Sep 25, 2007

What a Relief... "No Gays in Iran," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian President Tells the World. Who's Next?

Now that the president of Iran has spoken at Columbia University and later at the UN's General Assembly, I feel vindicated that sometimes it's worthwhile to give a public forum to persons like him. Why not? What are we afraid of? The appeal of his demagogy? His radiant personality, or the power of his arguments?

The absurdities, even offensive, should be made public so people can judge for themselves. Of course, after a point--when everybody knows about the nature of the speaker and his/her arguments--we should find better things to do with out time instead of paying attention to Ahmadinejads, Coulters, and O'Reillys--just to name a few wingnuts.

On the other hand, it's sad that so many modern humans fall for all that garbage uttered by such wackos. The latter would irrelevant if they were largely ignored. In an open, tolerant society, democracy is good, but it can't exist without the commitment and responsibility of its citizens. And, you know, having a critical mind helps a lot!

The Iranian president's visit to Columbia was important. We demonstrate that we value free speech, while we still can challenge bigotry and other fallacies of the mind. If we (and I believe we do) have better arguments for having a liberal democracy instead of the islamist authoritarian government of Mr. Ahmadinejad, then we shouldn't be afraid of engaging our adversaries. A liberal democracy allows for individual freedom (including personal life-style choices), for separation of church & state, and for open debate in the marketplace of ideas.

A couple centuries ago, liberalism began to replace the Old Regime in the western world. The Old Regime [the old way of organizing human societies] had two main characteristics: Religious conformity and ascribed status. Religious conformity meant serious trouble for those of a different faith, or, more accurately, those of a different sect. There was no separation of church/state. Ascribed status meant nobility not mobility. Every person was born in a particular station in society and remained there from cradle to grave. The "special people" ruled by divine right, and even society was thought to be divinely ordained. The elites for obvious reasons perpetuated this scheme. The Church, already holding a privileged position, told the masses that, if they behaved in a certain way, their rewards would come in the ..future, after death!

Fortunately, liberalism, bolstered by the Enlightenment and Newtonian science, offered an alternative: a society with conditions that gave the individual the best chances to achieve his/her own bliss; opportunities to a better self-fulfillment. It was also a more successful model for prosperity as societies that organized themselves on the principles of liberalism flourished.

The other important aspect of liberalism is that it accommodates progress. From the scientific reasoning & method, to an ever-changing (and hopefully) improving society. It fosters the conditions that allow people to be creative, to think for themselves, to inquiry about the world, to challenge old "divine" notions about human nature, purpose of life, and even the nature of God (or the absence thereof).

However, the Old Regime has not disappeared. It exists in Mr. Ahmadinejad's Iran and in many other countries in this 21st century. Unfortunately, it also has many supporters in the US. OK, they don't want an islamist state here, but if you changed this word to Christian theocracy, it'd fit nicely. Just watch the O'Reillys, the Robertsons/Falwells, etc, etc, etc, and the millions of Americans who believe this crap. Yes, it's worrisome that the majority of Americans (US) believe that Jesus will return to Earth sometime in their life time! [read: end of the world as we know it]

While we condemn the brutality and the bigotry of people like Ahmadinejad, we should be more vigilant in protecting and enhancing our liberal democracy here at home. Lead by example, not just by rhetoric. That's why we cannot afford to be tourists in our own country. The quality of our democracy depends on the quality of people involved in it.

Even people in parts of the globe that don't have anything near to what we have here can see that human dignity and a quality of life has a better chance in a liberal democracy than under Big Brother. Not every person will readily accept a system that allows challenges and requires responsibility, but more and more people see the advantages of such. For example, the Eastern Bloc countries were rocked by revolutions some 15 years ago as their citizens realized that "their enemies" had better lives! The "peoples' government" had failed to provide while it required total obedience and sacrifices. Those governments had the monopoly of power, the monopoly of truth, while brutally suppressing their people and anything else they didn't like.

When and if [since the Iranian president told us there aren't such persons in his country] the first homosexuals, infidels, dissenters of all stripes appear in Iran, the liberal democracies can be a beacon of freedom that lies on the other side of their fence. Maybe, then, there will be some hope for progressive change and a path to a better life. Because, hope for a better world is a great motivator.

UPDATE, 9/28/07
Wait, maybe Ahmadinejad has now found some gays in Iran! Until he takes care of this ..problem, and for accurancy's sake, he removed the following denial of homosexual presence: "In Iran we do not have this phenomenon, I don't know who has told you that we have it," from the official transcript.