That the Islamic movement has venomous and ruthless enemies appears to be among the most difficult lessons for Muslims to learn. In all the Islamic movement literature that we are familiar with, from that of the docile tablighis to that of the revolutionary jihadis, we have never seen a book (or even a booklet) called “Know Your Enemy”.
That the Islamic movement has venomous and ruthless enemies appears to be among the most difficult lessons for Muslims to learn. In all the Islamic movement literature that we are familiar with, from that of the docile tablighis to that of the revolutionary jihadis, we have never seen a book (or even a booklet) called “Know Your Enemy”. That unfortunate but inescapable reality is that Muslims have numerous enemies, both working together and competing to be the most effective in attacking us. The antagonism and revulsion now seen towards the Islamic movement (which is basically the attempts of Muslims to implement Islam) have become the headlines of newspapers, the talking-points of commentaries, and the breaking news of our times. And still large parts of the Muslim Ummah carry on as if the world around is friendly, congenial and – in the particularly fabulous fantasies of some day-dreamers – “sympathetic” to Islam and Muslims. This maladroit inability to recognize and publicize our obvious enemies is perhaps the most disabling shortcoming in all the programmes of the Islamic movement.
Not so with Islamic Iran; or at least not until recently. Imam Khomeini and his followers were never too shy or apprehensive to call an enemy an enemy. But who is this enemy, and how can he be identified? And the answer is simple. Imam Khomeini – as is the case with the Islamic movement in the world at large – stood for freedom from imperialism, liberation from zionism, and the independence of thought and action of Muslims and oppressed peoples everywhere. He took this position a step forward by rallying the Muslims in Iran around these Islamic principles, and then by ending the rule of self-defeatism represented by the Shah and his underlings, by terminating American intrusion in the affairs of Muslims in Iran, and ultimately by expelling Israel and its agents, who provided a crucial element in the relationship between the Shah’s regime and the US. Imam Khomeini and the clear-sighted Muslims around him did not send their military on a mission to conquer America, nor did they formulate a national liberation movement to overthrow the Shah; they did not throw even one grenade in occupied Palestine. All they did was to cleanse Iran of all traces of imperialism, zionism, and authoritarianism.
The Islamic Uprising in Iran a quarter of a century ago is too important and too special for Muslims to simply watch it wander from its original and true course. We remember all too clearly the impact this breakthrough had on Muslims everywhere. For the first time in modern history, Muslims had risen against a corrupt government and its imperialist and zionist sponsors, and were able to take control of their own country, and begin to show the rest of us how things should be done.
Of course, the road forward was not likely to be smooth. The sponsors of the Pahlavi regime could not be expected to sit and watch a people shape their own future on the basis of their Islamic faith and commitment. Throughout the last 25 years, America and Israel have been working to bring the Islamic government in Iran to its knees, with the support of their Western allies, Iran’s pro-Western neighbours and even supporters within Iran. Iran’s borders amount to some 8,000 kilometers; American troops are now based across six thousand kilometers of this border. This grim scenario has been gradually built over 25 years, and has passed almost unnoticed by most Muslims, and even most Iranians. There has never been any cessation of hostilities between the followers of the line of Imam Khomeini (r.a.), who refuse to compromise when it comes to the independence and sovereignty of the Islamic state, and the numerous other interests wanting to shape the state on their terms.
Part of our object in this new column is to look at some of the gaps that have developed since the passing of Imam Khomeini (r.a.), many of which are rooted in earlier events, and how these gaps have caused serious problems about which we can no longer remain silent. But before we walk into this sensitive area, one point needs to be made absolutely clear. This is that none of the points we make are intended to express any criticism of Imam Sayyid Ali Khamenei, the successor to Imam Khomeini (r.a.) as Rahbar of the Islamic State. Many of the points we make will be highlighting natural processes in the evolution of post-Revolutionary state and society. Others will indeed involve criticism of errors and failures in Iran, mainly on the part of those who have been responsible for aspects of Iranian government and policy at the executive level. It was inevitable that such errors and failures should emerge over a quarter of a century in an unprecedented and highly-pressured historical situation; unfortunately they have contributed greatly to what many now see as the Islamic experiment’s current stagnation.
Sometimes frank statements of truth can be bitter pills to swallow; we hope no-one will consider this column to be too bitter a pill. We say what we say only to express our honest understanding of the issues. If we are correct, we appeal earnestly to Allah to accept our humble words to our humble readers. If not, we request Allah’s forgiveness and correction from anyone able to do so; without, we hope, descending into personal issues or hidden agendas. Ameen.
It was at this point that the enemies emerged and began to reveal their true colors; and it was at this point that Imam Khomeini did not hesitate to stand firm and identify those enemies in clear, unequivocal terms: the governments of the the United States and the Soviet Union, the Ba’athists and Saddam, the munafiqeen inside Iran, those who opposed the Islamic Revolution and Islamic State, and Israel. This is a long and daunting list of enemies, but it is also a true expression of the reality Islamic Iran faced. With several enemies to confront, it is not wise to launch into war with all of them; the war must be against those who pose the most immediate threat. For Iran, the immediate aggressor was Saddam Hussein, the Ba’ath regime, and their military, which was of course backed also by other enemies. The war imposed on the Islamic State by Iraq ground on for eight long years, and still the Imam showed no sign of accommodating or compromising with the enemy. Iran’s Muslims fought with courage, commitment and strategies that shocked the technologically superior Iraqis and their backers, and tens of thousands of Iranian Muslims gave their lives for unwavering principles and firm belief in the justness of their cause.
And yet, even then, there were constant whisperings of doubt from diplomats, obfuscation from opportunists, even murmurs from committed “revolutionaries” asking ‘is there any end to this senseless war? The Iranians are out of their minds sending ‘children’ to the warfront’ ; and mata nasr Allah? – when shall God’s victory come? At that time no one could understand the mystical dimension of this pursuit of justice, but as the years went by the answer began to unfold. There were two attitudes in Islamic Iran to the enemy. One attitude was that of the late Imam and the fearless and death-conquering mujahideen, many of whom achieved shahada (martyrdom); the other attitude was that of quietist scholars, careerist diplomats, and the ever-present holier-than-thou traditionalists. (The last of whom are the most formidable obstacle of the three; we will have more to say about them in future, insha’Allah.)
There was no decisive victory at the warfront because a large infusion of disingenuousness had permeated the decision-making body in Islamic Iran, from the lower ranks of government to the highest places in the religious institutions. At the same time that Imam Khomeini was saying, in effect, that the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia formed a core of enmity towards the Muslims and the oppressed, others inside Iran’s governmental departments, religious circles and commercial interests refused to accept that to be the case. They did not say so at the time; but now they feel it is safe to express themselves, and they say such things as: “Khomeini miscalculated”; or “Khomeini made mistakes”, or even “Khomeini was a disaster”! These are the same people who just a decade and a half ago were beating their chests and acclaiming the Imam. Today you look at them and they are “revolutionary ghosts.” These were the zealous followers of the Imam; now they have joined the elitists. They are content with paper-shuffling jobs, and some of them have filed their “revolutionary” pasts as a history to be recalled occasionally perhaps, but certainly not repeated. To them, Imam Khomeini’s days were a close call. And their behavior speaks volumes; they are no longer to be found at public gatherings; they are satisfied with an abridged ‘Shi’i’ version of Islam, one that throws off the ‘idealistic’ and ‘impractical’ issue of Islamic unity and the impossible identification with the affairs of the oppressed.
Allah’s victory comes at a high price. Many people were not willing to pay it. So victory was suspended at the warfront a decade and a half ago. To drive the point home, Saudi Arabia, the United States and (embedded in them) Israel – clearly identified as enemies in Imam Khomeini’s dictionary – have become numbers in the diplomatic directories of those who began this whole process by clamoring for a ‘dialogue of civilizations.’ You can almost hear them in Tehran’s Foggy Bottom, saying: “Let us begin to normalize our relations with Saudi Arabia. Later we can begin normalizing our relations with the United States. We cannot think about normalizing our relations with Israel, but if the Palestinians, one day in the future, reach an accommodation with the Israelis, then who are we to be more Palestinian than the Palestinians?”
Where is Islam in all this? Where are the Islamic principles for which Islamic Iran and the ‘Khomeini generation’ gave their precious sons, their best and brightest? We, the sons of the Islamic movement, are like a family. Some of us turn out to be obedient and others stray from the principles we hold. The weak and rebellious among us are those who railed against Saudi Arabia, the US and Israel yesterday, yet today are buddy-buddy with the Saudis, so-so with the Americans, and “can’t figure it out” with the Israelis. The temptations to deviate are obvious; our enemies offer attractive and seductive faces alongside their hostile ones, and tempt with promises of sweet rewards, even as they also issue dire threats. Many of their inducements and sweet words are proffered by Muslims who, however sincerely, are in effect working for our enemies rather than for Islam and Muslims. The oppressed of the world have little to offer but the promise of righteous struggles ahead, which can look very like problems and troubles to those whose eyes are clouded by pragmatism and dazzled by the mirages offered by our enemies.
But Muslims and Islamic movements of the world: take heed. You cannot have an enemy and a friend in the same entity at the same time. It is either your enemy or your friend. And if you cannot distinguish an enemy from a friend, how can you expect Allah to grant you victory?