In 2006, Ramin Jahanbegloo was jailed in Iran’s notorious political prison, Evin, falsely accused of plotting an anti-government revolution. Iranian-Canadians rallied for his release in front of the U of T’s OISE building (a hub for on-campus events involving Iranian-Canadian students).
Last Saturday, on that same building’s second floor, Jahanbegloo—now a political-science professor at the U of T and York—was leading the charge for change in a country that once placed him in solitary confinement.
Every week, Iranian-Canadians gather here for Agora—a philosophical forum spearheaded by Jahanbegloo to discuss Iran’s history, culture, and future. More importantly, they’re in the process of signing on to Charter 91, a potential charter of rights for a future democratic Iranian state. It’s modelled after Czechoslovakia’s Charter 77, a similar document created by Czech revolutionaries around the world that laid the groundwork for that country’s “velvet revolution” in 1989. (This year is 1391 in the Persian calendar, hence the name.)
“There isn’t a week I’ve missed,” said Mohammad Jahangir, a first-generation Iranian-Canadian in his late 70s.
Topics included LGBT rights, gender equality, and a democratic constitution that recognizes the rights of individuals in an ethnically and religiously diverse Iran, home to Kurds, Bahais, Azaris, Baluchis, and ethnic Iranians.
But the session got stuck on some core principles. Jahangir confessed he hasn’t signed the charter, since he doesn’t believe in the principles of same-sex equality it currently enshrines, or in citizen’s rights for people of different ethnicities who are living in Iran.
“I’m a Fars, an ethnic Iranian,” he said. “Why should we extend rights to non-Iranians when our own people are suffering?”
For David Mousavi, a second-generation Iranian-Canadian and a Bay Street lawyer, “same-sex rights are a given. But to my surprise, I realized that’s not necessarily the case for everyone.”
At the end of the session there was still no resolution on the various disagreements, but Jahanbegloo announced that the charter has broken new ground—some residents of the city of Bushehr, in southern Iran, had just signed on.
All of the Agora attendees looked impressed. Even those who’d so far refused to sign applauded the breakthrough.