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Leading Iranian reformists and opponents meet in Berlin

By Safa Haeri

BERLIN, April 6, 2000 (IPS) This reunited Capital of the reunified Germany is becoming as from tomorrow and for three days the centre of the largest ever meeting of leading Iranian reformists actors between themselves with both their opponents as well as Iranians from Diaspora backing and opposing the democratisation process in Iran.

Organised by the Heinrich Boel Stiftung and the Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt in Berlin, the Conference on Civil Society and Reform Process in Iran will review "burning" subjects as the impact and the consequences resulting from the recent Majles (parliament) elections that saw the end of 20 years of control of the Legislative by the conservatives, the deep and much necessary reforms that Islam is undergoing in Iran and the situation of women in Islamic societies.

"What is happening in Iran is something unprecedented in the history of Islam. The reforms proposed by both clergymen and philosophers are to revolutionise the whole of the Islamic world. It is about reconciling this religion with modern world and its implications on traditional societies. It is about a new reading of Islam, its reconciliation with a secular society, separating religion from the state, preparing the path for modernisation and democracy", the organisers of the conference pointed out.

Ever since the victory of the Islamic revolution in 1979 but particularly since the triumph of Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami in the May 1997 Presidential elections, a hot, passionate but serious debate on a wide range of vital subjects such as the definition of the State, relations between state and Religion, faith and Science is opposing tenors and baritones of reforms and orthodoxy in Iran, argumentation that would transform the future of Islamic societies.

"The aim of the conference is to bring together for the first time both reformists and those opposed to reforms from all sides, civilians as well as clerics, journalists and political analysts, economists and thinkers, helping them to debate in public issues that in the view of all Iran watchers, not only are shaping the Iranian society, but also shaking traditional societies, paving the way for genuine democratisation", explained Mr. Bahman Niroumand, one of the Iranian organisers of the venue.

But reforms suggested by these modern clergymen, all of them ardent supporters of the Islamic revolution, their proposals for separating religion from politics of the state, their argumentation that new reading of old principles are needed for adapting Islam with present day realities are opposed and condemned by conservative clerics as heresy.

The same, the role played by Iranian women, their active participation in all strata of the society and politics, their fight for the equality of rights between men and women, all demonstrating the duality and contradictions of Islam with modernity are watched not only by Muslim women and scholars, but also by none Muslim researchers and historians.

"The Berlin conference creates an occasion for the Islamist-nationalist reformist inside Iran to open an open dialogue with Iranian dissidents outside opposed to the Islamic Republic and the system of Velayate Faqih, (or the absolute rule of Tutor)", added Mr. Niroumand, himself a former leftist opposed to the deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Leading investigative journalist and writer Akbar Ganji, prominent reformist cleric Hojatoleslam Hasan Yusefi-Eshkevari, secular lawyer and human rights activist Mrs. Mehranguiz Kar, economist Fariborz Ra'is-Dana, Publisher Mrs. Shahla Lahiji, newly elected MP and journalist Mrs. Jamileh Kadivar, the sister of the imprisoned Islamist reformist Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar, outspoken Editor Hamid Reza Jala'ipour of the reformist daily Asre Azaadegan, witers and poets Mahmoud Dolatabadi and Mohammad Ali Sepanlou, Mrs. Shahla Sherkat, the Editor of the feminist weekly Zanan, political analyst and Central Asian affairs expert Changuiz Pahlavan and Mr. Alireza Alavi-Tabaar, Editor of Sobhe Emrouz, the liberal daily published by Mr. Sa'id Hajjarian who was shot by gunman believed to be a member of the Revolutionary Guards three weeks ago in Tehran are among the party that came from Tehran.

As the participants to this meeting are converging to Berlin, hard line opponents to the Islamic Republic led by the Stockholm-based Iranian Communist Workers Party (ICWP) are also gathering for an "Alternative Conference" in the same place and at the same time.

In a statement signed by some fifty leading intellectuals, artists, journalists, political activists, writers, poets and scholars, the ICWP denounce the Heinrich Boel Institute and the Iranians and Germans who organised the Berlin meeting as a "plot" by both the Islamic Republic and western governments, particularly Germany to "undermine Iranian's real opposition" by implying that "situation has effectively changed in Iran under Mr. Mohammad Khatami whom they portray as reformist".

Asked about this "Alternative Conference", Mr. Niroumand regretted that some well known leftist activists with "broad experience" refuse to accept that Iran is undergoing deep changes.

"Those who insist on seeing everything as a plot or a play between some men sitting behind the curtains directing according to a scenario wrote by themselves or others, those who refuses to accept the realities and considers the millions of Iranians as sheep, those who do not accept the fact that Khatami is not the initiator, but the product of a process that is being put into motion by the people have no place in the society, no matter they live inside or outside Iran", Mr. Niroumand observed.

"The fear of both the conservatives and the radical left is the convergence of views between reformists of all walk, between theologians with secular forces struggling for bringing evolution in Islam as well as in the political system. My hope is that this meeting serve as a starter for such a dialogue", he concluded.