Sunday 12 June 2011

Regimes in Perpetuity

This might seem like a trivial post but a recent run-in with an Iranian regime propagandist made me make the simple case for self-determination. The argument is not one of benefits, utility, fundamental protection of rights but just a simple argument about what self-determination is. (And hence the lack of links). A couple of things need to me made clear: this is not a discussion about whether there is sufficient support for the Iranian regime. The following arguments are made on both the assumption that a regime can have 99% or 1% support. Similarly, they are not about policies but about the systems and processes which give rise to them. Nor is it about getting into the actual credibility of elections. 

The argument that was presented to me was: if people accept an Islamic system, then the system will dictate who is fit to govern and therefore, candidates can be eliminated on the basis of that system (see quotes below). There are several issues with this argument; firstly, allowing people to choose once what system they want and thereby forbid any change in that system thereafter has several effects: (1) not only does it bind the entirety of the people, (2) it silences those who originally or start to disagree with it who are in a minority.

(1) Does one bind oneself in entering, what is in essence, a contract in perpetuity? Yes; by accepting the system – and then having a conversion from Shia Islam to Sunni Islam or to Judaism – while one can in theory change opinions, it will mean that the ability to form a new system is eradicated because this system only allows those who are vetted enter its framework. And it just so happens that it does not allow those who support a new system. Mill put it accurately:

He therefore defeats, in his own case, the very purpose which is the justification of allowing him to dispose of himself. He is no longer free; but is thenceforth in a position which has no longer the presumption in its favour, that would be afforded by his voluntarily remaining in it. The principle of freedom cannot require that he should be free not to be free. It is not freedom, to be allowed to alienate his freedom.

(2) A possible response to the argument above is that ‘the majority accept it’ and if they did not, then the legitimacy would be gone. But this misses the point, and indeed, makes for a more worrying picture: the argument above was talking about an individual forfeiting his rights to change a system based on his own assessment. The argument, here, however is that a majority can choose a system in which the minority are bound by (and I strongly emphasise system). This takes away the possibility to have a potential minority have their voices heard in the process. Self-determination is not simply mob-rule and then silencing the minority based on that vote.

It also raises the question: if one is confident that the majority will accept those candidates, why is it even necessary to block those advocating a new system? Why is it necessary to have an a priori system at all? Cut the middle man and have an open, fair, democratic process. This is not to say that the laws passed will be good laws, of course. I am fairly confident that this country is a nation which mostly accepts personal freedom and accepts private property; I have no need to ban socialists. By having an open system, what I support and what the majority support is put into practice without having to deprive potential minorities. 

And thus lies Iran; the unelected Guardian Council vets candidates thereby stalling the system; 2,500 reformists in the 2004 parliamentary elections, 1,700 in 2008 parliamentary elections, 471 in the 2009 presidential elections. And even then, the unelected clown in chief will get his way against even the vetted successful candidates. This is partly why the 2009 elections legitimacy shouldn't be overstated: all of them lack openess and fairness.  

The internal coherency of the propagandistic arguments is close to nothing: while debating, there are various circularities. These are quotes (with fixed punctuation and spelling): 
(a) People decide whether they want an Islamic system or not once they have, then Islam decides everything else. There is no need for a referendum... Islam chooses the best leader for you. Not you. You can choose whether you want Islam or not.
(b) [If] the majority don’t want it, then religiously the govt. becomes illegitimate and it is an obligation for those in charge to step down

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