Last year I went to listen to a lecture by Ramin Jahanbegloo. A philosopher, he was at ease building on arguments from the great thinkers of the West. Born in Iran, he studied in the Paris of the 1970s and 1980s, and not the least remarkable thing about him is that he avoided falling for the violent idiocies of men like Sartre and Foucault and Lacan, then fashionable. Instead of revolution, Jahanbegloo believes in change and reform through non-violence. That’s his message, preached with sincerity — and, it may be admitted, a touch of naivety. He wrote one book in praise of Gandhi, and another consisting of interviews with Isaiah Berlin, the philosopher who familiarised the concept of pluralism and its centrality to democracy. The publisher tells me that these conversations with Berlin are about to go into a third printing in China, of all astonishing outcomes.
As a wise precaution, Jahanbegloo took out Canadian citizenship. Some years ago, he felt it was safe to return to Iran, and there he set up his Cultural Research Bureau, a think-tank to promote his ideas of non-violence and pluralism. This April he was arrested and held without charge, accused of “having contacts with foreigners.” That is enough for arbitrary imprisonment and torture in Ahmedinejad’s messianic and nuclear-bound Iran. In academic and Iranian exile circles, there was great fear about his fate, especially considering the terrible recent precedent of Zahra Kazemi. Born in Iran, she too had acquired Canadian citizenship, but they arrested her and murdered her in prison. As a deputy minister put it at the time, “We still don’t know whether it was the object that hit her head or her head hit the object.”
Some compromise has been reached with Jahanbegloo. He has been released, and apparently will be allowed to leave for India where he researching for a new book. But they have put a bail on the mortgages he has for his house and his mother’s. The Soviets didn’t allow private property, and so the Iranians can certainly take the credit for a new refinement in the persecution of free spirits.