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Matthias Hofmann {*}

Iran: The Democracy Movement
and the Role of Education


From: Summer semester issue 2010 of the VHS-Offenburg, P. 56
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


Many of us still remember quite well the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1978/79. At first, the world was shocked by the strictly religiously organized new regime, but after the revolution the world took very little notice of its conduct on the spot. In the next years we read only news about the Iran/Irak war (1980-88). But Europe was only marginally aware of what happened domestically. And the situation has not really improved, when Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989. So Europe missed the domestic political changes, which above all happened in the educational system of Iran. The new system succeeded in steering the majority of the population into a largely free educational system, admittedly with a dominant religious character, but nevertheless, the mass of the Persians has been able to benefit from a wide-ranging educational program, a fact which the Shah could not reach, despite all efforts (1957 only 30% attended school, 1977 45%, 1996 80%, and today 93%) {1}.

The training content and orientation changed after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, because the Persians were no longer willing to accept the dominance of religion within the educational system. Thus, in the first half of the 90s, a new education system with an 8-year compulsory education was introduced. After the orientation phase, every Persian has now gotten the chance to gain further qualifications by attending vocational school or high school. Moreover, the teaching content has been secularized.
If in Europe still a picture of a country dominated by Islam is presented to us, we should be surprised by the fact that today 60% of students in Iran are women. Yes, apart from Israel Iran has the best and most secular educational system and training facilities of the Near and Middle East.

But it seems as if we in Europe refuse to believe this, because it does not at all fit into the image of Iran laid down in the European society.

Ultimately, it is this by the revolution initiated education system that in the summer of 2009 caused people to go on the streets in order to stand up for their understanding of democracy, despite all the reprisals menaced and carried out by the government. Certainly, the Iranian conception of democracy is not necessarily compatible with the European, but who says that the European view of things is to be the "answer to everything"?
The new Iranian movement, especially supported by the female population of Iran - can no longer be put in its place by the diktat of the current government and state leadership. There is seething unrest everywhere in Iran, and the call for reforms - but no departure from the symbiosis between theocracy and democracy - will no longer abate. The call for change has even affected Islamic theologians and jurists, for they, too, took part in the demonstrations and do so still.

Not much longer the current regime will be able to ignore or to bludgeon the cries of the demonstrators, except ... the West would take the fateful decision to conduct a military strike against Iran. In this case the regime could feel confident about the national loyalty of all Iranians and exiles; and they could for the time being stop its views and denial of the democracy movement in order jointly to fight the external enemy. Let's give the Iranians a chance to demand and to live their understanding of democracy!


{1} Mahdiroody, Shodja: Entwicklung und Struktur des Ausbildungswesens im Iran; Osnabrück 1980, p.77 and Kehribar, Pinar, Erziehung und Bildung in Iran; document No. V94258;

{*} Matthias Hofmann, MA (born in 1969), studied history and Oriental studies in Stuttgart and Tübingen, freelance.


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