In its coverage of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the language of the West is indelibly coloured with imperial hubris and Euro-centric prejudice. Ever since the triumph of the Islamic Revolution in February of 1979 under the leadership of the late Imam Khomeini, Iran has transformed into an object of hate and contempt within the elitist political classes of Western capitals; overriding sentiments that were quite naturally transferred on to the media scene.
Putting aside seasonal sabre-rattling, any mention of the Islamic Republic is conditioned to fit into grander narratives which evoke the darkest of images associated with more medieval epochs. Ironically, however, the basic frameworks that the West employs to rationalise the Islamic Revolution – in as cavalier a definition as ‘rationality’ can encompass – are in themselves medieval.
For proponents of free-market capitalism, the Islamic Revolution came to be viewed through the prism of Karl Popper’s “closed society” – the forceful re-emergence of the Islamic faith on the world scene, at a time when leading thinkers had not only signed God’s death certificate but shelved it away altogether, gave rise to nightmares that were thought to have fizzled out long ago. Debates on faith and reason, the place of religion within the state and the telos of politics were put back on the table. It was as if a self-conceited being confined within the safety of his own bubble of certainty was suddenly thrown headlong into the rough seas of doubt and scepticism.
The West responded by drawing from its own troubled history, and mounted sacks of unfounded assumptions and untruths on the saddle of its age-old Euro-centricity in coming to terms with the Islamic Revolution. Islamic Iran consequently became the embodiment of all backwardness; a nation fundamentally incapable of embracing change, glued to the worn out attire of a mythical past, hereditarily unreasonable and illogical, ardent enemies of freedom and human liberty amongst many other accolades.
In the dawn of the thirty-first anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, the fundamental assumptions that inform our perceptions of the display of popular, Islamic outpouring shown by the Iranian masses remain doggishly unchanged. In Western discourse, the revolution is by and large marked off as a dark episode in modern history. The brutalities of the tyrannical Shah – both visible and systemic – and Western facilitation thereof warrant little mention.
Western analysts often pass off brutish repression to be the cause behind the continued existence of the Islamic Republic more than thirty years on, whereas in more Leftist circles, the finger of blame is pointed to the role of ‘foreign threats’ in uniting the Iranian nation which, would have otherwise, we are told, long rid itself of Islam and its ‘cadres’. Yet others have been speaking – for more than a decade now – of the fissures between the disillusioned young urban class and the rich, traditional bazaar merchants as tell-tale signs of an impending demise. Whichever side of the divide you fall within, it doesn’t quite matter as much when it comes to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Views and conclusions are settled scientific knowledge; the only variable is the question of ‘when?’ – not if.
To attenuate the significance of the historic change that occurred in 1979, Western leaders have permanently framed the status quo within Iran as ‘volatile’ with a velvet counter-revolution imminently lying in wait so as to put the idealised march of Western modernity back on course. If anything, developments over the last year or so have pretty much signalled the end of the latter, whilst on the other hand, Iran seems, more and more, to be conversing from a position of strength.
As one surveys the impacts of the Revolution over the last three decades, one cannot help but notice how it has almost single-handedly exposed the internal contradictions inherent in Western political discourse. Dictators and oil-kings across the Middle East who have turned their countries into feudal counties, and crushed the hopes of their peoples with merciless brutality, are portrayed as paragons of stability; ‘folks’ whose deep friendship (and oil barrels, and petro-dollars, and …) ‘we’ cherish. The United States that once blocked Resolution 687, which called for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons, is now running helter-skelter in cloaked insanity to stop Iran’s peaceful nuclear program. Reset buttons are being pressed in Moscow, the sensitive nerves of Beijing are intentionally being jazzed – all with what aim? – in order to prevent the Iranian nation from exercising its internationally enshrined right to nuclear energy.
More importantly perhaps, the Islamic Republic has exposed the divide between Western ‘talk’ and Western ‘action’. Imam Khomeini, who was deeply influenced by the ideas of Mulla Sadra (the founder of the school of transcendental philosophy), heralded the advent of a new blend of politics. The face of the Islamic Revolution is reputed to have called on the Iranian nation, in his last address, to continue in the study of ‘Irfan (theoretical gnosis) for a truly Islamic Revolution would remain elusive unless there was alongside it a spiritual reformation amongst the masses – the principal agent of social change in the political philosophy of Imam Khomeini.
Imam Khomeini thus infused ethics back into the political realm, and viewed the former as an inseparable component and guide for the latter. It is of little surprise therefore, that right after the success of its revolution, Islamic Iran severed all ties with the settler-colonial, apartheid regimes of South Africa and Israel.
The West was customarily delivering its long, rosy speeches about human values and ideals as Fanon had pointed out years earlier, yet it was the Islamic Republic that actually proceeded to cut off all ties with the apartheid regimes. In fact, when Imam Khomeini adopted the stance against the apartheid regimes, many Western nations were signing hefty deals with these very rogue establishments; up to the present day, the ‘axis of good’ and forerunners of ‘civilisation’ continue to blindly support Zionist occupation. To put it simply, Imam Khomeini revolutionised the meaning of politics in an international order that had come to regard realpolitik as the very essence of politics.
From the viewpoint of the Muslim world, the success of the Islamic Revolution in Iran re-invested hope to hundreds of millions. For decades, the West preached to the Muslim world that the dream of a society built upon Islamic values was an ancient legend committed to books of history – and even then, with Euro-centric eyes! There was no point resisting the gushing waves of Western modernity, modelled on self-interest and individualism. It was a fait accompli.
Drowning in helplessness and embroiled in a variety of guilt complexes, the success of the Islamic Revolution destroyed settled feelings of inferiority that had taken root in the Muslim world. The refusal of the nascent Islamic Republic to acquiesce to the diktats of the imperial superpower, despite being forcefully dragged into an eight-year long war and extensive sanctions, provided ample proof to the rest of the world that it was possible for a nation to pursue an independent political will. There was indeed a Third Way.
The rise of resistance movements across the Middle East in recent times should be viewed as part of the legacy of the Islamic Revolution and the sentiments that is has given rise to within the wider Muslim consciousness. Whilst Israeli occupation, unbridled aggression and popular discontent are the primary raison d’être for the emergence of resistance movements, the overwhelming power of an Islamic discourse in mobilising the masses is a direct consequence of the achievements of the Iranian Revolution. Imam Khomeini re-invested hope and self-confidence in the Ummah, and advised Muslim nations to be masters of their own destiny by drawing from the rich wellspring of their own faith.
With the success of the Islamic Revolution, concepts and ideals that the West had once enjoyed complete monopoly over – and indeed claimed ownership of – were vibrantly re-affirmed through an entirely different consciousness. Notions like ‘freedom is freedom if and only if deemed so by the West’ were tossed to the side, and expectedly drew the ire of Western elites. The Islamic Republic of Iran, we were then told, suppressed the rights of women, yet females make up 65% of university students today. In Iran under the Shah – the quisling of the enlightened West – female literacy stood at a shocking 17 percent; contrast that figure with the present 77 percent.
Islamic reactionaries who, according to the verities of mainstream media, stood against modernity and technological advancement have today produced state-of-the-art medical facilities, and even a home-grown nuclear energy program, amongst numerous other scientific achievements. Far from being a ‘pariah’ state, the Islamic Republic of Iran has built strong ties with nations from all over the globe, and enjoys a distinguished position within the Non-Aligned Movement. It is only in the bubbling imaginations of Washington and Co. that Iran is an ‘outsider’ in the world arena. Such cheap, cynical propaganda to demonise the Islamic Republic, although in seemingly endless supply, are increasingly having little effect; hence the adoption of even more bullish tones.
As with all nations, there are several challenges that confront the Islamic Republic; from issues of employment and social mobility to the size and scope of the public space. Nevertheless, during a span of little over three decades the Islamic Revolution has managed to accomplish much in spite of extremely harsh conditions that have been forced upon it. Western obduracy and growing talk of military strikes against Iran today, provide testimony to the achievements of the Islamic Revolution; a revolution that has remained true to its cause, and pursued an independent course by upholding values and aspirations dear to the heart of its peoples.
This article was first published on AhlulBayt Islamic Mission (AIM). Ali Jawad is a political activist and member of the AhlulBayt Islamic Mission.