An interesting and ironic message appeared on an Islamic e-mail forum early this year. The author, a supporter of the Taliban and Usama bin Ladin, had previously been extremely critical of the Islamic State of Iran, which he saw as a sectarian, Shi’i state. Circulating a statement by Imam Sayyid Ali Khamenei condemning the US attack on Afghanistan and its other, associated policies, he wrote that "Iran may be the only last hope for any international jihad that needs to be launched to combat the infidel crusade against Islam."
As Islamic Iran marks the 23rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution this month, at least some in the Islamic movement, who were misled by the propaganda of its enemies, or disappointed because they had unrealistic expectations of it, are coming to appreciate its achievements. These achievements include its very survival for so long, and its determination — despite errors of judgement at times — to stand against the Muslims’ enemies, even if only in word. Iran’s Islamic movement also — under the guidance of Imam Khomeini r.a. — built a state structure based on Islamic principles that is continuing to provide the country with the most open, most vibrant political debate, and the justest, most accountable public policies, of any Muslim country today. The road has not always been smooth, and numerous errors, minor and not so minor, have been made along the way; but that is the nature of human endeavour and social development.
The achievement of survival is perhaps easier to appreciate after the graphic demonstration in Afghanistan of what the US and the West are capable of doing to their enemies when they have the opportunity to do so. In a few short weeks, albeit clearly after several months’ planning, the US declared the Taliban international outlaws on the flimsiest pretext and with no legal basis whatsoever; bombed their government and state structures to the ground, killing thousands of innocent people in the process; and have established in their place a government that is clearly designed to do Washington’s bidding in every significant regard. Of course this is not the first demonstration of the US’s capacity for cunning politics and brute force, regardless of all moral limits, in pursuit of its interests. Others include the occupation of the Arabian peninsula in 1990 after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the devastation of Iraq in the US’s bombing campaign in 1991, and the subsequent decade-long economic genocide of Iraq’s people. Iran experienced the US’s ruthlessness directly in 1988, when the US Navy shot down an Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf, apparently as a warning of what Iran could expect if they continued to press for the total defeat of the US’s ally, Saddam Hussain.
The events of the last four months have – for some people – finally demolished the US’s facade of legality and exposed it as a power based on brute force and utter disregard for any other people. For others, Islamic Iran among them, this reality has long been evident. It is the successes of the Islamic movement worldwide since the Islamic Revolution in Iran that have driven the US to actions that expose its true nature. Before the Revolution, the West could claim to be unchallenged; the world conflict was within Western civilization, between the capitalist and communist models of secular modernity. Since then, all attention has been focused, understandably enough, on "the threat of Islam". Many Islamic movements have found success hard to achieve, despite the example of the Revolution, or have made mistakes that have made it easier for the West and its regional allies to destroy them. We have recently seen the demise of two models, Sudan and Afghanistan, which had been held up by some as alternatives to the model of Islamic movement strategy and statehood offered by Iran. In both cases, their own weaknesses and the West’s enmity combined to ensure their failure.
Iran, however, remains a solid and enduring presence at the core of the Islamic movement, showing the Muslims how Islamic principles can be translated into social organization and action in the modern world. It has been the target of various Western attempts to undermine and destroy it, and these can be expected to intensify. It is unlikely to launch an "international jihad" against the West, but the leadership and example it is providing are far more important than any military action could be. This is a reality that, now more than ever, the Islamic movement outside Iran cannot afford to forget.