Civil Society Institutions, Society’s Need and Todays Necessity
Peace Line Monthly / Hossein Raeesi – Certainly complexity of social relations and diversity of social and individual needs for long has strengthen the necessity for a society, that would not be able to fulfill all its needs, pass all its barriers and problems and earn the public trust, without the existence of the civil society institutes.
The necessity of social institutes have been emphasized by philosophers such as Hegel (1770-1831). Hegel believes “Family and Civil society are the two bases of the idealistic and rational state and the realization of rational state would not be possible without passing through the ethical life of family and civil society.” He also believes “the relation between civil society and state, is an absolute public and individual relation that while different have things in common that would smooth the path to collective or the Ethical Spirit and teaches what steps one need to take in the path towards ethical development and preparing for joining a rational state and how to perfect one’s self and transform from individual self in order to join the communal spirit.” In Hegel’s Theory, Civil society is composed of classes and groups in which its members have willingly and on their own gathered on the basis of certain individual and personal interests; however they learn trough interacting and communicating with one another not to use these relations for their own personal benefits and to mostly consider the collective and communal interest and to obey common Rules. Hence although we could say that people arrive at the civil society based on their individual motives and interests, yet because of the interaction with others and experiencing a kind of unity, universality and understanding interdependency, will cross the individual motives and interests and incline to collective interest and commit to professional ethic. (Hegel’s Philosophy of right: Civil Society, retrieved from: International Foundation of Theories and Doctrines)
100 years of Iran’s contemporary history, and specifically the years before and following the 1979 revolution and failing to achieve democracy in the society, has made the possibility of realization a civil society in the country, very difficult. Despite the difficulty of the matter, yet its necessity has not disappeared and will not disappear. Totalitarian regimes, always prevent realization of a vibrant and apparent civil society; because in this kind of regimes public participation and collective cooperation for achieving important social goals, does not matter. However in today’s societies no government has a good chance of running a society without the public’s participation. In this respect, as much as the government implement cumbersome and restrict laws for establishing a civil institute, some institutes may never get the chance to be born; but this does not mean that they are not needed.
Suppose the issue of desertification in the country is to be addressed, only by public cooperation and public institutes eliminating this ecosystem’s issue is possible. Since the extensive area of these wildernesses will not make the government to spend on human resources on appropriate vegetation of millions of hectares of deserts. In this cause only an organized civil society institute could organize the people of a city or a neighbourhood in a way that millions of people only in one day, would plant millions of saplings in the wilderness to fight desertification and destruction of natural resources.
Consider this example about change in other unjust conditions, the establishment of compassionate thoughts and providing collective prosperity in the society. The Government may claim to represent the society, but it cannot realize and spread the common welfare. In our current society due to the nature of the government that is being independent of the people, achieving a rational state as Hegel mentions, or a true Republic according to Kant and realizing a civil society has become very difficult. Therefore the governments are facing numerous social issues. This government is not at all able to solve the social issues without developing civil institutes. To achieve this, it is necessarily for people to reach the realization of motivation and willingness to cooperate in collective prosperity. While greatest banking corruptions occurs in the networks affiliated to government, highest number of causes exist in the court system of the country; only the police has the power to suppress and control the people, but the police and the government’s conducts has strongly robbed people of public trust. For instance, when the Guardian Council which is not from people runs the election and lawfully deprives or very much limits people from their right to political participation, naturally the ability to think of the public welfare and establishing civil institutes will be lost, and the country will be transformed to desert which needs collective cooperation to stop this desertification.
During the 80s when I was a high school student, a few weekends with the invitation of the department of the natural resources of our city, I along with other high school students collectively attended planting saplings in the areas around the city that were being deserted. Massive crowd of students and their fast movements of planting saplings was giving me hopes, enthusiasm and passion, turning around and looking on how we have turned a desert into a green land, is an experience that is unforgettable for me.
According to the aforementioned reasons, despite that all the people if the conditions for civil activism is given, in general would want to cooperate in stopping desertification, yet drawing people to participate in this important matter and similar matters, needs coordinating organizations. However the excessive centralization, the lack of trust between public and the government, wind fallen money from oil and the governments ignorance towards the need to cede some of the responsibilities to public, not only has not increased activities such as planting saplings, but the communal activities without the government’s support are also destroyed by intimidations, accusations and planting seeds of cynicism among people. Not long ago, the youth civil association of Marvdasht of Fars Province made small pools of water in the spring in the mountains around Larestan to save thirsty animals, today there is not much left of that association.
Civil activism faced serious suppression especially after the disputed presidential election of 2009, and many civil activist like many others who had left the country earlier had no choice but to leave the country and they are currently active with the help of social media, satellite and internet from around the world. Therefore attracting and encouraging people to cooperate with civil society and its institutes and using people’s resources is an undeniable necessity. For instance, an Iranian Canadian capitalist is willing to invest a lot of money in order to change a law that is contrary to some of Canadian civil rights, and proudly talks about it on TV, yet will not invest in changing any laws in his mother country. Some civil institutes may occasionally meet major Iranian capitalists but they normally do not assist them. Hence, achieving collective prosperity and public welfare is not possible just by having enough human resources, but rather by using all civil resources realization of a civil society becomes possible, whether inside or outside the country.
What has not yet happened in Iran, is earning the public trust; because the government is still trying to have full control on everything and to direct every significant or insignificant economical or cultural affair. In this cause the government will be independent of the civil society and limits their activities to small charities. In the post-reformist atmosphere in Iran, especially post 2009 election, most of the government budget assigned to civil society channels to institutes such as Basij and Basij of Mosque resistance, and in these institutes all affairs are trough orders and therefore there is no thought of the collective prosperity. In addition at times, in order to infiltrate the civil activism and to destroy or deviate them from their path, in particular in late 80s and early 90s, the government establishes seemingly civil institutes which in reality are governmental and in parallel with the civil institutes.
Thus in the contemporary history of Iran, due to the government interference, lack of public trust and the lack of sense of society belonging to each and every person (lack of democracy), the chance to arouse the public sentiment towards collective prosperity and the common good has not been made possible. Many of the civil institutes have been destroyed by the government extreme suppressions and their activists were forced to leave the country. In such an atmosphere, there is no room left for civil activism, the government is responsible for destruction and the diversion of the civil society; because we are not facing a government oriented from civil society.
Given that realization of a true civil society is impossible in the current atmosphere of Iran, the vacuum created by its lack or weakness, will not be filled; because the civil institutes have responsibilities outside of the government responsibilities and the government would not be able to in anyway fulfil these responsibilities well. The government in distrust with the civil society instead of supporting the civil institutes, by controlling and monitoring their establishment trough the division of administration of Monitoring Public Premises of the Disciplinary Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran (NAJA) and Governorates, have made all the civil activism into Semi governmental activities and has tried to obstruct the growth of civil activism. For example, a tactic government uses and it stems from its lack of understanding the importance of civil activism in a society, is associating the civil society to strangers and foreigners.
The civil activism outside Iran is divided into different sectors and in practice, all the civil and political sectors are following a mutual goal, that is helping the domestic civil society so that they could create change in the civil and political atmosphere of Iran, so that it would result in the return of civil forces, creates a sense of belonging to the society and increases the sentiment of collective welfare in the country.
Among the suppressed institutes, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS IN IRAN (HRAI) is an example of a civil organization established inside Iran and faced major repressions. This organization was established in 2006 in Iran, and fell in the path of officially registering and following legal procedure of increasing lawful civil activism. March 2010, marks the closure or in other words the death of many non-governmental organizations that took place with the efforts of Ahmadi Nejhad government, particularly with the approach of apparently legal control of organizations. HRAI also faced extreme oppression during this time, to the point that gradually it was forced to secretly continue its civil activism. With the increase of the suppressions, part of the activism of HRAI moves to outside Iran and with the goal of empowering the civil society inside Iran, its activism outside of the country continues.
There are other examples of civil activism from outside of the country which are currently producing educational, scientific and civil materials for inside of the country, thereby increasing public awareness in the strict censorship atmosphere of the country.
It is certain that, suppressions does not destroy the civil society of Iran and eventually the sentiment of collective prosperity would find its way in to the society. In my opinion, without civil institutes that could have healthy activism in the country, and to be free of state repressions, the increase in public participation in political affairs in its true meaning will not be possible. The increase in repression of the civil institutes after the uprising of 2009 was because forces of this uprising were generally formed in active civil society and institutes of the time.
What is important today, is that the civil institutes outside of the country do not lose any chance to identify and examine their weaknesses and to always put an effort into reviewing themselves so that civil atmosphere will have a chance to sustain itself and not become semi-political or semi-civil. Semi-civil and semi-political meaning that despite the importance and need for all kinds of activism, there should be a line between politics and non-civil and civil activism, and not to continue with non-civil motivations and without the sentiment of collective prosperity.
Today the international civil-organizations with spreading the notion of collective prosperity and public welfare have developed the idea of global citizen. Citizen of all the countries are not indifferent towards incidents and human right violations such as violence, torture, violation of human rights and political rights in other countries, and could questions those in charge of this violations. Global society is not only made up of governments and political parties, but all the global citizens are an active part of it. Anything that originates suffering for people anywhere in the world, is of importance to everyone and it attracts attention regardless of ones homeland, country, religion, people and city; everyone is responsible and accountable for the fate of the other and ideas such as citizen of a country, a tribe or an ethnic group has given place to the idea of equal people, and the concept of man versus man is valued and global collective prosperity has been born.
In conclusion civil activism in Iranian society, is not born today and will not die, however there is possibility of decrease in public trust and decrease in sensitivity towards civil activism. Considering that the structure of civil activism has been changed in today’s world and has transformed from the religious prosperity to the civil prosperity, it is necessary for all those who think of better social life for themselves and others, to spread the idea of collective prosperity and welfare. Hence we can, like organizations such as HRAI, tried to better the civil activism and with the help of people think of a better life for them and not to give in to suppressions and sarcasms. The bottom line is that, for actualization of a civil society, a democratic society based on respect to everyone’s rights and with the notion of collective prosperity is necessary and a democratic society is in need of a civil society.