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Abulhassan Banisadr: The view from exile | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Asharq Al-Awsat’s rédacteur en chef (droite) à Paris avec l’ancien président de la République islamique d’Iran (gauche)

Asharq Al-Awsat editor-in-chief in Paris with former president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Asharq Al-Awsat editor-in-chief in Paris with former president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat—The revolution that overthrew the shah of Iran in 1979 has been called one of the pivotal events in world history. However, like many other revolutions, the forces it unleashed subsequently destroyed many of those who had taken part in it and sacrificed much to see it succeed.

Abulhassan Banisadr managed to escape the whirlpool of revolutionary turmoil that followed the downfall of the shah, despite serving at the heart of Iran’s first post-revolution government. After fleeing Iran for the first time in the early 1960s as a result of his anti-shah activism, he returned to Tehran at the side of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, and he became the first president of the new Islamic Republic of Iran in 1980. He fled Iran once more in 1981, prior to his impeachment and arrest, as groups loyal to Khomeini strengthened their hold on power.

It is perhaps appropriate that Banisadr returned to Paris, the home of another famous revolution that consumed itself, where today he remains in exile. Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to the former president about his assessment of Iran today, the forthcoming presidential elections, and his time in exile.

Asharq Al-Awsat: What is your view of the Guardian Council’s decision to reject the candidacies of Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mashaei? Do you think we will see a repeat of the 2009 crisis surrounding the election results?

President Abulhassan Banisadr: The current elections have many unique features that the previous elections did not share. For example, in this election velayat-e faqih [guardianship of the jurist] is at issue, as is the successor to Mr. Khamenei.

Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani’s daughter said recently that her father was rejected because of his age. She said that there are others who have greater burdens on their shoulders and who are also older and sicker. There is nobody but Mr. Khamenei in this state. That is to say, Khamenei is sick and [choosing] his successor is the greatest problem facing this regime. Mr. Rafsanjani could pose many challenges; that is one of the peculiarities [of the current elections].

A second unique feature is that the “nuclear crisis,” with the accompanying sanctions and threat of war, is unprecedented. Mr. Khamenei implemented certain policies, and so if the people choose a [new] president, it signifies that they have rejected Mr. Khamenei’s politics. He cannot accept such a rejection, given the current state of things.

Third, four years ago, the people played a role in the internal balance of power of the regime. Khamenei paid a very high price for allowing that. This time, he is refusing to let the people play the same role. That is why anyone who could have represented an alternative viewpoint has been rejected as a candidate.

The fourth unique feature is that the regime is paralyzed at its core. The proof is that four year after Ahmadinejad’s initial election, he had only been able to pass a single law, namely the law to provide financial assistance to families, and this law was not a success. The economic crisis is grave; that’s why you see all of the candidates speaking solely of the economy.

The rejection of Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mashaei [as candidates] demonstrates that Khamenei is very panicked because of this internal division in the regime. Again, this time, it is the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) who are dominating the state and the economy. Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani said that the IRGC want the entire state. They want to dominate the entire state; they don’t want to share power.

Q: Do you think that this will be a qualitative change, in the sense that it will be difficult for the IRGC to choose a replacement after the departure of Khamenei?

They need that legitimacy, that’s why they need Mr. Khamenei. If he were to die, they would find another mullah, whomever it may be, to permit the IRGC to govern without being considered illegitimate. In my opinion, it’s not actually Khamenei who governs; it is the IRGC. It is like an armed political party that has both the economy and the state under its thumb, and this party is internally divided.

We can see three broad groupings. One of these is composed of the followers of Mr. Khamenei. They have everything in their grasp and they are dominant. Another group opposes the first; they support Ahmadinejad or Hashemi Rafsanjani or the reformists. There is a third group that thinks the situation is serious and that things cannot continue as they are. [The leaders of these groups] went to see Khamenei, but he said to them, ‘I am the commander in chief, and I know what I’m doing.’

Q: There are eight prominent candidates who are running in the presidential elections, including Rouhani and Ali Akbar Velayati; however, it seems that Jalili has emerged as the front-runner. Does this mean he is also the supreme leader’s candidate?

You know that, in the beginning, it was Qalibaf. Once, in Italy, he even said, ‘I have obtained the agreement of the supreme leader.’ And the IRGC spent a lot to ensure he was approved as a candidate: in Tehran, they made roads, canals, many things. But a part of the IRGC does not agree with [Qalibaf], and they have presented Jalili as their president.

It appears… that Mojtaba, Khamenei’s son, is actually for Qalibaf. But everything will change, and we will see this in the 24 hours [before] the elections: at that moment, we will know who will become president.

Everything has already been decided. See, they are eight [candidates] now; they are eight masks for a single character. Everything depends on Khamenei.

Q: In 1981, you said that the people would rise up due to the economic situation, the war with Iraq and the regime’s repression of its own people. But that never happened…

The coup d’état against me—that is to say, in truth, against the revolution and the democratic experience—is the most bloodthirsty our history has ever known. Such a coup, with so much blood… From 1981 until today, the execution machine has never stopped. [There are] continually massacres in different villages; terror in different cities around the world… All of this is to say that essentially, the people resisted in a manner that nobody could have wanted.

Look, Mr. Khamenei is afraid of people who oppose him, people like Masahei and Hashemi Rafsanjani. Still, Hashemi Rafsanjani is the symbol of crime, of corruption, of treason, of the eight-year war…. Right now, the people consider an independent candidate to be someone more or less independent of Khamenei. Khamenei is afraid of the people, and so he rejected these two people [Mashaei and Hashemi Rafsanjani].

Thus, you see that I was right when I said that the people would rise up. They have risen up, and it continues—the uprising continues.

Q: There have been revolts in the Arab world over the past two years; some have said these are similar to the 2009 protests in Iran. Do you think the result of the current elections will cause the Iranian people to rise up again?

In Iran, elections are set up. The people already know who will become president. They know that whoever becomes president will be nothing but a tool in the hands of Khamenei.

What prevents the people from taking action in the final stage is that they are afraid. They are afraid of the situation in Syria. They are afraid that Iran will become nothing but another Afghanistan, another Syria, another Iraq. That’s why, in my opinion, change may take a while, but it will certainly happen.

Q: Turning to Syria, Iran is conducting an open war there in front of the eyes of the international community, utilizing Hezbollah and other Iranian and Iraqi factions. Do you think this will have a negative impact on Tehran’s future interests?

To begin, I must say that the Syrian people are very unfortunate, because Syria has become the battlefield for an international war. It’s not only Iran and Hezbollah who are there, the United States is present, as is Europe and the Gulf states…everybody is there. It is, for me, something truly regrettable. I think that the Arab world must solve the problem, and not allow everyone to go in with weapons in hand.

With regard to Iran, I am for the principle of independence. This means that no country has the right to interfere in the affairs of another country. Thus, I do not agree with what Iran is doing in Syria, just like I do not agree with what others are doing in Syria. So this will certainly have an impact on Iran.

What this regime is doing, as the Arab world and other countries in the world see it… They think that the Iranian [people] are doing this. The Iranians do not agree. Even more, when they demonstrate, they tell [the Iranian regime]: “Instead of occupying yourself with Syria, occupy yourself with us.”

Q: For many years, the IRGC has spent huge amounts of money on overseas operations. Some have even advanced the idea that the Syrian conflict is actually part of an economic war of attrition against Iran.

Iran has supported Hezbollah with arms and money. That’s not new; everyone knows this. They say: ‘You see, Hezbollah is the only group that stood up to Israel, and that means that Iran had reason to do so.’ I cannot help but respect Hezbollah’s dedication to its resistance against Israel. But at what price? The people need independence, liberty and progress. I don’t agree that an armed group should replace civil society. I see that the Lebanese people are neither truly independent nor free. The result—the organization of Hezbollah and providing them with arms and finances—is not worth much if one must sacrifice the liberty, independence, and progress of a people.

For the same reason, I am against the armed struggles in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Iraq—I am for people taking control of their fate. A wartime economy ruins all our countries; the state of Iran’s economy is proof of that.

Q: In August 1981, our colleague, Amir Taheri, wrote in Al-Majalla about the heavy protection that French authorities granted you due to fears over your life. This protection remains in place today. Does the Iranian regime truly fear figures, such as you, who are abroad?

When I left Iran, I said that I came to France to reveal the organic relationship between Khomeneism and Reaganism, and I continued to uncover the secret compromise with Reagan and Bush over the American hostages and Irangate [the Iran–Contra scandal].

They were daily threats back then. French police arrested someone who came to France with a suitcase of explosives to kill me. The police did not disclose his identity, but the newspapers said he was Iranian.

But now, the regime is afraid, because it is afraid of the alternative, because it knows very well that it cannot continue to govern through this deadlock. It shows that fear through the propaganda it disseminates on a daily basis. For example, the most recent was a film that they made and broadcast on television, a so-called documentary that compared Ahmadinejad and myself, particularly as I opposed Khomeini and Ahmadinejad opposes Khamenei. We are speaking about just a small part of the official propaganda—radio, television, newspapers, Friday prayers—concerning myself. That tells you something.

Q: Over the past thirty years, has the regime tried to reconcile with you or open the door to dialogue? Or do you categorically refuse this?

At the time of Mr. Khomeini yes. Three months after the end of the war, Khomeini sent someone to my home. That someone was Mr. Misbahi, who testified in the Mykonos trial. He came to my place and invited me to return to Iran. He told me that ‘Mr. Khomeini says you should come back; we will do anything you want.’

I told him: ‘I don’t want anything but liberty, and I do not need to return to Iran for that. It is the people who must have their liberty. Give them their liberty, and I will come back.’ I told this gentleman to go tell Mr. Khomeini that it is in ‘your interests, the interests of Islam and the interest of the Iranian people, for you to go on television and give your excuses to the Iranian people, and to apologize for everything you have done.’

That would have been a spiritual explosion, but if he was ready to apologize, I would have returned. [I told Mr. Misbahi,] ‘I know that you have lost the war, that is why he [Khomeini] sent you to me. He lost the war, thus my return has meaning. We could reconstruct the country with independence and liberty.’ Mr. Misbahi said to me, ‘Can you give me a written list that I can take to him [Khomeini]?’ I told him, ‘No, I am not going to write anything for you. I just told you everything I have to say.’

He came back maybe a month later— First, I must tell you that Misbahi could not return to France, because he had been expelled. So I asked a lawyer, who was my friend, to contact the French government, first so the government knew that Mr. Khomeini sent this person to my home, and so they could give him [Misbahi] a visa to come visit me. That is why French government agents met him at the airport and brought him to my home. I was interviewed and I said, ‘Mr. Khomeini sent this gentleman to my home, so he cannot be denied.’

A month later, he came back and he [delivered a message from Khomeini]: ‘Tell my son’—I had become his “son” again—‘that the situation is not good. Come back to Iran and I assure you that I will do everything you ask.’

Q: However Khomeini would always call you insulting names; he called you mounafiq (hypocrite) and personally attacked you. How, then, could he send you polite messages and call you “my son” at precisely the same time?

He never called me mounafiq. That was Rajavi and his group; he called them mounafiqeen, not me. But I could see that he wanted to fool me, to take me to Iran. He knew he would end the war in defeat, and he did not want someone like me to knock him for having lost a war that we had already won eight years before. The proof for this is that when Mr. Misbahi went to give him my response, he did the opposite, giving the order for detainees in several prisons across Iran to be killed instead of opening the political horizons of the country. Four thousand prisoners were executed.

There was no softening of our relationship. The only thing he wanted was my return to Iran, under his control, to then to eventually assassinate me. In our history, and in other histories, it is normal that those who govern bring their enemies [under control] and assassinate them. For example, Saddam brought his sons-in-law back from Jordan and assassinated them.

Q: Some people have accused you of having been in contact with Saddam Hussein. Is this true?

That is not true, but after the first war between the US and Iraq, a Frenchman came to see me. He told me, ‘Mr. Saddam is inviting you to Iraq. He will receive and welcome you like a head of state, with all the ceremony that requires.’

I told him that ‘Mr. Khomeini could not use me for his purposes; what makes you think you can? Instead of me coming to Iraq, I propose you [Saddam] do something that only you can: establish democracy. I do not mean right away, but in time. Without democracy, you cannot govern Iraq. You have lost two wars, you have caused a lot of damage to the Iraqi people, and you have the world on your back. How can you govern in this situation?’ Unfortunately, he did not listen to me—and we know how that ended.

Q: Can we compare the Ba’ath party, in both its Iraqi and Syrian incarnations, with the doctrine of the IRGC?

As a doctrine, no, but as an organization, yes. The Iranian regime imitated the repressive Iraqi and Syrian organizations. But now it has surpassed them—now, it is Iran that teaches repression to the Syrian regime.

Q: There have been many opponents of the regime since the time of the shah until now. Why have they not formed a unified opposition during the last 30 years?

First, what does “opposition” signify? When you are “opposed,” you define yourself as being in opposition to the “other.” The “other” here is the regime. “Opposition” in the West has meaning because the system [of government] is accepted by everyone. For example, in France, Mr. Hollande governs, and the Right is the opposition.

Do we accept the Iranian system? No. Therefore, we define ourselves as being for democracy. We consider the regime an obstacle that must be removed, and [because we support] democracy, we democrats do not oppose one another. As for those who consider themselves the opposition but depend on Western countries, like the monarchists, like Mr. Rajavi and his group: how do you suggest we form a union with those who do not know what democracy is, and who are affiliated to foreign parties?

Q: Leader of the National Council of Resistance of Iran and wife of the MEK leader Maryam Rajavi recently said that the Arab Spring will hit Tehran, and that the opposition—represented by the MEK—are prepared to be an alternative to the regime. Do you think there are truly those who view them as a viable alternative? Do you think you yourself are one of these alternatives?

Definitely, I consider myself an alternative, and equally I consider all democratic movements as alternatives. But why would we want to consider a group that depended on Saddam, throughout the years he was in power, and then announces that it wants to play the role of lobbyist to Washington. Is this the alternative to the Iranian regime? A lobby group in Washington’s hands?

Q: The EU, and lately Washington, no longer classify MEK as a terrorist group. Is this a sign regarding a possible future role?

I know, yes. That is to say, when you depend on an external power, one day you are a terrorist, another day you are not. That’s why these groups have no base in Iran, because they don’t represent the pride of a people. Iranians cannot accept submitting to foreign powers; it’s impossible.

Don’t forget that we have had three revolutions in one century, and in each of those revolutions our slogan was ‘Independence and Liberty.’ How do you think that a group so dependent on outside powers could be acceptable to a people whose slogan was, and remains, ‘Independence and Liberty?’

Q: There were student demonstrations in 1996, and you have written and said that you saw a glimmer of hope at the time. Do you believe in the possibility of reforming the regime from within?

One of the slogans of the Iranian people’s protests against the rigged elections four years ago was ‘Where is my ballot?’ That means, ‘I accept the regime, but I don’t accept [electoral] fraud.’ That is a big difference from the slogan of the Egyptian people when they took to the streets, which was ‘Mubarak, leave!’ That’s why the [Iranian] regime could suppress this movement. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is that you cannot reform a system in a way that contradicts its fundamental principles. The axis of this regime is velayat-e faqih [guardianship of the jurist]. How could you reform against this axis? It’s impossible. But reforming around this axis is possible, that is to say, you could change the way velayat-e faqih is established. This is particularly the case as velayat-e faqih, in its current form, is based on the rule of
Khatami and Khamenei, and now, the state is in [Khamenei’s] hands.

Thus, reform is meaningless. That is why the reformists cannot explain what “reform” is. Sometimes, they speak of structural reform without explaining what it means or what they have in mind. For example, they sometimes come to meet with me and they say, ‘You know it means to do away with velayat-e faqih.’ But when they speak in public they say, ‘No, we are reformist; and the constitution grants sufficient powers for reform.’ However they never explain how, because they know that the constitution, in fact, does not permit this.

Q: Did you have any contact with the reformists in Iran during this whole period, for example in 1996? Are you in contact with them? Are they in contact with you?

Yes, beginning four years ago.

Q: Have they invited you to return to Iran?

No, they have not invited me. But my friends in Iran sometimes have contact, explanations and so on…because for us, defending human rights is a priority. When human rights are at risk, it does not matter who defends them. That is why we defend, for example, Mir-Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi and others, where their human rights are concerned.

Q: What is your view of the different presidential eras that succeeded your own?

There is a general feature, so to speak. First, there was myself [as president] and Khomeini [as Supreme Guide]; then Khamenei [as president] and Khomeini; then Hashemi Rafsanjani [as president] and Khamenei [as Supreme Guide]; then Khatami and Khamenei; and finally Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. There has never been any opposition between one and the other. This shows that the republic cannot reconcile itself with the principal of velayat-e faqih.

So as far as these elections are concerned, take, for example, Jalili. He went to Qom, and said that a president has no opinions of his own: he is there to obey the supreme leader. That says that the republic does not exist any longer, and it is now nothing but a word without meaning.

Mr. Rafsanjani, however, differs from Khamenei and Ahmadinejad in that he is one of the people responsible for this situation. He was the architect of the coup against me. After that, there were eight years of war that ended in terror. He was the one who made Khamenei the supreme leader, by presenting a letter from Khomeini to Ayatollah Meshkini, who at the time was the president of the Assembly of Experts. The letter said that the next Supreme Guide did not have to be one of the Ala’am Al-Mujtahideen (most learned clerics). I had this letter authenticated by two international experts, and both of them said that it was not Mr. Khomeini’s writing. Le Monde also published that evaluation at the time.

Hashemi Rafsanjani said to a former provincial governor recently, ‘You know that I brought Khamenei from Mashhad [Iran’s second city, where he was born], that I made him a member of the Council of the Islamic Revolution, and you know how I made him supreme leader.’ That’s the truth. The corruption also originates in his era, as does the so-called military–financial mafia; this all began during Rafsanjani’s rule. Compared to him, Khatami was more obedient to the supreme leader—or, we could say, less opposed. He was not corrupt, but we could say he was weaker with regard to Khamenei than Rafsanjani.

Ahmadinejad is a whole other phenomenon, because he was trained by these gentlemen—Khamenei and Khatami and Rafsanjani. He was a student at the time of the revolution. He embodies the regime; he was made by it. He lies like them and so easily that we imagine he only speaks the truth, but he knows—and those who listen know—that he is lying. For him, nothing but power has any meaning. It’s the same with Rafsanjani.

Q: Were you surprised by Ahmadinejad’s rebellion against Khamenei?

No. I have just told you how he was formed by these men; his rebellion is that of a son against his father. He was considered part of the seraglio. He cannot understand why Khamenei interferes in his domain on a daily basis.

Q: Why is the Supreme Guide committed to excluding Rafsanjani, even though he is not a threat to his authority?

First, this is the way power works. The person who holds power dies; his successor tries to remove everything and everyone that depended on him. The successor needs people to obey him. It is the same thing in a dynasty: a king dies, and the son who replaces him sends away all those who worked with his father and replaces them with his own men.

Once Mr. Khamenei was able to take things into his own hands, he began to “de-Khomeinize.” He started by doing away with all those who depended on Khomeini, and that began with the murder of his son, Ahmed.

Q: Are you saying that Khamenei has direct ties to the assassination of Ahmed Khomeini?

Yes, Saeed Emami, who was the deputy minister of intelligence and national security minister VEVAK—which is the same body as the shah-era SAVAK but more bloodthirsty—has said that Ahmed Khomeini was taking positions that conflicted with the new supreme leader. He revealed that they reported everything that he said at a meeting of the ulema with Mesbah-Yazdi, Khoshbah, and two others. They [the ayatollahs] said that ‘such a man must be removed, even if he is the son of Khomeini, and so we had him removed.’ The military prosecutor told Hassan Khomeini, Ahmed’s son, that his father had been assassinated.

“De-Khomeinization” began with the assassination of Ahmed Khomeini, and today everybody who was close to Khomeini has been removed.

As far as Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani is concerned, Khamenei is very vengeful. When he was president of the republic and Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani was president of the parliament, Khamenei did not leave him any power or role. While he also chose Ahmadinejad as his president because of Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani. For eight years, the suppression of Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani has been one of the pillars of the regime. He has been stripped of many of his economic opportunities. His sons and the members of his family were removed from their employment. Their credit was frozen; banks will not extend them credit anymore. Thus, they have limited economic activities. The propaganda against Hashemi Rafsanjani still has not stopped to this day. I think that Khamenei is continuing this de-Khomeinization process and that is why Hashemi Rafsanjani will keep being turned away from power.

Q: Despite all this, Khamenei has not gotten rid of Rafsanjani completely: he heads up the Expediency Council. So why does Khamenei not rid himself of Rafsanjani once and for all?

How would [Khamenei] get rid of [Rafsanjani]? By killing him? He has already gotten rid of him; Rafsanjani is nothing anymore. He is only the president of the Expediency Council.; that is nothing. As president of this council, he remains subject to the supreme leader. He [Rafsanjani] who has always been considered above the supreme leader is now underneath him. To everybody else, Rafsanjani has nothing but his chairmanship of this organization and he has to obey the supreme leader, as does everybody else.

Q: Has Khamenei allowed Rafsanjani to keep this position to help him to save face?

No! He is full of contempt for the man—would he help him save face? No, he simply gave him a post that is not important to the executive or the judiciary but which at the same time represents obedience to the supreme leader. That suits Khamenei; it is a way of scorning Rafsanjani.

Q: There are a number of stories about how you fled Iran. This includes your opponents claiming that you disguised yourself using a woman’s abaya [loose over-garment]. What is the truth?

The real story is that I went to an air base in a military uniform, because you could not enter that base unless you were in that uniform. One of the members of that base gave me his security pass, which we used to enter the base in a car. That is it.

Q: I see that you have an extensive library. What are you reading?

I read when I am working on something. I have worked on democracy for a quarter of a century. There are already ten volumes in this work, and for each of these volumes I had to read. I read a lot. One of these books is about justice—justice in the West, from ancient Greece to modern theories, but also justice to us in the East, especially in the Qu’ran. How much did I have to read to know all that? More than 400 hundred books on justice, at least.

Q: What have you been writing?

Right now, I am just finishing writing a book about the organs of democracy. The last of these organs is civil society. I read many books for that section, for example [Jürgen] Habermas [German sociologist and philosopher] and works by jurists. There are 357 references.

Q: Do you like to watch films? Have you seen A Separation, the Iranian film that won the foreign language Oscar for 2012?

Yes, I watch movies every night—Iranian films. I am far from Iran and it’s the best way to come into contact with Iran, the faces, the country. Sometimes I watch other films, too.

I have seen A Separation. I thought it was very good. Farhadi is an excellent director; while the heroine of his latest film The Pasthas just won the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Q: Do you regret anything in your life?

Many things. In my book, Hope Betrayed, I listed twelve of my errors. But the biggest mistake I made was Mr. Khomeini, because I gave him my full confidence and that was betrayed.

Q: In his book, Ehsan Naraghi wrote that you were Khomeini’s pupil and that you helped him in to power.

No, I was never his pupil. On the contrary: he was my pupil with regards to the revolutionary discourse. Journalists would send their questions in advance of going to meet Mr. Khomeini. A committee prepared the responses, and Mr. Khomeini did nothing but repeat these. Thus the [revolutionary] discourse was not Khomeini’s; it was mine. The proof is that since then, I have been repeating nothing but the same speech, the same discourse. Khomeini forgot this discourse when he arrived in Tehran. And, unfortunately, nobody else knew it; thus, with regards to the revolutionary discourse, it was me who taught Mr. Khomeini. How do you think he could respond to journalists from around the world about things he knew nothing about?

It is also not true that I helped Khomeini into power, because it was the people who carried out the revolution. Perhaps it was his Islamic discourse: Islamic liberty, Islamic progress, Islamic independence, and Islamic justice. That was an important contribution, a great revolution for the Muslim world. Out of the Sunni–Shi’a split came [simply] Muslims [and] Islam as a discourse of liberty.

Q: Michel Foucault and other French intellectuals became interested in the revolution and spoke with Khomeini and others. Do you think they rushed to judgment?

No. Michel Foucault came to visit me twice at the time. He wanted to know how the people could form a revolution that was both spontaneous and spontaneously organized. You know that he said in his books that all discourses are discourses of power. In his conversation with me, I asked him, “In your opinion, can we not reflect on and present a discourse of liberty?” He did not believe it was possible.

I have to tell you that in dualist thought, effectively one cannot imagine a discourse of liberty. I told him that in the Tawhid (monotheism), you can. To me, the Qu’ran is the discourse of liberty. The West ignores this, with one exception: [Friedrich] Engels. He said that it was the Arabs who discovered monotheism.

Q: Do you consider yourself to be primarily an intellectual or a politician?

I consider myself someone who has worked his whole life just to understand and expose liberty. I was involved in politics out of a sense of responsibility, not as a profession. I have never considered myself a political personality, but rather an activist.

Q: What book do you feel the greatest affinity with?

The Qu’ran—the principals of the Qu’ran. The rights of man [as enumerated in] the Qu’ran.

Q: Are your books read in Iran today?

In Iran, all books—including those of Stalin—are permitted, except mine, which are censored. But my books are still read, for example on my website. My book about women is the most read. That does not surprise me, because Iran has a young population and young people are interested in such things.

Q: Do you read Iranian novels?

I read novels once in a while. The last book I read was called Kimia Khatoon [The Elixir of Khatoon] by Saideh Ghods, which is about a woman whose father dies and her mother marries [the poet] Rumi. She talked about her life in Rumi’s harem.

Q: What is your view of the Arab Gulf states’ relationship with Iran?

Under Rafsanjani, the relationship was very good. Now, it is not good at all—it is bad. I think that if the people of the region had collaborated since independence, they could have advanced in ways we cannot even imagine, given the current state of things. Look at how Asia has risen. The Muslim world cannot be late joining in. A large part of Asia is made up of Muslim countries and their civilizations are also Muslim. We have the largest civilization in the world—from the Far East to Gibraltar. Why should we let it be destroyed by violence? Why do we let others describe Islam as violent and Muslims as bent on killing people?