[By Shideh] We, along with a group of friends from Berkeley, attended a talk by Dr. Soroush last night at Stanford University on “cultural challenges of Iranians in today’s world,” which brought up many new thoughts and ideas for healthy debate! I truly admire his vast knowledge of Iran’s sociology and culture and learned a lot in the short time that we had, even though I didn’t necessarily agree with all of his comments. In this post, I will mention a few highlights of his talk that I found most interesting. Please note that the material below is more or less what I recall from Dr. Soroush’s talk and it does not reflect my personal stance on these issues.
To understand the cultural dilemma that Iranians have to face in today’s world, we need to divide things up into their fundamental elements; then we can analyze and understand each and find the solution for the problems while maintaining the general big picture with better understanding. Hasty judgment on whether a sort of social behavior is good or has to be eliminated is usually a sign of immaturity. We must be patient when dealing with social obstacles.
Iran’s current culture is a combination of the following: traditional Iranian culture, Islamic culture, and western culture. In understanding our problems, we must have these three elements in mind that co-exist in every household and have created a sense of identity crisis in the majority of the population.
The first element that Dr. Soroush discussed extensively was the religious aspect of our culture, which has historically played a significant role, far before Islam or the recent revolution. He defined the differences between “erfan geraayee” and “feghh” and their roles in modern Iran. Then he discussed the scientific, artistic, and the political cultural elements, respectively.
I will mention a summary of his opinion on Iran’s progress at the scientific level which may be useful for the readers of this blog. First he criticized the existing culture for not appreciating the true value and purpose behind science. He argued that ideally, science should be above all selfish/superficial purposes. Not understanding and appreciating science and its role in the development of a society leads to the current situation in Iran where there is a lot of scattered research being conducted and many prestigious journal papers written every year and yet there is not sufficient coordination and proper leadership that would oversee and control different organs of the scientific community in the country in order to maximize their contributions to the society as a whole. A major issue in this field is also the lack of ability of scientists to properly communicate with the public and one can argue that lack of communication skills makes one’s work essentially useless. Communication is definitely an area that needs to be improved among the scientists in Iran.
In order to move forward and help our society, we need to stop blaming people, governments, ideologies, religions, powers, etc. for our problems and concentrate entirely on self-correction. That’s the only way to improve things: from within and at a small level, our self correction will lead to better higher management and leadership and not the other way around – goft az ke naaleem ke az maast ke bar maast.