Danny Postel: You’ve talked about a “renaissance of liberalism” taking place in Iran. Can you talk about this “renaissance”? Where does liberalism stand in Iranian intellectual and political life today?
Ramin Jahanbegloo: Sartre starts his essay “The Republic of Silence” in a very provocative manner, saying, “We were never more free than under the German occupation.” By this, Sartre understands that each gesture had the weight of a commitment during the Vichy period in France. I always repeat this phrase in relation to Iran. It sounds very paradoxical, but “We have never been more free than under the Islamic Republic”. By this I mean that the day Iran is democratic, Iranian intellectuals will put less effort into struggling for the idea of democracy and for liberal values. In Iran today, the rise of hedonist and consumerist individualism, spurred by the pace of urbanization and instrumental modernization after the 1979 Revolution, was not accompanied by a wave of liberal measures. In the early days of the Revolution, liberals were attacked by Islamic as well as leftist groups as dangerous enemies and betrayers of the Revolution. The American hostage crisis sounded the death knell for the project of liberalism in Iran.
But in recent years, with the empowerment of Iranian civil society and the rise of a new generation of post-revolutionary intellectuals, liberal ideas have found a new vibrant life among many intellectuals and students.
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