This month, Muslims all over the world should be celebrating the 29th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, alongside other informed and conscientious people concerned for the oppressed and downtrodden of the world. But the harsh reality is that only a tiny fraction of these people will be commemorating the rise of Imam Khomeini and the success of the Iranian people in toppling the “king of kings”, the last Pahlavi shah of Iran. Nearly three decades ago, the Islamic Revolution that took place in Iran resonated among virtually all Muslims and many other of the world’s oppressed peoples. Today, to be brutally frank, its anniversary will be marked by some segments of the Iranian people, some circles of Shi‘i communities in other parts of the world, and a tiny fraction of other Muslims who remember the impact it had and understand its true significance in the modern history of the Ummah and the world. And even then, few of these sympathizers or admirers will dare openly celebrate the revolutionary beauty of this Islamic pulse. This change can be attributed largely to three factors: the success of the propaganda strategies used against the Islamic state by its enemies; the failures of the state itself; and the unrealistic or misguided expectations of some of those who supported it.
In the last 29 years of steering through various kinds of external and internal challenges – an imposed war that lasted eight years, the wooing of certain Western countries in the 1990s, the emergence of the “reform movement” within Iran, and the Islamic assertion in the past few years, to name but a few – the policies of the Islamic state and its various arms have inevitably and necessarily shown a wide degree of flexibility. At every stage, it has lost the support of some disheartened either by the challenges facing it, or the way it has responded to them. Some Iranians have recoiled from the burdens and hardships that come with the mantle of Islam; others have been disappointed by the state’s perceived pragmatism in the face of these difficulties. The revolutionary state’s commitment to the global Islamic movement has disappointed some traditional Shi‘is, in Iran and elsewhere, who saw the success of the Revolution as validation of their particularistic claims and have tried to claim the fruits of its success for themselves; while some non-Shi‘i supporters of the Revolution have been disappointed by what they perceive as programs and political platforms that give priority treatment to Shi‘i Muslims, regardless of whether they are active or reactionary, which appear to signal a creeping influence of quasi-sectarians, which (the fear is) threatens to take over all levels of the government. Likewise, the state’s focus on raising the standard of living of the people in Iran were interpreted by some elsewhere as a retreat from the broader Revolutionary ideals and ambitions of Imam Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution. Some nationalist Iranians condemn the Islamic government for over-extending itself in such areas as the Palestinian issue, or even the Iraqi issue. From the other end of things, you can hear the committed Revolutionary Muslims – inside Iran and outside it – complaining that Islamic Iran is being consumed by its internal affairs and no longer willing to live up to its Islamic responsibilities.
In fact, all these critics are partly right and partly wrong. The Islamic government in Iran is not like nation-state governments such as Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Its Islamic character binds it to the Islamic cause in the world. It has no choice but to make its moves, as it calculates them, within the larger Islamic circle, and it chooses its Islamic strategy in a way that will not collide with the hard facts back home in the urban centers and the countryside of Iran itself. And on the other hand, the Islamic government is not an international organization like the UN or Doctors Without Borders. It has a particular responsibility to address the problems of the people in the areas it governs. And these people themselves are not of one mould – they, too, have their idiosyncrasies and divergences. Still, with all this taken into consideration, the Islamic State has the following points to be registered to its credit.
It has been able to involve itself with the changing Iraqi scene in a way that honors its Islamic responsibilities both politically and militarily. It is not easy to counter both imperialist and zionist intrusions of a military and political nature in Iraq when Iraqis themselves are divided and lend their support to whoever they think will serve their particular ethnic, sectarian or national interests. Certainly the simplistic accusations made against Iran – of supporting a US-installed government, or failing to rise above sectarian issues locally – fail to take into account the complexities of the situation there, or the subtleties of Iranian policy. When imperialism and zionism are defeated in Iraq, and we can reflect on the role played by the Islamic State from a greater distance, we may well be surprised by how well Islamic Iran performed during the “Iraqi era.”
Another area that awaits the moment of hindsight is the involvement of the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Here, too, contrary to mainstream media reporting, Islamic Iran has tried to balance the reality of American power with the fact that America’s main enemy in recent years has been a sectarian anti-Shi‘i Islamic movement that the US itself promoted to counter Iran’s influence (remember the Taliban were a useful American tool used through the channels of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates). In the process, it has probably learned that the American imperialists are not as silly as to do an about-face on themselves in Afghanistan. The people in Afghanistan will pull through this American- imposed “Taliban-Karzai” era, and in time we will be able to recalculate how Islamic Iran contributed to the eventual liberation of Afghanistan and the emergence of a more truly Islamic popular movement there.
More celebrated has been the Islamic State’s steadfast support for Hizbullah and Hamas. No open-minded and freedom-loving Muslim, or non-Muslim for that matter, will argue against Hizbullah or Hamas. The only arguments against Hizbullah or Hamas come from some elites in America and Europe, and time is not on their side. In this crucial heartland of the confrontation between Islam and Muslims on one hand, and the global power of zionist-capitalist imperialism on the other, Islamic Iran’s principled role in supporting the Muslims despite all pressures to do the opposite is unquestionable. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been designated a “terror group” by the imperialist US government not because it is Iranian but because it is Islamic. The Quds Force within it has appeared in the news in the past year not because its objective is to liberate Karbala, but because its mission is to liberate al-Quds.
The best tribute any Islamic government or state can have is the total enmity of the Zionist leaders in Tel Aviv; and recently there has been an intensifying barrage of threats against Iran emanating from both the zionists in Tel Aviv and their allies elsewhere. Iran’s total commitment to opposing zionism over nearly three decades, symbolised by the slogan “marg bar Amrika, marg bar Isra’il”, have put Washington and Tel Aviv in an impossible situation. Whatever they plan against Iran, they do not know what to do without setting off spontaneous anti-Israeli reactions all over the world.
George Bush could not have timed his tour of the Persian Gulf and Arabian states any better. His stops in Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Bahrain were meant to persuade the rulers of these countries to spend their treasuries on American military hardware; the talk about Palestine was merely a sideshow. Perhaps most significant was Bush’s scare tactics to convince his royal hosts that Iran is a future threat to their survival. This is additional proof that Islamic Iran is a power to be reckoned with, though not in the way Bush and his entourage explain it. It is not Iranian territorial expansionism or Shi‘i evangelism that threatens these states. It is the fact that, 29 years after the Islamic Revolution, its fundamental principles remain precisely the same as those of oppressed, restless and freedom-seeking Muslims everywhere. The West’s rhetoric and propaganda suggest that, 29 years after the Islamic Revolution, its Islamic and Revolutionary credentials have long gone. But the West’s own continuing preoccupation with Iran suggests that they know otherwise.
For all the problems it has faced, in time many of those who once supported Islamic Iran, and have subsequently abandoned it, will come to realize that Islamic Iran has done its best to be fair to its own people, even if some of them cannot still understand what it means to have an Islamic government; and to be fair to the wider Islamic movement, many of whose supporters have still not worked out the difference between being an Islamic movement, particularly one without power or responsibilities, and being an Islamic State. And that is the most that any Muslim can reasonably expect of it in the current plight of the global Ummah and the historical situation that faces us.