For all of the peoples of Iranshahr, their political status is classified as citizens, guaranteed through rights and the rule of law by various constitutions. In reality, they are all little more than subjects. A subject is a person under the power of a sovereign (prince, dictator, state) and has obligations to fulfill to that sovereign. They must give but should not expect to receive. If they do receive justice, rights, or prosperity, they must be grateful to receive it. Their relationship to the state is that of submission rather than some social contract.
Modern citizenship, in the neoliberal sense, is about rights and the minimum amount of obligations, or as I would call obligations for a citizen, duties. The neoliberal citizen takes and takes without giving anything back to the state or society. The neoliberal citizen is a human being, indoctrinated in mistrust and selfishness, or is a corporation, which only seeks profit and creating a corrupt system that guarantees a perpetual flow of profit, regardless of merit. Duties assigned by the state and society are called forms of oppression, and the rule of law is meant to protect property at the expense of human life.
In its final form, the neoliberal citizen is a parasite on society, on the state, and on the economy. The combination of human and corporate citizens demanding more and more privileges (subsidies, tax loopholes, militarized police to suppress the poor and minority groups), while rejecting to give less and less (taxes) puts the state into a slow death spiral of debt and austerity, which in turn breeds more distrust among the citizens.
This form of citizenship is present among much of the liberal democracies of Europe, North America, and East Asia. It is tied to the nation-state and therefore has an ethnic dimension that fosters nationalist ideas about migrants never truly belonging to this place. People are born to the privilege of neoliberal citizenship without even understanding that privilege or doing anything at all to earn it. Those who migrate to these liberal democracies must earn their citizenship by first providing years of duties to the state and society without receiving political rights. Then they must learn about history, the political system, and the meaning of citizenship (in its romanticized form) and test their understanding and prove their loyalty to their new home. Only then can these people become citizens, even if they are still treated as second class depending on their race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Regardless, there is a pride among new citizens in the accomplishment of attaining citizenship and a respect for the duties citizenship requires. This pride and respect are often lacking in those born to citizenship.
There is no doubt that the peoples of Iranshahr would benefit in changing from de facto subjects to citizens, even in the neoliberal sense. However, the neoliberal citizen is a far cry from what is needed to create a sustainable democratic society. Liberalism and its successor neoliberalism have hollowed out the meaning of citizenship as well as democratic governments, which leaves those nation-states vulnerable to demagoguery, authoritarianism, and ultra-nationalism. Citizenship is both a guarantee to rights, but also is a demand to act in a certain way and to perform certain duties to maintain and improve the political system of the state and the functioning of society. In order to avoid the pitfalls of liberal democracies and their neoliberal citizens, I want to discuss what type citizenship the peoples of Iranshahr should strive for. Enter the Azadan.
The term Azad (singular) or Azadan (plural) is an ancient term from possibly before the Sassanid Empire to describe the lower aristocracy. They were “the free” or “freemen” who were considered noble and guaranteed certain privileges not given to the rest of the population (women, peasants, slaves). However, these azadan also had duties to maintain their martial prowess in the Savaran (the elite cavalry) and to serve Iranshahr. Among them was an idealized code of conduct and a pride in their special place within the empire. Before I go on, I must dispel any flicker of a thought in your mind that I want to revitalize a new aristocracy. The ancient societies of Iranshahr, especially pre-Islamic Iranshahr were very hierarchical and the azadan often failed to meet their idealized form. I am all for dismantling the hierarchies of power that divide oppress societies but I find this term to be just right for my purposes here. I am coopting this term only for my own definition of citizenship for the Guarded Domains of Iranshahr. I will use azad or azadan to distinguish my idealized form of citizenship from the standard term citizen or citizens.
Using this term Azadan, I will now describe a new type of citizenship that modernizes and democratizes this ancient concept. To become an Azad, you must accept the rights and the duties given by the Commonwealth Constitution. The Azad form of citizenship borrows heavily from republicanism’s understanding of freedom (freedom from domination rather than freedom from interference) and its emphasis on the importance of duties and civic virtue (versus liberalism’s emphasis on rights). The Azadan find that balance between their rights as individuals and their duties to the common good. They are given extensive civic education on their primary role within the political system, namely to serve their communities, hold the powerful accountable, and become public officials themselves at all levels of governance. However, the concept of the Azadan goes beyond just republicanism or liberal-republicanism by making it a duty to attain, not a gift.
One is not born into the Azadan (unlike the azadan of Sassanid Iranshahr or citizens in modern nation-states). If you are born to parents who are Azadan, you are the same as a child born to parents who settled in Iranshahr after immigrating. You both are born with inalienable human rights that are guaranteed by the Commonwealth Constitution and enforced by the Guarded Domains of Iranshahr. Both of you would have a right and the duty to become Azadan at the age of 18 years old after completing your primary education. This duty is a year of specialized education called Citizen’s Service (or Azad’s Service more specifically) that teaches individuals how to be citizens within the Guarded Domains of Iranshahr. I will not go into the details of Citizen’s Service because I have already written an essay on how I envision that program. After completing this year of service, the individual earns the title Azad and all the rights and duties that go with it. What I want to emphasize is that regardless of your background, you have the right and the duty to become an Azad at 18.
Now what about adult immigrants to Iranshahr? They too can attain the title of Azad after five years of residency within the Guarded Domains of Iranshahr. They too, however, must complete the full year of Citizen’s Service. Becoming an Azad has no fast-track lane. This title cannot be bought or given or inherited. It must be earned. The reason for this strictness is that those who earn something through great difficulty take pride and respect in what they have acquired. Citizenship given is taken for granted and treated lightly. Those who acquire their rights through blood and struggle remember what it took to get it. Citizen’s Service is meant to build that sense of pride and respect without having people resort to bloody struggle. Every generation must renew their sense of legitimacy in the political order by taking the step towards acquiring real citizenship. It also renews that sense of assabiyah or common purpose between the diverse peoples of Iranshahr.
The final element of Azad citizenship is its ability to create a common identity within a multiethnic or religious superstate as the Guarded Domains of Iranshahr would be. In our modern world, identities are overlapping and few people fall within the same category. This is especially troubling for the antiquated concept of the nation-state, which tries to mold the identity of its populace into something uniform, some unauthentic. The nation-state by design has to make one ethnic identity superior to all the rest, and thus tying ethnic identity to access to power. The Afghan Hazara, the Iranian Baluchi, the Azeri Talysh, the Kyrgyz Uzbek understand this problem well.
It is the same issue with mixing religious identity and political affiliation. Many states of Iranshahr identify as “Islamic” in nature and thus set the Muslim over the non-Muslim. By associating the governance and political affiliation with Islam, it forces the non-Muslims to reduce its loyalty to the state because the state has declared that they are not the truest of citizens. Ethnicity and religion as criteria political identity are not unifying forces for a state but are forces that breed distrust, hatred, oppression, and separatism. It forces people to give up parts of who they are to attain a new political identity. What is needed is to add to that identity without removing other parts.
In order to create an engaged, dynamic, and loyal citizenry, they need to be authentic stakeholders in the political system. Ethnic or religious (or even tribal) affiliations must be left intact while they add a political identity from the polity of which they are a part of. They must have a claim to the government’s legitimacy, not through indoctrination (which often fails) but through actually being a full member of the political system and receive its promises. Attaining the title, Azad, is that membership to the club that does not take away from the other identifying features that makes a person them. Hypothetically if you were a citizen of the Guarded Domains of Iranshahr you could be Muslim, Jew, Christian, Bahai, Yazidi, Atheist and you would be fully Azad. You could be Pashtun, Uzbek, Armenian, Zanj, or Arab and you would be equally Azad.
So as I see it, the designation for what a person from the Guarded Domains of Iranshahr is called should be Azad. The People (the collective will of the many peoples) of the Guarded Domain of Iranshahr are the Azadan, the free. As the vision for Iranshahr is to be a superstate uniting the many peoples of this region through the common purpose of human rights, democratic duties, and decentralized participatory government, their common denominator is their freedom and political fraternity. As the Guarded Domains concept is the challenge to nation-state model, the name of the citizens must be anti-nationalist, removed from ethnic or religious names.