May 14, 2003
Iran va Jahan
In this important battle for civilization and against the annihilation of our ways of life, Iran plays a fantastic and central role. On one hand, because it was from Iran than the third major totalitarian wave, that of ?green? fascism, was initiated, and, on the hand, because it is Iran that can stop it and serve as the example of a great victory over nihilism, terrorism, and the will to destroy. It is therefore very clear that what is unfolding in Iran concerns, of course, Iranians themselves, but not just Iranians. Iran is one of the great theatres of a universal battle opposing civilization to nihilism.
The interview you are about to read was conducted in French on May 1st, 2003. André Glucksmann, needless to say, is one of France's most renowned philosophers. Throughout recent crises he has consistently been an outspoken advocate of the "devoir d'ingérence" or the "duty to interfere".
Ramin Parham (RP) : 25 years ago, Khomeini gained power in Iran. At the time, Michel Foucault brought him, temporarily, his support. Could you relate this episode and what motivated the great French philosopher's support?
André Glucksmann (AG) : At the time, Michel Foucault and I were close friends and we had decided to go around the world, on different fields, in order to produce philosophical documentaries and determine issues that were not understood by western opinion in general and the French one in particular. It was in that context that I went to Malaysia to rescue the boat people who, at their risk, were fleeing Vietnam. One could say that it was a reversal of the known and dominant opinions regarding the war in Vietnam. Most French, including the French right and myself, were, on that particular issue, rather anti-Americans. Evidently, the fact that Vietnam was developing into a totalitarian dictatorship rendered the context more intricate. It was this kind of field work which I protracted, in the continuance of my support of Soljenitsyne and other dissidents, in my cooperation with physicians, with Sartre and Aron, who, although with differing views on Vietnam war, agreed on the principal to rescue the boat people and condemn the Gulag style totalitarianism of communist Vietnamese. Similarly, Michel Foucault took the road to Iran, in the midst of the upheaval, in order to reflect upon a phenomenon that went largely beyond all known political and philosophical categories which once were the vogue. He named this event "spiritual revolution". It, indeed, was a revolution but, of course, not of the sort of 1789, nor that of the 20th century, Marxist or Leninist or even third-world like ones, i.e., military and secular. Therefore, what Foucault was facing was a new phenomenon and he decided to strike his analysis while the iron was hot. At the time, his analysis made a scandal. So, of course, we can say that he made a mistake. I would rather say that, far from being mistaken in everything, he drew, from a profound intuition, the wrong conclusions. For, the idea that the event in question was a fundamental one was right. But the idea according to which, that event constituted a positive substitute to the failure of previous socialist and Marxist revolutions was quite obviously wrong. No more than previous revolutions, did the Islamic one open the door to a new world, nor to an unprecedented society, nor did it fundamentally transform Man. As with any other totalitarian revolution of the 20th century, the Islamic revolution opened to hell. But, Foucault's mistake was not peculiar to him. Rather, it was a shared one among most human rights activists, even in Iran. Moreover, the mistake was quite rapidly corrected, for, with regard to the course of events, Foucault condemned the new religious totalitarianism of the mullahs.
(RP) : The 20th century was, in part, that of the struggle which opposed liberal democracies to "brown" and "red" fascisms. What does "green" fascism consist of? What are the challenges that it poses us at the turn of this new century? What are its origins?
(AG) : I did not wait for the 21st century to develop the idea that, all things considered, we faced in the 20th century, three revolutionary waves, the Bolshevik, the fascist, and the Islamist one, and that all three phenomena were quite similar. Although, one could say that in their ideals they were irreconcilable, in their practice however, these revolutions were all totalitarian and profoundly nihilistic. So, it comes as no surprise that, once between Stalin and Hitler, and today between Marxists and khomeinists, there be not only exchanges and rivalries, but even imitations.
(RP) : While the " vox populi demands regime change " (6) in Iran, Tehran's theocrats, in the name of what they call "religious democracy", deny their own people what they preach for others. How should one understand this lack of consistency in the political discourse?
(AG) : This is up to the demagogues and their incoherence on one side, and Iranians on the other. I call democracy, the recourse to elections and certainly not just to the power of the streets. I call democracy, the possibility of change and rotation [in power], which, in the same sense used by Aristotle, means that the governed should have the possibility to become governors, and the governors becoming governed. And this rotation [of power], which supposes a representative regime, also implies a certain number of basic rights, allowing an opposition to become for the first time, or regain it in case it once had it, the [political] majority. Elementary rights that implicate the freedom of speech, the freedom of movement, and that of the press and televised media. In short, all conditions, absent from what the mullahs wrongly call "religious democracy", which tends to be a theocracy, and for which democrats are struggling in Iran.
(RP) : In this context, how do you see the Anglo-Saxon notion of "accountability", or the responsibility of governors vis-à-vis the governed, or if you prefer, the transparency of governance ?
(AG) : Democracy does not come at once. The bottom line of the reasoning behind democracy is that given by Churchill, i.e., democracy is not a perfect regime; democracy is even the worst of all regimes exclusive of all others, as unfortunately, we live the experience every once in a while. This is not Churchill's invention, but that of the Greek, Aristotle in particular, who believed that "the best of governments is not the government of the best but that of those concerned by the government, i.e., all the citizens". Democracy is essentially founded on a number of elementary rights, themselves based upon the consideration of the infernos from which these rights are supposed to provide us with a rampart and a bulwark (7). Democracy's elementary rights, the Human Rights, are barricades erected against intolerance, against the inferno of dictatorships and tyrannies. France, in its 1793 Constitution, proclaims that "the necessity to declare these Rights [Human Rights] shall be understood solely upon [and as a result of the fact of] the experience of despotism"?democracy is the anti-despotism. Of course, despotism changes with time. In the 20th century, we have totalitarian despotism that completely suppress the difference between private life and public life. In this, they are innovating in a rather catastrophic way. One can suppress this difference in the name of science, race, or in the name God. But, the result remains the same, that of an absolute oppression. Democracy in the 21st century, is the comprehensive set of barriers erected against the permanent threat of secular or religious totalitarianism.
(RP) : Of 65 million Iranians, 22 millions are aged 14 to 29. Confronted with the isolation of their country, drogues, unemployment, and the absence of fundamental liberties?many have their eyes turned to the [outside] world, particularly to the west. These young form the backbone of what is known as the "third force", spearheaded by the students. What concluding words do you have for Iranian students and intellectuals?
(AG) : I would say that the world too, has its eyes turned upon them, in the sense that they are one of the main keys of the battle which, in my opinion, will cover the entire 21st century, opposing civilization to nihilism. By nihilism, I understand the capacity to destroy and massively devastate to the brink of risking the end of the world, either by a sudden nuclear explosion, or rather, by successive steps. We witnessed, at the end of the 20th century, in Rwanda, a genocide carried out by rudimentary tools, knives and sickles?We also witnessed, at the onset of the 21st century, the most monstrous terrorist attack of the entire human history being committed with a few plane tickets, some pilot training courses, and a few cutters. Inhabitants of earth called the devastated area in Manhattan, "Ground Zero". Nobody claimed any copyright. Everyone agreed upon the designation. Which clearly expressed a unanimous intuition. That of a horizon where a destructive power, suddenly unleashed, can cause monstrous devastation. The first area called "Ground Zero" was the experimental space, in New Mexico, where the last mini nuclear bomb had been tested prior to Hiroshima. In a certain way, designating Manhattan "Ground Zero", means that we live in the possibility of a Hiroshima within the reach of many hands, many purses, and many lunatics. The possibility of the progressive annihilation of humanity which is no longer the monopoly of seven or eight nuclear powers, but within the reach of just about anybody. This threat of annihilation, which, in the footsteps of Dostoïevski, I call the menace of nihilism, is the horizon of the 21st century. We will not eradicate them by simply putting an end to Ben Laden's cluster of small bands of terrorists or the sanctuaries Saddam Hussein wanted to create. We will have this menace in front of us all the way through the present century, so long as the century survives the threat. In this important battle for civilization and against the annihilation of our ways of life, Iran plays a fantastic and central role. On one hand, because it was from Iran than the third major totalitarian wave, that of "green" fascism, was initiated, and, on the hand, because it is Iran that can stop it and serve as the example of a great victory over nihilism, terrorism, and the will to destroy. Consider the case of Iraq as an example. The destiny of Iraq is now open, liberated for the best or the worst, and essentially relying on the hands of Iraqis themselves. It is quite clear that if Iran succeed in implementing democracy within its own boundaries, the future of Iraq will become, as a correlative, happier and delivered from yet another theocracy. It is therefore very clear that what is unfolding in Iran concerns, of course, Iranians themselves, but not just Iranians. Iran is one of the great theatres of a universal battle opposing civilization to nihilism.
(RP) : In this battle, can the Iranian people count on the moral support of the west ?
(AG) : I am sorry to say this, but, as the west often shows its preference to "make tea and not war", I am afraid that Iranians will have at first, to count on themselves and themselves alone.