to repress people, but [a document] that represents the result of the martyrs' blood and people's vote and a document for [guaranteeing] people's rights and freedom; implementing Article 27 [which allows for peaceful assembly] and other human rights of the people for forming political parties, a free press, banning torture, and not issuing a death sentence with due process -- [the principles] that guarantee the country's independence and territorial integrity, and protects national interests.

My political system does not attack the universities' dormitories every ten years [in 1999 and 2009]. It is a political system founded by the leader of the Revolution [Ayatollah Khomeini] whose motto was "the criterion [for acceptance of leaders] is people's vote," and defended the right of every generation to decide its own fate. In this political system, the ethnic minorities' cultures and traditions are not considered a threat to national unity.

From velvet revolution to disturbing the traffic

Tajzadeh then says that he and his comrades did not want to overthrow the system, and did not break the law. Thus, after the interrogations began, the interrogators could not defend a "one voice society," or calling their supporters "God's political parties" but those of the opposition "Satan's." They were forced to admit that they support a multi-voice society, and stated that "Kayhan's method cannot solve the problems" (referencing the daily mouthpiece of the hardliners, which accuses a vast segment of the society of being foreign agents, anti-Islamic, and anti-Iranian). He then says that he was accused of being in favor of a velvet revolution to overthrow the political system, but told them,

Be careful. This accusation is a double-edge sword that, before cutting people's hands, will cut your own, because it implies that the Islamic Republic of Iran is similar to the communist and quasi-communist regimes that were overthrown by velvet revolutions.

Tajzadeh also says that he told the interrogators,

My political system is based on the three pillars of republicanism, Islam, and Iran [-ian nationalism], which is vastly different from the communist regimes that could not interpret Marxism in a democratic way, but my system can interpret Islam in a democratic manner...

Tajzadeh continues, "I reminded the interrogators that any accusations made against us must, according to the Constitution and the relevant laws, have a legal, not ideological, basis, and even if there is a political or ideological aspect, it must be discussed freely in public, not in jail and during interrogation." He says, "If, despite its mistakes and some extreme measures, I can still defend the Islamic Republic and, at the same time, protest why [Dr. Saeed] Hajjarian's ill body [he is semi-paralyzed] was taken to prison [after last year election], why they beat up on Mehdi Karroubi's son in a mosque and insulted him [by threatening to rape him], why they beat up and wounded some of our best children whose only "sin" was insisting that their votes [be counted] and standing up for their rights, why the mourners for [Imam] Hossein were thrown off bridges [on Ashura last December] and overran some injured citizens with cars [on the same day], and committed all of these in the name of God, it is because we believe that the late leader of the Revolution who said that the shoulders of the Prophet [Muhammad] can be lashed if any right of the people is ignored. It was with such interpretations of Islam that we had the glorious Revolution, not with those of [Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi] Mesbah [Yazdi] who, at that time, was busy trying to find a way to discredit Dr. [Ali] Shariati [the distinguished philosopher and Islamic scholar] and reduce the workload for the SAVAK [the Shah's dreaded security apparatus, which also sought to discredit. Shariati]."

Note that Tajzadeh mentions disturbing the traffic, because among the accusations made against some of the reformist leaders is that they disturbed the traffic on June 15, 2009, when huge demonstrations broke out in Tehran, as the prosecutors could not find any legal base for making any other accusation!

"My Confessions"

Tajzadeh continues,

I stand in front of the young generation and declare that the political system for which we rose up in revolt [in 1979] and the Constitution for which we voted is not the same as the one that the military considers as its absolute private property, and considers itself in the same category as the armed forces of Pakistan and Turkey [that also intervene in politics]. This declaration is absolutely necessary because the image that is presented of the Islamic Republic in jails, in the official press, and elsewhere is very ugly and "Frankenstein-like." They are trying to say that the Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] was similar to [Ayatollahs] Jannati and Mesbah [Yazdi], but do not recognize that such wrong analogies will not provide a justification for their dictatorial manner and repression, but will only help make the young generation reject religion altogether, something that has, unfortunately, happened to some extent, and we were warned about by [the moderate cleric Ayatollah Morteza] Motahari...

Tajzadeh then makes one of the most important declarations that any reformist leader has made over the past two decades:

When the interrogators reminded me of some of the mistakes of the first decade of the Revolution, and called me and the followers of Imam's line -- the present reformists -- "fascists," I reminded them of the present fascistic behavior that is repeated in front of the entire nation, and explained that we all made many mistakes at that time but, today, instead of continuing the positive aspects of what we did, they are continuing the same mistakes, particularly when [unlike the 1980s] the country is not at war and not suffering from blind and broad terrorism [committed by the MKO]. "That is why we can no longer call them [what the hardliners do] errors and consider them the result of revolutionary inexperience [of the 1980s]."

Our error was that we did not resist the mistakes of the revolutionary courts [that sent thousands of political prisoners to their death], although even then it was the [followers of] the Imam's line that issued the 10-point declaration of the Prosecutor General in the Spring of 1360 [1981] [that declared that all political groups were free to be active, so long as they set aside armed struggle and were active peacefully], but could not (and the blind terrorism of 1981 and the imposed war [with Iraq] prevented us) from pursuing the declaration until all the undemocratic ways were set aside. The catastrophe is that in the era of peace and absence of terrorism, instead of expanding the freedoms, some of which had even survived the war era, a political faction is trying undemocratically and by ignoring and denying many positive achievements of the era of the sacred defense [the war with Iraq], to repeat our errors in the revolutionary era, and transform the exceptions of that era to the rules.

And then Tajzadeh says most emphatically,

Let me state it as clearly as possible, that our consenting silence regarding the [the actions of the] revolutionary courts [in the 1980s] was our mistake; but mass arrests of law-abiding critics, rendering the protesting citizens "Kahrizaki" [meaning detaining, torturing, raping, and even murdering them at detention centers such as Kahrizak], and shooting at them directly [a reference to what happened last year during the demonstrations] are so repugnant that they can no longer be referred to as "mistakes." Thus, we must confess, but not in the [Stalinist] show trials and the way the interrogators want us to confess to offenses that we have not committed, but in front of the nation and based on facts. The Revolution generation must confess, but not for its current efforts for expanding democracy and spreading [respect for] human rights [but for its past mistakes].... Of course, we have tried to learn from our mistakes, and tried to correct our behavior and thinking after the war.

At the same time I confess that if we had protested the wrong treatment that Ayatollah [Seyyed Mohammad Kazem] Shariatmadari (1905-1985) received [he was accused of being a monarchist, defrocked and put under house arrest until he passed away], in order to preserve the dignity of maraaje' [sources of emulation, meaning the grand ayatollahs], we would not have reached the present situation when the dignity of and respect for such marja' as the late Ayatollah [Hossein Ali] Montazeri [1922-2009], and Ayatollahs [Hossein] Vahid Khorasani, [Abdolkarim] Mousavi Ardabili, [Yousef] Sanei, [Asadollah] Bayat Zanjani, [Ali Mohammad] Dastgheyb Shirazi, [Jalaloddin] Taheri Esfahani, [Abdollah] Javadi Amoli.... are violated even by the Voice and Visage [the national network of radio and TV channels], and even the home and office of the Imam's grandson [Sayyed Hassan Khomeini], and the mausoleum of the Imam and even those of the late [Ayatollah Mohammad] Sadoughi [1908-1982; he was assassinated by the MKO] and [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khatami [1906-1988, father of the former president] are not safe [their gravestones were recently defaced by the hardliners]...

Thus, if there have been any mistake, and there have been, they are not those that the interrogators claim; and if we are to confess and ask for forgiveness, which we must, we must apologize for the wrong treatment that [Mehdi] Bazargan (1907-1995) and Dr. [Yadollah] Sahabi (1905-2002) received; and also apologize to all those political activists who wanted to be legally active in politics, but their [constitutional] rights were ignored by making various excuses. We must apologize to the citizens for imposing on them a certain lifestyle [rigid conservative Islamic] and interfering in their private lives. We, the average people, thought that we could close the vineyards without opening the doors of pretense. Our mistake was that we made some ordinary secular activities holy, but were ignorant of the fact that [as a result] many [really] holy things actually would become secular. Our gravest mistake was extending the political relations of the era of esmat [innocence, referring to the era of Prophet Muhammad and the Shiite Imams] to the era of gheybat [hiding, meaning the era in which Mahdi, the 12th Shiite Imam is hidden and supposedly will return someday]... the most important result of which is weakening the religious beliefs of our young people [not strengthening them].... We should have declared that, unlike all other revolutions, [in our revolution] under no condition, even during war and terrorism, violations of human rights are neither legal, nor Islamic, nor moral.... We should not have allowed the treason of some [those of the MKO] to be an excuse for our deviations from legal and human paths.

Thus, although in my opinion the necessary condition for confronting those who want to force [us] to "confess" is to reveal and condemn their acts, the sufficient condition is to ask for forgiveness from those who were truly oppressed, and accepting the fact that if we had fulfilled our moral and national duty [confronting the injustice] at the right time [in the 1980s], we would not have been trapped in the forced confession and repenting [sessions by the hardliners]. Thus, following Dr. [Ali] Shariati, I say to my generation, "father, mother, we are again the accused, not by the interrogators, but by the current generation." If we consider ourselves supporters of the Islamic Revolution and defenders of the [Ayatollah Khomeini's] principle that, "every generation must decide its own fate," we must prepare the conditions in which the promises of Neauphle-le-Château [a suburb of Paris where Ayatollah Khomeini stayed from early October 1978 to February 1, 1979, for 117 days] and Behesht-e Zahra [Tehran's main cemetery] can be materialized [in both places the Ayatollah promised a democratic political system]...

Just as we should not transfer any hatred from the jails to society, we should also not allow a repeat of the mistakes of the revolutionary era in the present times. Doing so entails accepting our own mistake and being prepared to respond to the accusations of the new generation [that we have brought the present conditions upon them]. If we do not confess our mistakes to the new generation, then the conditions will be ripe for the emergence of those who justify their graver mistakes [and crimes] by ours [in the 1980s]. We cannot claim to be adherents of the Paris declaration [by Ayatollah Khomeini in the fall of 1978] about democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, the press, political parties and the Voice and Visage, women's and ethnic rights, free elections, and republicanism and its link with Islam, but not speak out against the root cause, reasons, impediments, and mistakes that prevent these from materializing.

In other words, if the political group [the hardliners] that is carrying the flag of preventing legal political activism, has taken the election campaigners to court, and presents our mistakes of the first decade of the Revolution [in not defending freedom and justice] as the positive aspects of the Revolution, we should also declare to the Iranian nation explicitly what we consider as our mistakes and what we still proudly defend. This would be the complete opposite of what the barracks party [the military] does in pretending that the mistakes of the first decade of the Revolution and repeating them are the only "revolutionary" way to protect the political establishment, and try to close the doors forever on the free press, free political parties, and free election.

I do not accept the invitation [of the interrogators to "confess"], and instead, consider it my duty to respond to the questions of the young generation as to why and how in the political system that was formed as a result of one of the most popular revolutions of the contemporary era, the thinking of [Ayatollah] Mesbah [Yazdi] rules and replaces the parliamentary way of [another cleric, Sayyed Hassan] Modarres (1870-1937) [the progressive cleric who was murdered by Reza Shah of the Pahlavi dynasty]. How the official media used by some to refer to a great majority of the people "dust" [what Ahmadinejad did last year after his "victory"], ship, and kid and, instead of apologizing for their illegal acts, try to jail the election campaign activists [the reformists] in solitary confinement and force them to apologize [for what they have not committed]. Why the mistakes of the courts in the first decade of the Revolution re-emerged in the person of [Saeed] Mortazavi [the notorious former Tehran Prosecutor]. Why the [national] television that broadcast the free political debates of the spring of 1360 [1981] has become the Voice and Visage of today. Why the Kayhan of Sayyed Mohammad Khatami [when he was the editor in the 1980s] became the Kayhan of Hossein Shariatmadari [the present managing editor, and a most notorious figure]. How Sadegh Larijani has replaced [the former judiciary chief Ayatollah] Dr. [Sayyed Mohammad Hosseini] Beheshti (1928-1981) [who was likely assassinated by the MKO], and [Mohammad Reza] Rahimi [Ahmadinejad's first Vice President who has been accused of vast corruption] has replaced the Imam's prime minister [Mousavi]. How Sayyed Ahmad Khatami [the hardline cleric with relation to Mohammad Khatami] replaced [the former leader of Friday prayer of Tehran Ayatollah Sayyed Mahmoud] Taleghani (1911-1979) [a popular and progressive cleric]. We should apologize for our share in creating this situation, and discuss its root cause and reasons.

Apologizing to the new generation should not be limited to the cases [mistakes] that I have briefly described. We must do so in an atmosphere of debate and exchange of ideas, and there may be many other mistakes that I am not aware of, but the new generation can, by their [constructive] criticism make me aware of them.

Regardless of what happens to Tajzadeh, one thing is clear: He is a patriot who has served his nation with honor and dignity, has made great sacrifices, and has always been a proud reformer and advocate of a democratic Iran. His manifesto and utter honesty in admitting the mistakes that the reformists made surely represents a watershed moment in the history of the reformist/Green/democratic movement, and will be immensely helpful to it.

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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